Santosh Sivan's mega project ‘Urumi’, marking Prithviraj's debut as a producer, is in the process of becoming a landmark film in Malayalam.
Santosh Sivan's epic film ‘Urumi' unfolds on a huge canvas that fords time, space, fact and fiction. If ‘Ananthabhadram,' his first feature in Malayalam, blurred myth and reality, the tri-lingual ‘Urumi' in Malayalam, Tamil and English, promises to be an extravaganza that Malayalam cinema has seldom seen on screen. The movie goes back in time to recount a story that takes place after the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama set foot in Kozhikode in 1498.
“For some reason Gama's epochal landing and its aftermath have not found a place on the silver screen. Pepper, the black gold of those times, brought traders to our shore and it had multiple cataclysmic effects on the lives of people on the sub-continent, especially in the coastal regions. Although we have had trading links with the Chinese and the Arabs, Gama's arrival completely changed the socio-political equation,” says Santosh, speaking on the phone from Malshej in Maharashtra, where the shooting of the film is in progress.
Scripted by Shankar Ramakrishnan, the director of ‘Island Express' in the portmanteau film ‘Kerala Café,' the story of ‘Urumi' is set in the period between 1502 and 1524, especially on events that take place on Gama's last trip to India. His unspeakable cruelty towards Indians and his unreasonable demands create a band of warriors who thirst for revenge.
A glittering star cast has Prithviraj and Genelia playing the lead roles. Vidya Balan makes her debut in Malayalam cinema in ‘Urumi' and so does Prabhu Deva and Bollwyood actor Amol Gupte. Tabu and Jagathy Srikumar too have major roles in the film.
Prithviraj plays Chirakkal Kelu Nayanar, the leader of a gang that sets out to kill Vasco Da Gama while Genelia plays a warrior princess Arackkal Ayesha; Prabhu Deva is Vavvali, Kelu's close friend. Vidya Balan plays Makkom, an Oracle and a personification of the Goddess.
“It is a meeting place of the best actors in India. It was magical to watch Amol (who acted in ‘Kaminey') as the king of Kolathunadu and Jagathy share the same space. We are looking at a period and an India that was not divided on linguistic lines. I believe that this film will erase the linguistic barriers as there are characters who speak different languages speaking in one voice for a cause and uniting against a common foe,” says Shankar.
He calls it an educative experience to watch a master like Santosh at work on such a multi-lingual film. According to Shankar, although ‘Urumi' chronicles the events in Northern Kerala, characters and incidents give it a pan-Kerala and -India feel.
Santosh, an ardent history buff (remember the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Asoka'), adds that it is also an attempt to look at history from an Indian perspective as most of our history books were written from a Western perspective.
On the lines of a ballad
He says ‘Urumi' explores the repercussions of a landmark in world history. “We are making it on the lines of a ballad; a paean to those braves who dared take on a band of wily but powerful traders and their armies,” says Santosh.
Music is an organic part of the film as it takes the narrative along. Deepak Dev is composing the five songs for the film, the lyrics of which have been written by Rafeeq Ahmed, Kaithapram, Prashanth Narayan and Chandru.
‘Urumi' is being filmed by three cinematographers – Santosh (who is the director of photography as well), renowned wild-life photographer Alphonse Roy and national award-winning Anjuli Shukla.
“Shooting in the mist-laden Harishchadragad in Malshej valley is a difficult task as the light keeps changing constantly. It rains incessantly and the entire area is covered in slush. So each scene is a challenge. It is a great to be a part of such a talented team,” says Anjuli.
‘Urumi,' being produced by August Cinema, also marks Prithviraj's debut as a producer. Sunil Babu, who had designed the sets of ‘Ghajini' ‘Lakshya' and ‘Ananthabhadram' is the art director of the film that Santosh says is a catchy saga of retribution and romance.
And what about his debut film as a hero? Laughing loudly, he drawls: “That does not worry me. Nothing about cinema stresses me as it is something I enjoy. But I prefer the creation of a film to essaying a character on screen. It is like creating my own world. I agreed to act, only because I was enacting Raja Ravi Varma, whom I revere, in a film directed by someone like Lenin Rajendran.”
While ‘Makara Manju,' marking Santosh's debut as an actor, reaches theatres next month, Santosh will be recreating another period in history through his dream project ‘Urumi.'