Film director T.K. Rajeevkumar’s Up & Down... Mukalil Oralundu is a psychological thriller that unfolds in a lift.
Director T.K. Rajeevkumar, cameraman Jomon T. Thomas, art director Mohandas, their assistants, sound engineers, carpenters, light boys, gofers… some 30 people are getting ready for a shot, part of a song sequence for the film Up & Down… Mukalil Oralundu, all crammed into a small set at Chitranjali studios in Thiruvananthapuram. At the exact centre of the set is the actual set of the film – a lift (the bottom half of a lift, to be precise) constructed of plywood, the insides covered with embossed metal sheets. The background of the larger space is draped in green cloth on three sides, onto which, in the post-production stage, digital images of scenery will be projected.
“I’m imagining wispy clouds set against a clear blue sky to suit the romantic mood of a song composed by M. Jayachandran,” muses Rajeevkumar as he enters the ‘lift’ with a couple of the crew members and gets them to pose in the actors’ stead. Jomon tells him that the positions look fine on camera. Meanwhile, crew members light a row of multi-coloured candles stuck on the ledges of the lift.
Shortly afterwards an assistant director escorts actors Indrajith and Meghana Raj on to the set. Rajeevkumar explains the shot to the duo and they take their places inside the lift. On the director’s cue, the song starts playing and Meghana, dressed in a figure-hugging aubergine coloured mini-dress, mouths the lyrics while pretending to light the candles, while Indrajith, dressed in a complementary peasant shirt and trousers, gazes at the candles with a small smile on his face. After four beats or so, both the actors slowly turn around and smile at each other. Rajeevkumar, who’s been watching the proceedings on an LCD screen, says yes to the take. A couple of takes later, the shot is canned.
“The movie is a psychological thriller and, perhaps, for the first time in Malayalam cinema, a lift is a/the central character in the film. In fact, the entire storyline happens in the journeys between the basement and 24th floor terrace of an apartment building. All the characters in the film are connected to the lift. What happens when these differing personalities, some of them strangers, get stuck in a lift?” says Rajeevkumar, who thought of the story after being stuck in a lift with two “relative strangers” at Emirates Tower in Dubai!
“Almost 95 per cent of the film has been shot in this confined space, which makes it challenging for all those involved in the process of filmmaking, in terms of creativity. Actually, the limited space opens up unlimited avenues for imagination. It becomes a potential space for meetings, deals to be made, details to be observed…,” adds the director, rather cryptically.
The camera crew is moving their equipment to the front of the lift for the next shot and as soon as they are set up, the actors are called back on set. The next shot has the duo moving towards each other, touching but not touching, and then, in unison, looking up towards the lift’s ceiling as if it’s a portal to the world beyond.
Meghana doesn’t seem too happy about her performance and comes over to view the scene on screen and then requests for a retake. The ever genial Rajeevkumar and Indrajith sportingly agree.
Says Indrajith: “I play the role of the soft-spoken Thampuran, a lift operator and an ex-serviceman. He is privy to the private lives and gossip of those residing in the building by virtue of his job but chooses to keep it all to himself. This is quite challenging a role because of the geographic limitations of the storyline; it’s a test of one’s acting skills. In this confined space, each and every movement and expression, however subtle, is noticeable.”
On an eventful day, eight people (besides Thampuran) get stuck in the lift and there unfolds the story. The eight characters are played by actors Pratap Pothen, Ganesh Kumar, Baiju, Nandu, Remya Nambheesan, Rejith Menon, Sruti Menon, and Master Devaraman, son of Ganesh, and affectionately known as ‘Kunju’ to all on the set.
But it is Meghana’s character that is the mystery. “She is nameless, she appears in many avatars,” says Rajeevkumar. “First she comes across as a call girl but, in fact, she is not. She is a frequent visitor to the apartment and becomes quite close to Thampuran. She is quite different from any role I’ve ever done. She’s an enigma with all her external get ups – I get to don a variety of garbs, from a nun to this dress and everything in between! She’s an enigma internally too, and you never get to see her true colours,” adds Meghana.
Up & Down... Mukalil Oralundu is being produced under the banner of Blue Mermaid Picture Company and is set for a December release. Stills are by Hari Thirumala.