It seems like film-editor-turned-director Arun Kumar is still in high spirits, six months after his debut directorial venture, Cocktail, created a stir in Mollywood. It's evident in his slight swagger, his broad smile, his gregarious talk… Quite a change for this 34-year-old, who has always claimed to be a very “behind-the-scenes kind of guy,” one who actively shuns the limelight. Of course, his joie de vivre is understandable. After all not every filmmaker, especially those in oh-so-discerning Malayalam cinema, can claim both critical and box office success in one swig.

Cocktail, a dark, suspense-filled concoction of adultery, revenge and redemption, and a remake of the cult-classic indie flick Butterfly on a Wheel, was a dark horse at the box office last year. Together with Urumi, Traffic, Anwar and Passenger, Cocktail has ushered in a slick, technically-brilliant, new-age Mollywood, which thinks outside the box.

Not that bringing about a change was an easy task. “Everybody keeps mooning about the golden era of Malayalam cinema when ‘intelligent cinema' (read realistic scripts and acting) was the order of the day. But the irony of it is that when you reach out to the film industry and the audience too, with a concept that is a bit different from the usual formula, they become very wary. It's almost as if they are afraid to come out of the loop. In fact, I struggled a lot to get people on board for Cocktail. Whomever I approach kept asking me: ‘Don't you have something like what Mohanlal/Mammootty did in the 80s and 90s.' I fail to understand why we're still harping on that. It makes no sense, for that era is done and dusted. It's high time for something new in Mollywood,” says Arun. Perseverance prevails, then? “Absolutely! That's been the story of my life,” says Arun, with a grin.

On Priyadarshan

Although, Cocktail is his debut film, Arun is no greenhorn. He has had a successful 11-year career as a film editor, first in Malayalam and later in Hindi, and has edited films “of every major star in Bollywood, except Aamir Khan.” For nigh on six years now, Arun has been director Priyadarshan's regular editor, beginning with Vettam (2004) in Malayalam to Hulchul (Arun's first Hindi film) and all those in between, right up to the soon-to-be released Tezz (Hindi). Arun is also slated to work on Arabiyum Ottakavum P. Madhavan Nairum, pegged to be the veteran's comeback Malayalam film. “Priyan is an amazing character, a director who sets out to film with a clear cut vision. It's a dream to work with him because he is also a brilliant technician who understands the importance of each and every aspect of filmmaking. In the years I've been working with him, I've learnt a lot about filmmaking,” says Arun.

Even the art of remaking a film frame-by-frame? (Laughs) “Remakes they may be, but each of Priyan's films has its own individuality, doesn't it? I learnt the art of tactful filmmaking from Priyan; how he narrates a film, how he conceives a screenplay, how he visualises the scenes to be taken, and how he gives different options on the editing table despite having an edited movie in his mind,” adds Arun, who can't stop gushing about “the genius” of his mentor.

In fact, Arun's entry into films appears to be eerily like that of Priyan. Like Priyan, Arun too once harboured dreams of being a cricketer. Whereas Priyan had to stop playing because of an injury to his eye, Arun fell into the film industry by accident – quite literally. “I was never much into cinema, preferring sport throughout my growing up years (he studied at St. Thomas Residential School in the city). If things had gone according to plan, I would have been a professional cricketer, an opening batsman, to be exact. I was an active member of the M.G. College cricket team, the Thiruvananthapuram league, the inter-zonal team and so on. I fractured my leg in a motorcycle accident a day prior to the trials for the under-19 district team. And that effectively was the end of that,” recalls Arun, a tad whimsically.

World of movies

Then again, as the saying goes, when one door shuts another one opens. Those months spent recuperating from the accident, lying in front of a television, opened up the “wonderful world of movies” to this Physics graduate. “It was a time when animation had started to pop into movies and I became interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of films,” says Arun. As soon as he graduated, in 1996, he headed to Chennai for a course in visual effects, and went on to become a specialist in non-linear editing, then a new technique in India. Prodded by his parents, G.A. Nair and Padmakumari, “very reluctantly” Arun took up a ‘stable' government job at the Kerala State Film Development Corporation, where he edited a few serials, starting with the slapstick comedy Mahatma Gandhi Colony, directed by Viji Thampy, besides a few documentaries. “Although I got the opportunity to work with renowned editors such as Bhoominathan, P.C. Mohanan, Hariharaputran and Bina Paul, to name a few, I knew that I wanted something more,” says Arun. Enter into the picture director T.K. Rajeevkumar with an offer to make a trailer for Vakkalathu Narayanankutty, and Arun got a “much-needed” foothold into the industry. His first film as editor was for director Suresh Krishnan's Vasanthamalika.

Although, Arun likes working in Hindi better than other languages, “solely for the reason that much more time and importance is given to editing,” it's in Malayalam that he wants to further his career and “make a change.” Arun's next film will go on the floor soon, but currently his priority is quite different – playing with his four-year-old daughter, Arsha.

If I were

...a cocktail, i'd be a Caprioska, because it's a nice balance of sweetness and sourness, and that garnish of lime gives it a fresh flavour. I love its tan colour, which gives it a golden sheen, and makes a style statement.

... a cricketer, i'd hope to be Sir Viv Richards. He was a class apart on the field; the first batsman to make the fastest century in test cricket. The way he bats down pace bowlers such as Goeff Lawson (Kochi Tuskers coach) and Ian Botham is remarkable.

...an editor in Hollywood, I wish I had edited Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption. It's spectacular because the editor [Richard Francis-Bruce] captured the timing perfectly. It's something that very hard to do to maintain the feel of the movie. On the other hand I wish I could have re-edited Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

Select filmography as editor

Hulchul

Garam Masala

Kanchivaram

Bhool Bhulaiyaa

Chup Chup ke

Billu

De Dana Dan

Malabar Wedding