In focus First-time director Unni Vijayan talks about tweaking Anita Nair’s ‘Lessons in Forgetting’ for its film adaptation and bagging the National Award

For their first feature film, producer Prince Thampi and director Unni Vijayan wanted a hard-hitting premise. Thampi suggested adapting Anita Nair’s novel Mistress into a Malayalam film and the producer-director duo met the author. In course of the conversation, Anita Nair suggested they read her new work, Lessons in Forgetting . “We read the story and empathised with the character of J.A. Krishnamurthy who goes in search of his daughter. Thampi and me both have teenaged daughters and could relate to the father’s character,” recalls Vijayan.

Anita Nair’s Lessons in Forgetting ( LIF ) was primarily about a mother (Meera) coming to terms with her husband walking out on her, leaving her to fend for herself and support her children, mother and grandmother. It was the subplot of JAK taking up a journey to find his missing daughter that got the filmmakers hooked. “We, in a way, reversed the story and put the focus on JAK,” says Vijayan.

The next six to seven months were spent brainstorming, working on the screenplay (by Anita Nair herself) before the film could go on floors.

LIF stars Adil Hussain, now basking in the attention post Life of Pi and English Vinglish . “When we were casting, we weren’t looking an actors going by their popularity. We wanted actors who’d suit the respective roles. Adil carries his age so well; there is never an attempt to play down his age. He has an enduring sensuality and above all, he abides by the script and delivers accordingly,” says Vijayan.

Next, Roshni Achreja was chosen for the role of Meera, the single mother, and youngster Maya Tideman as JAK’s daughter. “Both are excellent. Roshni, being an NSD graduate and having good work experience, was brilliant in the film. Maya had returned to India from Prague and suited the role,” says Vijayan. The director says the most intricate role belongs to Raghav Chanana, portrayed as a Casanova. His role takes a darker turn as the film progresses.

It was a huge triumph for Vijayan that his film received warm reviews in film festivals. He and producer Thampi took the film to a number of distributors and corporates who were reluctant about a niche product. Finally, it caught the attention of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), which arranged a special screening for the film. “At this screening, the film was picked up by PVR to be released through PVR Director’s Rare initiative. UNFPA was in appreciation of the film’s story that focuses on issues concerning women,” adds Vijayan.

LIF ’s journey from a book to a movie is more intriguing when we learn that Vijayan, an alumnus of Film and Television Institute of Pune, earlier worked in the purchase department of a plastic company. “I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. But since I was based in Pune, I got to meet my friend Resul (Pookutty) and happened to see films at FTII. That opened my world to good cinema and I learnt that cinema offers more than entertainment. I made the switch,” says Vijayan, who worked as an editor and later an assistant director to Madhur Bhandarkar in Traffic Signal .

LIF bagging the National Award for Best English Feature Film in 2012 came as a well-earned reward. “This film was made from the heart. It’s a big honour to win the award. Since the film is in English, it will reach out to the audience in urban areas. We are also considering dubbing the film in Hindi and Tamil to further its scope,” he signs off.

SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO

Adil (Hussain) carries his age so well; there is never an attempt to play down his age. He abides by the script and delivers accordingly.

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