Three years. Three films. Three blockbusters. Few directors have begun their careers the way Vysakh has. And all his films, Pokkiri Raja, Seniors and now Mallu Singh, were made with big budgets. That meant those films had to do exceedingly well at the box office to recover the costs. They did more than that, of course.
“I am glad that all my films have made my producers happy. I believe that when you make a mainstream film, it has to reach the audience and do good business. So when I plan a film, I try to ensure that it attracts viewers to cinemas,” says Vysaksh.
He says he was confident about the success of Mallu Singh too, even though he had cast newcomer Unni Mukundan in the lead. “Unni wasn’t the first choice. The actor I wanted for the role was tied up with other assignments. I had seen Unni in Bombay March 12 and was impressed. I thought there was something about his face that people would like,” he says.
He adds he decided to place the film in Punjab because it was a completely new territory for Malayalam cinema. “I believe that was one of the main reasons why the film clicked. The story of Mallu Singh could have taken place anywhere, like Tamil Nadu for instance; but there have been far too many Malayalam films based there and therefore the locales would not have anything new for an audience in Kerala.”
But Punjab’s scenic locales and colourful costumes of people there offered plenty of scope for a visually rich film. Cinematographer Shaji and costume designer Sai played significant roles in giving Mallu Singh its vibrant look.
Looking back at his debut film, Pokkiri Raja, he says he was fortunate to get a script by Udayakrishna-Sibi K. Thomas at that stage of his career. “They had faith in me though I was a novice. Not just that, after the movie’s shoot was over, Udayakrishna told me that they would give me another script even if Pokkiri Raja failed at the box office and that I should work with other script writers if the film did well,” says Vysakh.
Pokkiri Raja didn’t just do well. It did extraordinarily well. “It was welcomed with both hands by our audience. The film made a business of more than Rs. 10 crore. Of course, the highlight of the film was its casting. I got Mammootty and Prithviraj to share screen space, which was further spiced up by Shriya Saran. Mammootty, I thought, was excellent in the film’s comic scenes and his usage of broken English clicked with the viewers. I was apprehensive whether it would be right to use broken English in emotional scenes, but he assured me that it would work well. And it did,” says Vysakh.
After Pokkiri Raja came the real test. “I had the backing of one of the most successful scriptwriting team in contemporary Malayalam cinema and a stellar cast for my first film, so it was with my second film that I had to prove myself. Seniors had no superstar. The film was always planned as a thriller, but I think it was the humorous way in which the film was treated that made it the big hit it was,” he says.
His next film will be with Dileep. “I make just one film a year, after a lot of planning and discussions. The film with Dileep will be scripted by Benny P. Nayarambalam,” he says.
He may have had a dream start to his career, but he has had to work hard to realise his dream. “I come from a small village called Kalliot in Kasaragod district, where even watching a film was a luxury. The first film I saw at a cinema theatre was when I was 15! I wanted to be a filmmaker but I didn’t know how. I went to Thiruvananthapuram and slowly began meeting people associated with films. I began my career as an assistant director in the film Kochi Rajavu, directed by Johny Antony,” he says.
Vysakh might be making mass entertainers, but he is an admirer of movies by Majid Majidi and, closer home, those by the late Padmarajan and Bharathan.
Wouldn’t he want to make such films?
“I don’t know if I am ready for it yet; one thing I am particular about is that a producer shouldn’t lose money on my movies. So I will continue making commercially viable films, whether they are made with lavish budgets or on a shoe-string. Maybe I was destined to begin my career with Pokkiri Raja; it was not supposed to be my first film, you know. I was actually planning to make a small film before that, a thriller without any major stars,” he says.
Destiny, it seems, had grander ideas for him.