Filmmaker Shyamaprasad talks about his new film English and its characters.

Through a handful of well-made, much-discussed films, Shyamaprasad has made a space of his own in the crowded movie industry in Malayalam; films that push boundaries in terms of themes, treatment, cinematography and music. Instead of being browbeaten by the star system or the box office, Shyamaprasad’s kind of filmmaking breaks conventions to offer food for thought, creating films and characters that linger in the mind. Instead of whining about the limitations of the Malayalam film industry, its audience, budget et. al., Shyamaprasad has tried to tap its potential by wooing audiences, old and new, with his movies. In an e-mail interview, the filmmaker talks about his new work, English, which is being shot in the United Kingdom (U.K.). and the ‘new wave’ in Mollywood.

The four heroes in the film come from different economic, cultural and emotional terrain. While Shankaran (played by Jayasurya) plays the illegal immigrant working in a Kerala restaurant; Sibin (Nivin Pauly) is a second-generation IT executive who thrives on the colourful life that London provides; Sarasu (played by Nadia Moidu) is a well-to-do housewife who finds living in this culturally alien land a pain, and always feels she is an alien; unaccustomed, Joy (played by Mukesh), the corner store owner, is on the verge of making a critical decision in life, starkly forced on him by the thrown on to him by this society he lives in.

Excerpts from the interview…

What is English about, apart from the fact that it is a film about non-resident Malayalis? Your films have always delved into nuances of relationships of different kinds, right from Kallukondoru Pennu , Agnisakshi, Akale, Ore Kadal and so on.

English is in continuation of my pet themes of relationships under close scrutiny, but this time it is less linear and not as compact as my previous films such as Akale, Ore Kadal or Arike. In English there is more polyphony – with the story lines and the characters. The narrative is more fragmented and time flows in a staccato pattern. But, ultimately, my concerns are the same – of what happens when people are put in a circumstance wherein which they have to choose between two ‘rights’.

The cast is an interesting mix of veterans and youngsters. Most of them are working with you for the first time...

Working with actors is the most joyous aspect of filmmaking for me, whether they are seasoned or new. I try to find the resonance of these characters from their own life, which is a creatively exciting process for me and for them as well. My characters have complexities and the actors will have to find meaning and rationalise it via their own experiences and world view. For example, when Joy makes a difficult and morally ambivalent choice he had to go deep into the reality of his character, not superficially enact it. Overall we had a fantastic time with the actors – be it Jayasurya, Nivin, Remya Nambeeshan or Nadia… The rapport has been excellent and I do hope they have gone through a creative churning in their art while working for this movie.

But for Dileep in Kallukondoru Pennu and Arike, you have never repeated your lead actors, usually working with new faces or actors you have not worked with before. Any reason for this?

No particular reason, really. I go with the suitability of the role when casting. As for Dileep, I had him in my two movies at different stages of his career as well as mine. More recently, in Arike I think I was able to make use of him as an actor, not just a star. But honestly, I would like to work with all the good actors I have worked with earlier, since I find joy in working with the human elements of the film much more than the technical aspects.

Why is the film set in the U.K. when the scriptwriter Ajayan has mostly lived in the United States and scripted the popular ‘Akkara Kazhchakal’?

The film was planned with New York as the background and the first versions of the script were written likewise. But since the production circumstances changed, I had to move it to the U.K., where, I believe, the story is equally plausible. We had to fine tune certain nuances to suit the British life, though.

Talking about Ajayan, I found his ‘Akkara Kazhchakal’ really enjoyable and a sensitive comedy. But this movie is not entirely in that genre. There is indeed some patches of black humour in my movie but overall it’s an emotional drama set in a foreign land. By the way, I must also acknowledge the use of Nirmala Thomas' story as one of the source narrative. Set in Canada (where she lives) the characters of her story could also be transferred to the U.K. since the dilemmas are all universal, basically.

Music by rocker Rex Vijayan?

Why not? I am a fan of all kinds of music – starting from folk to classical to Pop to Rock. Every genre of music has its beauty and relevance in film. While Ore Kadal needed a raga-based approach Ritu needed a much more breezy kind of youthful music. I loved many of Rex Vijayan’s compositions and I thought it would be interesting to see how my ideas could be brought about through his music.

Your view on the season of revival in Malayalam cinema that has seen new directors and script writers giving a new direction and feel to Malayalam cinema? And where do you place senior directors in that new scenario?

I agree that there is so much more happening positively in our cinema. The pre-dominance of the star system is slowly weakening, giving way to new modes of narration and representation of rarer aspects of life. There is a general aversion to cliches, at least among the younger audience. While all this is positive, I do hope that the changes do not remain at the superficial level and the impact, not just cosmetic. I want to see more interesting and complex stories about our lives told in a cinematically engaging way. But I don’t see any division in the role between a ‘senior’ director or a ‘junior’ director in this movement. After all the best of the filmmakers in Hollywood, still enchanting us with new narratives and technologies are all 60-plus – be it Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, James Cameroon, and so on. I think what is more dangerous is when the filmmaker tries to pretend to be another person just to woo the younger audience. Be who you are and do what pleases you, that’s what I believe. In that way, there would be at least some people amongst the audience who would respect your artistic honesty and find truth in what you say that relates to their lives.