Shutter, which releases today, is about every non-resident Keralite, says Joy Mathew, the film’s debutant director.
Talking to Joy Mathew is a breeze. Ironically so, since he has no airs (pun intended) about being many personalities rolled into one. The lead actor in John Abraham’s Amma Ariyan, Joy was once the face of the new wave in Malayalam filmdom in the seventies. His plays – ‘Shishu’, ‘Madhyadharanyaazhi’, and ‘Sankadal’ – to name a few, created quite a stir in our theatre scene. His publishing venture, Bodhi Books, was once the trendsetter in content and layout in Malayalam.
In his latest avatar as a feature filmmaker too, he has left an indelible mark. Joy’s debut feature Shutter, which releases on Friday, won the Silver Crow Pheasant for viewers’ choice at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), 2012.
Joy, the activist, playwright, actor, publisher, journalist, and now, the director, loves to look at life a tad differently. A good part of his film is shot inside a shoddy room in a nondescript commercial complex. And a lot transpires in that room – there are talks about friendship and money; love and lust; fear and hope. One might find it quirky, but the female lead in this film is a sex-worker, one who has wonderful insights into the myriad faces of life. A character Joy created to convey, in his own words, “that each person is many different pieces and they cannot be put into labelled boxes”.
“I took to cinema because I found cinema was the medium for what I wanted to say through Shutter; it was something beyond the scope of a play,” Joy says. A film that draws its essence from an expatriate from ‘the Gulf’, played by Lal, Shutter is also an exploration into the life of any non-resident Keralite, like the director himself. “I strongly believe that every Malayali should experience a life abroad. It will be a huge blow to the ego, the sense of privilege one carries around,” he quips. “My life in the Gulf has been a source of inspiration throughout this film. Experience maketh an artist, not books or academics.”
Although it is a simple tale happening in a small town in Kerala, the entire script, deliberations and discussions took shape abroad. Joy’s standing as a visual media professional helped him look at things in a detached, almost comical manner. He says it helped him immensely while giving shape to the characteristics of his cast. “I always say that you get to see a ‘Malayali’ only in the Gulf. Even in Kerala, you will only see somebody from Kozhikode, Alappuzha, or Kollam, never a quintessential Malayali!”
He also notes that while waxing eloquent about one’s native land, what every expatriate secretly wishes for is the deflation of the Indian Rupee since that is the only way the Riyals or Dinars one earns will acquire more value! Shutter touches upon such reflections, and more, through a tale that weaves in nail-biting suspense too.
The film is as much a result of a ‘Kozhikodan’ collective as it is about the joys and pangs of an expatriate, Joy says. “The character played by Vinay Forrt – Nanmayil Suran – is the autorickshaw driver you are sure to come across on the streets of Kozhikode. Director Ranjith chose the name since he feels every other auto driver in Kozhikode city is named ‘Suran!’ He is genuinely kind-hearted, hence the prefix ‘Nanmayil’ (Nanma in Malayalam means virtue),” Joy laughs.
“I was told to exercise caution at every stage of the casting process. I did not heed anyone’s advice on marketability or popularity. Along with Srinivasan and Lal, I chose playwright-actor Sajitha Madathil as the perceptive sex worker and Vinay Forrt, who, till now, has essayed only urban middle-class youth. And they all astonished me with their brilliant performances,” he says. “A special mention is also due to Hari Nair, the ace cinematographer who shot poignant moments in a dimly-lit room for the most part. I also had excellent support from sound designer Renganaath Ravee, editor Bijith Bala, and art director Sunil Kochannur, to name a few. Everyone, including the lightboy, could speak their mind on the set and I was open to their opinion if it added to the overall experience,” the filmmaker remembers.
And where does he draw the energy, the motivation, from? “Of course, from my friends and social networking sites such as Facebook. You know, for me, Facebook is now what Manachira ground in Kozhikode used to be. A meeting place of friends. It is where I speak up, listen to, quarrel and make up,” he says.
Joy , who played the mute dad of Anna in Annayum Rasoolum, is happy to be part of a refreshing chapter of Malayalam cinema, once again. “Filmmaking has become more flexible and affordable. You can shoot a film even with a mobile phone camera now. I am impressed by the sincerity with which the new generation is approaching cinema. Be it plagiarism or revolution, their passion is commendable,” he says. “I also feel that the so-called new-generation movies are only yet to happen. Today’s children lack a solid outlook on life and strong political stances, and that is one reason they excessively fuss about camera angles and technical nuances of a movie,” he adds.
Joy’s wife, Saritha Ann Thomas, is the producer of Shutter, and his partner in a journey wrought with agony and ecstasy.