Manu Ashokan has every reason to be thrilled. Both his films, Uyare (2019) and Kaanekkaane (streaming on SonyLIV) have ticked all the right boxes.
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If Uyare was about an acid attack survivor, Kaanekkaane, starring Suraj Venjarmoodu, Tovino Thomas and Aishwariya Lekshmi in the lead, is a family drama with elements of a thriller deftly blended into the story of guilt, vengeance and redemption.
“Scenarists Bobby and Sanjay had shared the one liner of this story some time ago. We never got down to working on it. We were planning a different film when the pandemic interrupted our plans,” says Manu.
During the lockdown, they thought of a subject that they could do within the limitations of adhering to the COVID-19 protocol. That’s how the film came to be. The scenarists told Manu about Paul Mathai, a bereaved father who suspects his son-in-law, who has remarried, of having some involvement in the accident and death of his daughter Sherin. Then they developed the plot with a story of relationships and how it evolves. “It is a film about guilt and forgiveness. There can be many ways of developing a plot. This was ours,” Manu emphasises.
The actors had to be performers who would do justice to the characters and also have a screen presence. “Suraj chettan has been astonishing every one with his histrionics with each character of his. It was the same with Tovino and Aishwariya Lekshmi. They are all stars in their own right but when they do a film, it is their characters that matter, not the screen space. That dedication empowers a director,” he adds.
Manu explains that he was clear that if their acting went overboard, the film would flounder and turn into a melodramatic soap saga. He requested each of them to keep it as realistic as possible. “There are no action scenes or heavy dialogues to support the actors. Their inner turmoil and journey had to reflect subtly on their face and in their body language. That was the challenge,” says Manu.
Tovino had doubts if his acting was too underplayed but Manu insisted that he stuck to a measured portrayal of Allen, a man weighed down by his feelings of guilt. Tovino was the first actor to come on board, though he was mostly playing second fiddle to Suraj in the film. Manu points out that it was the actor’s passion for films that had him playing Allen, a character with many weaknesses.
Aishwariya as Allen’s second wife, Sneha, was worried whether the character would be detrimental to her career as she was playing the ‘the other woman’. Unlike many Malayalam films that justify, glorify or denigrate the ‘other woman’, Kaanekkaane makes no attempt to do that and depicts Sneha as a warm woman trying her best in a difficult situation.
“There are no villains in the story. Circumstances make people take impulsive decisions with many ramifications. That is what happens with the characters here. There is no attempt to justify any of their actions,” says Manu.
Shot in and around Kochi, the film’s shooting began in November. With Suraj coming down with COVID-19, they had to go in for a break and resume after his quarantine period was over. “Considering that it was shot during the peak of a pandemic, we were lucky that shooting resumed smoothly and we were able to complete the film.”
Manu is now planning his third film, again with Bobby-Sanjay writing the script.