Malayalam director Lijo Jose Pellissery interview: Mohanlal’s ‘Malaikottai Vaaliban’ narrates a universal story

Releasing on January 25, ‘Malaikottai Vaaliban’ blurs time and space to unspool the tale of a warrior, as the director talks about incorporating elements from around the globe in the film; from Japanese folk and the Samurai culture in Japan to Westerns and so on

January 23, 2024 11:30 am | Updated January 25, 2024 12:19 pm IST

Mohanlal in a still of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban

Mohanlal in a still of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

With hair knotted into a bun and dressed in vintage clothes, a man roars while dragging two heavy ropes. This was filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery’s introduction of Mohanlal’s character in his new film, Malaikottai Vaaliban.

The trailer that followed showed a sneak peak of a tale of romance, treachery, valour and redemption. Shot in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and in Puducherry, ace cinematographer Madhu Neelakandan’s frames depict a scarred and battle-worn land set in a different time, and the presence of a hardened warrior.

Releasing on January 25, the film has created waves of excitement as Lijo and Mohanlal come together for their first project. Lijo says the film is based on a line he had jotted down during the lockdown. It was later expanded to encompass a story that blurs time and space. While thinking about the story, Lijo felt the best person to headline the film would be Mohanlal. Till then the director and Mohanlal had had several discussions that did not coalesce into a movie. But this one hit the bull’s eye and soon Lijo and scenarist PS Rafeeque began scripting the screenplay of the film.

“The film just fell into the right track. The producers, actors and the story all came together. When I narrated the story, they liked it,” says Lijo.

Filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery on the sets of Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban.

Filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery on the sets of Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban. | Photo Credit: ARJUN KALLINGAL

Although it was originally planned in Tamil, Lijo altered the idea to something larger, especially in terms of the character and the landscape. “There is the feel of a folk tale to the whole story but I wanted the vocabulary to be rooted in the soil. I knew that Rafeeque would be the best person to get the language right.”

Lijo points out that the Amen team is reuniting with Prashant Pillai composing the music for the movie.

Tne intriguing trailer and posters have heightened the expectations for the movie. Nevertheless, Lijo refuses to confirm if Mohanlal is essaying a wrester or an illusionist. “Let it be intriguing till the film reaches theatres on January 25,” he laughs.

A still from  Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban

A still from Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Agreeing that Mohanlal’s prowess as a prize-winning wrestler during his college days certainly helped in fleshing out the character, Lijo says it was merely one of the factors to cast the actor in the lead. Hareesh Peradi, Sonalee Kulkarni, Katha Nandi, Danish Sait and Rajeev Pillai are among those in the cast.  

“We are telling a story. I wanted to use a very Indian terrain and the characters to be rooted in that background. But I have taken elements from around the globe, from Japanese folk culture, the Samurai culture in Japan, from Westerns and so on, but at the same I wanted to make sure that it had no touch of the western influence.”

Emphasising that the “film has a universal story to narrate”, Lijo says that this work is a tribute to his childhood as an ardent and “crazy fan of cinema”.  

Magic of the large screen

“I used to frequent all the cinemas in my neighbourhood. The theatre has a vibe of mega images. All mainstream movies of that time — whether it be in English, Malayalam, Hindi or Tamil — had that vibe.  Then a phase came when we, including me, got into a realistic space. Now, I think people want to see cinema in theatres. We are not looking for real-life experience but cinema on screen – large scale, with larger-than-life characters. Viewers are seeking a theatrical event like Sholay or any of the MGR- Rajinikanth films of an era.”

Filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery on the sets of Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban 

Filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery on the sets of Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban  | Photo Credit: ARJUN KALLINGAL

Lijo used to be fascinated by cinematic extravaganzas and remembers watching the first day, first show of movies like Dalapathy and Kolilakkam. “Malaikottai Vaaliban is for that wonderstruck cine fan in us. Just the dialogues are enough to understand the vibe of the character. He is a hero, not anyone from real life.”

Lijo’s deep interest in Tamil films was evident in his previous film, Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, where he had used songs and dialogues from Tamil films to give the flavour of a different era. Malaikottai Vaaliban also seems to have a Tamil influence. Is the title a tribute to the Tamil classic Vanjikottai Vaaliban?

“There is a definitely a Tamil flavour to the film. My maternal grandfather was from Tamil Nadu. I grew up watching Tamil legends on screen such as MGR and Gemini Ganesan,” chuckles Lijo.

Filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery on the sets of Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban

Filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery on the sets of Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban | Photo Credit: ARJUN KALLINGAL

He contends that since the pandemic, audiences have got used to watching movies irrespective of language and region. “Globally, the film scene is evolving in a different direction. Borders have been slowly erased. Actors act in different languages and we watch cinema without being unduly bothered by the language.”

Maintaining that sensibility and exposure to cinema have enhanced the viewing habits of the audience, Lijo feels that they are much more open to movies of different genres.  

Having worked with Mammootty and Mohanlal, what does he feel about their style of work?

“I am not the kind of person who thinks about all this. The best part of working with them is the experience they come with. There is an instant solution for every situation. I enjoyed that part while working with them. It is a different feeling when you are behind the camera, calling ‘action’ and the biggest stars are in the frame as your character! That is a great feeling.”

Mohanlal in Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban

Mohanlal in Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Lijo says there is a natural difference when one is working with newcomers and while working with big stars. “There is a difference in the functioning of the sets. But there is nothing unusual about it.”

The sky-high expectations about the film do not seem to bother Lijo who adds that he is all nerves during the shooting of a film but once it is done he leaves it to the audience to judge. “After Angamaly Diaries(2017), I have never stressed about a release. The question is whether I have done my best, with all honesty. If I have given my 100% to the film, then I don’t worry about it all. I leave it for the audience to decide,” he says.

And what next?

“There are several projects in my mind. I may not be shooting all the time. But cinema is always in my mind.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.