Movies

Young and happening

Basil Joseph with Tovino Thomas on the set of Godha.

Basil Joseph with Tovino Thomas on the set of Godha.  

Directors in their twenties are changing the face of Malayalam cinema.

At an age when most youngsters would only be finding their feet, the likes of Basil Joseph, Rojin Thomas, Shanil Muhammed, Muhsin Parari, Ganesh Raj, John Varghese, Vinay Govind, and Nithin Renji Panicker... are already calling the shots in filmdom. These young directors, all of them only in their 20s, are leading a renaissance of sorts in Malayalam cinema, much like how their predecessors did in the 80s and 90s. Their films, well, most of them anyway, have made an impression on audiences and critics alike for their fresh themes, perspectives and experiments. Many of these filmmakers are now on their second or third films and if the show goes on, quite a few of them might just crack Vineeth Sreenivasan’s four-films-before-30 record!

“Age is just a number,” says Basil, echoing the thoughts of many of his fellow wunderkinds. A protégé of Vineeth, Basil directed Kunjiramayanam, after making a name with his short films, like many of his ilk. In the easy-going style that’s become characteristic of the younger generation of industry folk in Mollywood, Rojin adds, with a laugh: “Look illanne ollu...,” alluding to Salim Kumar’s famous dialogue from Meesa Madhavan. “We might not look the part of a conventional director but when people realise that we know our stuff and that we are very confident about the film, the age factor ceases to exist.”

Basil says that it takes a couple of days for people who don’t know him to adjust to the idea of a youngster in charge. “They would be like‘who is this young upstart giving orders? Then, when I get down to business, my age ceases to matter,” says Basil, adding that it helped that many in the cast and crew of his two films, including the producer of his debut film, were 25 or thereabouts. “As such we were all on the same wavelength and were able to get the best out in each other,” explains the director, who is presently working on his second feature film, Godha.

Ganesh Raj (centre) with the stars of Aanandam, in Goa.

Ganesh Raj (centre) with the stars of Aanandam, in Goa.  

The idea is to think young, say the youngsters. “A director, irrespective of age, needs to be updated with the latest in technology, techniques, attitudes, happenings... His/her style needs to be contemporary to engage modern audiences. That’s why veterans like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are still able to make contemporary films that are young at heart,” says Ganesh, debutant director of Aanandam and the latest on the bandwagon. “For example, my style of filmmaking is very organic. I don’t go pre-prepared for the day’s shoot; I prefer to let things evolve. I can write and tell my actors what to do but ultimately I want them to find their own space. Do they want to stand while delivering a dialogue? Sit? Walk? Whisper? Scream...? They have full creative freedom; they are independent artistes, after all. I believe that my job is only to help them improve on their skills and catch them at their best,” he adds.

John Varghese (left) on the set of Adi Kapyare Kootamani.

John Varghese (left) on the set of Adi Kapyare Kootamani.  

That, however, is a pretty unconventional approach to filmmaking, even among the youngsters. They generally, tend to be fastidious about preparation for each shot, planning everything from camera angles to placement of extras in each frame beforehand. “What we lack in experience by way of slogging it out for years, maybe decades, as associates and/or assistant directors, we make up for with sheer hard work and a professional attitude. We can’t do what we do without a clear cut idea. You just can’t take it easy,” says John, director of Adi Kapyare Koottamani. “The only advantages of age is, perhaps, the ability to think fresh and take risks,” he adds, referring to how Vineeth was bold enough to bring back the romance genre with Thattathin Marayathu (he was 24 then); Vinay made stoner film Kili Poyi; Ganesh brought back the college picnic genre and so on. “I think age becomes a factor only when you have to think from the perspective of older characters. That’s when you draw from the experience of those senior to you,” says Rojin.

Rojin Thomas on the set of Philips and the Monkey Pen.

Rojin Thomas on the set of Philips and the Monkey Pen.  

The rumour goes that the sets of these young directors are great fun. As a rule they don’t encourage hierarchy. Basil, for instance, is known to crank up the volume and break out into dappankoothu dance ever so often, especially when he feels spirits are flagging on set. Inevitably, the entire cast and crew would join in the fun and dance their worries away. “Refreshing,” said an actress of Godha’s shooting. “It’s like hanging out with mates,” said Dhyan Sreenivasan in an earlier interview, of the shooting of Adi Kapyare... “Not too long ago, the director/senior artistes on set were always ‘sir.’ Now, it’s aliyaa, macha, bro, eda... This kind of informal approach immediately breaks barriers, creating a comfort zone,” says actor Jayasurya, who has worked with quite a few young guns like Rojin and Shanil and Midhun Manuel Thomas. “The most striking thing about working with young directors, however, is that they have no ego. Most of them are willing to lend you an ear and are open to your suggestions. That’s creative freedom at its best. Taking a page out of how these youngsters do things, several senior directors too are nowadays embracing a more open attitude to filmmaking,” claims the actor.

Meanwhile, the youngsters themselves see breaking barriers as a necessity. Says Basil: “I dance deliberately. My ADs and cameraman are in on it and they too start dancing and gradually every one lets loose. When the barriers come down, everybody enjoys working together and in turn they become emotionally invested in the film. They start to think of it as not just another film but their own film and give it their all.”

The ‘short’ way forward

Many young directors have come via the short film/video route. Rojin, for example, directed nine shorts, including the state-award winning One Rupee Tip. Muhsin’s claim to fame before KL-10 Pathu was the video song ‘Native Bappa,’ which went viral, while Basil’s shorts such as Priyamvada Katharayano and Oru Thundu Padam also got much traction online. Among Ganesh’s short films is the popular Oru Kutty Chodyam. Vipin Das, directed another popular short, Unnimoolam, before Mudhugavu.

At the helm

Basil and Vinay were 25 when they debuted in Mollywood. Rojin was 20 and Shanil was 24 when they made Philips and the Monkey Pen. Muhsin, Ganesh and John were 27 when they made their first films, Nithin, director of Kasaba, is 29...

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 6:05:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/Young-and-happening/article15911178.ece

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