Debutant Salam Bappu’s Red Wine is a toast to friendship.

The late afternoon sun is streaming in through the canopy of trees in front of a beachside hospital in Kozhikode. A pall of gloom has descended on the place. The camera hovers overhead, panning along the leaves until it focusses on the exit of the hospital’s mortuary. Mohanlal stands with his arms resting on a jeep as Saiju Kurup peers intently at him. Beside them stands a teary-eyed Anusree. The set is crowded with police jeeps, vans, ambulances and a crowd that has gathered on hearing the news of a death.

“Today we are shooting one of the key scenes of the film. This comes just after the death of an important character,” says director Salam Bappu on the sets of his debut venture, Red Wine.

The title can mislead one into thinking that the film is in some way connected with drinking, much like the recent Mohanlal hit Spirit. But Salam is quick to dismiss any such thoughts.

Red Wine deals with friendship that grows stronger as years pass by. That is one reason for the title. The other reason cannot be revealed now, as it is this suspense that the movie is based on,” he says.

The movie chronicles the life of two strangers – Anoop, a theatre artiste (Fahadh Faasil) and Ramesan, an automobile sales executive (Asif Ali). The narrative goes forward through the ‘quest’ of Ratheesh Vasudevan (Mohanlal). But Salam is reluctant to reveal more on this quest or about Mohanlal’s character, as these contain plot spoilers.

Navas (Saiju Kurup) and his wife, Sree Lekshmi, (Anusree) are Anoop’s classmates from his engineering days. The trio’s friendship goes on a parallel track to the main narrative. The other main actors are Meghna Raj and Meera Nandan.

Salam has pulled off a casting coup of sorts, this being the first time that Mohanlal shares screen space with two of the most promising stars among the young crop, Fahadh and Asif .

“I had narrated two scripts to Fahadh. We started planning the first one, but it got delayed and so he suggested that we go ahead with this. We then zeroed in on Asif, who liked the story. We were confused on whom to approach to handle the key character of Ratheesh. Mohanlal did not cross my mind at first because I knew that it would be too big a dream for someone working on his first film. But, somehow, luckily, we got him to play that key role,” says Salam.

After 11 years of being in the industry as an assistant director to Lal Jose and many other directors, Salam is ‘excited about making his own film’.

“Since I have had experience on the sets, there were no jittery moments when things started rolling. Many of the unfavourable situations during the shoot went through fine as I have already handled such similar situations in many other films,” he says.

Also making his debut in films is script-writer Mammen K. Rajan, who has assisted Ranjith Sankar in all of his films.

Says Rajan: “Prior to this, I had scripted few tele-films. Scripting this film was like an extension of that experience. It helps that I know Salam for a long time now.”

The film will have three songs penned by Rafeeq Ahamed and set to tune by Bijibal. Cinematography is by Manoj Pillai. Stills are by Mahadevan Thampi. The film, produced by Gireesh Lal under the banner Gowri Meenakshi Movies, will reach theatres in mid-2013.