Cinematographer and director Venu on his film Munnariyippu, starring Mammootty in the lead.
Venu’s frames have narrated many films that are now classics and milestones of Malayalam and Indian cinema. As one of the most successful directors of photography in Kerala with a string of hits and awards, Venu has a place of honour in Mollywood.
So there has to be a reason when he decides to direct a film. “Since I have done both, I can tell you this – the responsibilities of a director are much more than that of a cinematographer. So the satisfaction is much more too, especially when the film shapes up in the way you had planned it,” says Venu. That explains the motivation.
When such an acclaimed cinematographer decides to don the director’s cap, expectations are bound to be high. Daya, his first film as director, and that too scripted by none other than M.T. Vasudevan Nair, did not disappoint but it left many of his fans waiting for more. After 13 years, Venu, who won the Kerala State Film Award for the best debut director for Daya, returns to the marquee as director with Munnariyippu, a Mammootty-starrer that promises to be a genre bender.
“It is the story of a man and a woman and the different spaces they inhabit. It is about the inner spaces in each of us and how each of us has our inner demons that drive us. I had this thread of a story for three to four years. I even had the beginning and the conclusion,” says Venu. Film editor Bina Paul Venugopal, Venu’s wife, motivated him to take it up during a break in his work when he had some time on his hands.
However, the big picture was incomplete until writer and scenarist Unni R. came into the scene. Soon the story and dialogues were ready. Then it was serendipity that brought in Ranjith as producer and finally everything was in place for Venu to take his place behind the camera, as director and cinematographer.
“Mammootty plays Raghavan, a prisoner, and Aparna Gopinath essays Anjali Arakkal, a struggling journalist who visits the prison to ghost write a book for the jail superintendent, Ramamoorthy, enacted by Nedumudi Venu. She meets Raghavan, serving time for a double homicide. Although he insists he is innocent, Raghavan seems to have come to terms with his life in prison. Aparna is intrigued by him and turns in a feature on the man, which creates a stir in the print world. Eventually, she signs a contract for a book on Raghavan. And that is when their worlds and personalities clash,” narrates Venu.
The filmmaker feels only Mammootty could have done this role with so much realism. His bad patch notwithstanding, Venu says the actor brings in a certain screen presence that enhances the role of the complex character that Raghavan is.
While Raghavan is a prisoner of his past and his personality, Anajli is besieged by the pressures of a society that lives by deadlines and contracts, written or verbal. The film director prefers calling it a tale of how different people react to certain situations and spaces, instead of branding it with a neat label.
“Raghavan gets a lifer for allegedly killing his wife and landlady. But he keeps insisting on his innocence. He keeps a diary filled with philosophical observations and cryptic notes. But he reiterates he is not a writer. There are these contradictions that are played out in the film,” says Venu, handing out a few teasers.
Pratap Pothen, Nedumudi Venu, Kochu Preman, Saiju Kurup, Joy Mathew, Renji Panicker, Sreeraman, Sudheesh and Muthumani play key characters in the film that “map these tensions caused by expectations, ambition [or lack of it] and so on,” says Venu. He adds that there is no investigation, melodrama, high decibel dialogues and pretty song sequences.
In fact, Venu says that most of the film has been shot inside rooms and houses with the main location being Kozhikode and its precincts.
As a parting shot, Venu says: “I don’t know how the film will do at the box office. But this is one film I would not be embarrassed about.”