Malayalam director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan on collaborating with Manju Warrier in ‘A’hr (Kayattam)’

The filmmaker's sixth feature is also about identity and how it influences our perceptions and relationship with each other

Updated - May 26, 2020 05:29 pm IST

Published - May 26, 2020 04:56 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan has always been fascinated by the question of identity, its myriad manifestations in everyday life and man’s place in nature. Right from his first film Oraalppokkam , Sanal has delved into the many aspects of identity without ever repeating himself or travelling along predictable paths.

His sixth feature film, A’hr ( Kayattam ) , starring Manju Warrier in the lead and co-produced by her, is also about identity and how it influences our perceptions and relationship with each other. “In a way, this film is a kind of sequel to the first. The lead character’s name is Maya, like that of the heroine in Oraalppokkam . It is a story about identity, about the many interpretations of Maya in Hindu philosophy, about the world as a kind of illusion… it is a film of many layers,” says Sanal, in a WhatsApp video call.

Manju Warrier and Gaurav Ravi on the sets of Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Kayattam

Manju Warrier and Gaurav Ravi on the sets of Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Kayattam

The filmmaker says with a wry smile that the story is about two trekkers, a woman and a young man, who stumble upon the fact that they both happen to be Malayalis. “That brings in a lot of preconceived notions into their mindscape and alters their previous notions about each other,” he says.

And what is the meaning of A’hr? “That is the highlight in the film. It refers to a language spoken by a group of indigenous people that the trekkers meet. In their language, A’hr means Kayattam (a climb, ascent, elevation). Manju speaks a little of the language and even sings a song. In fact, it is a musical film with 10 songs, all improvised, written and composed on location by Ratheesh Eettillam. I have also composed a song. It is the songs that take the film forward,” says Sanal, revealing a little of the storyline.

Manju Warrier in a still from Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Kayattam

Manju Warrier in a still from Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Kayattam

Since the people speaking A’hr do so in a sing-song manner, Sanal ensured that the six characters who appear as the group of indigenous people were all musicians.

The filmmaker insists that it is these improvisations and on-the-spot narratives that infuse freshness into the story. Ozhivudivasathe Kali , for instance, had no written script at all and the entire dialogues were improvised during the shoot of the film.

At the mercy of nature

He returns to the Himalayas for A’hr (Kayattam) after his début feature Oraalppokkam . “In our search for answers to questions about our existence and relationship with Nature, one has to embark on a journey that is physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological. In a way, the shooting itself was an unforgettable experience,” feels Sanal.

He spotted the location on one of his annual trips to the Himalayas. About four kilometres away from the makeshift path that led to a pucca road, the location demanded that the entire film unit trek to the place with equipment and stay in camps. Shooting began in Himachal Pradesh in the last week of July 2019. However, on August 19, the sudden downpour and floods left them stranded while they were shooting at Chhatru, about 85 kilometres from Manali.

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan (right) on the sets of Kayattam with Gaurav

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan (right) on the sets of Kayattam with Gaurav

“We were stuck for about three days in our camp and then we had to walk for nearly four to five hours to reach the base camp. It was a trial by fire and Manju overwhelmed me with her dedication and determination. Considering that I try and avoid working with the stars of our industry, I was really taken aback by the strain Manju took for the shooting. I would have never imagined a leading star taking so much trouble for her work. I don’t work with the stars because my film unit is spartan and minimalistic,” says the filmmaker, adding, “ Since my movies are usually made on shoestring budgets, many of the comforts that our stars are used to cannot be included. This time, Manju is a co-producer and so the budget was not an issue but the location was and she adapted so generously.”

Manju’s co-trekker has been enacted by Gaurav. Chandru Selvaraj makes his debut as independent cinematographer in Sanal’s film and Dileep Das is the at director. Kayattam has been produced by Sanal’s Niv Art Movies, Manju Warrier Productions, and Parrot Mount Pictures.

Like many other films waiting in the wings for a theatrical release, Kayattam ’s theatrical release has also been hampered by the lockdown. Sanal says the producer are mulling an OTT release as there are several biggies lined-up for release as soon as theatres open. “It is a period of uncertainty for all of us and we are not keeping all our options open. An OTT release is one of the options we are exploring though a decision has not been taken yet,” adds Sanal.

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