Comedy on a platter

Director Abi Varghese dishes up a light-hearted comedy set in the United States, with the film 'Monsoon Mangoes', starring Fahadh Faasil in the lead.

Updated - September 22, 2016 10:42 pm IST

Published - January 07, 2016 01:27 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Fahadh Faasil in a scene from 'Monsoon Mangoes'

Fahadh Faasil in a scene from 'Monsoon Mangoes'

T here’s a steady diet of films based on expatriates that are landing at the box office. The latest on the platter is Monsoon Mangoes , one of the first big releases of the year, starring Fahadh Faasil in the lead. Set and shot in the United States (U.S.), Monsoon Mangoes has been directed by New Jersey-based filmmaker Abi Varghese, known in the internet world as one of the co-creators of cult online sitcom ‘Akkara Kazhchakal’ , which chronicles the lives of Malayali expats in the U.S. Monsoon Mangoes seems to be in the same vein and narrates the tale of a youngster’s attempt at making a movie in the U.S. Going by the trailer that’s already gone viral, Fahadh as Davidh ‘D.P.’ Pallikkal, the wannabe filmmaker in question, seems to be at his quirky best. It’s Abi’s first commercial film, having debuted as a feature film director with Akkara Kazchakal: The Movie . Abi, who quit his marketing job three years ago to concentrate on films full time, talks to Friday Review about Monsoon Mangoes , ‘Brown Nation’, an upcoming comedy series on Netflix that he directed, and the need to showcase more of expatriate life on screen. Excerpts from a phone interview with the 34-year-old director …

‘Akkara Kazhchakal’, ‘Brown Nation’, and nowMonsoon Mangoes, you seem to be fascinated by the expat life

I live the expat life. My family moved to the U.S. when I was four years old, so, naturally, my scripts are coloured by my experiences here. Besides, I believe that filmdom has seen its fair share of stories on life in rural Kerala, it’s now time for the international. There is a significant population of Indians, especially Malayalis, in the U.S. Yet their way of life, trials and tribulations, identity crisis and the likes have not really been explored much on screen. And I’m not talking about the kind of films where they glorify the location; New York, for example. I’m talking about the real deal.

Do we detect a hint of the autobiographical inMonsoon Mangoes…?

(Laughs) Maybe! Let’s just say I might have gone through some of the ups and downs that D.P. goes through in the film. After we moved to the U.S., the one way we stayed connected to our roots was through the movies. My father, the late Mathew Varghese, used to rent films from the local Indian store every weekend and I grew up watching the best of Malayalam cinema – the films of Aravindan, K.G. George, Adoor and the likes. It was when I watched Bharatan’s Amaram – I was only 13 at the time – that I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Coming back to Monsoon Mangoes , it’s not my story alone. I scripted it along with my friends Matt Grubb and Naveen Bhaskar (scriptwriter of ABCD ). It’s a light-hearted, simple comedy, with a small message. All my scripts are like that. Bollywood actor Vijay Raaz (of Monsoon Wedding , Delhi Belly -fame) and Vinay Forrt also play important roles in the film.

Comedy is your forte, then?

I write a lot and comedy comes natural to me. I like putting weird people in weird situations and letting the situational humour unfold. The situational humour is what makes the scripts funny and not the dialogues as such. For example, George Thekkinmoottil (the man of the family in ‘Akkara Kazhchakal’, an Aymanam- native, an insurance agent in the U.S.) is in a situation where he doesn’t fit in to and it just snowballs from there. He’s sort of modelled on my father or rather the sticky situations he used to get in to. Similarly, D.P. is a strange man in an unusual situation. It was rather challenging writing the character of D.P. and his compatriots because, unlike in a comedy series where the situation does not change and the characters are defined, here the characters have to grow as the film progresses, ups, downs, flaws, et. al.

Working with Fahadh

We shot for only 23 days but we prepped for the film for two to three months, going back and forth with ideas and changes. Fahadh’s very easy to connect with. Once the shoot began he just took the script and ran away with it. What more can a director want? I hope this film will work wonders for his career.

They say it’s the time of the Asian American on screen

Definitely. Asian American talent is finally being recognised and we’re getting a lot of opportunities on television. We are now able to reach out to a larger audience and the audience in turn is paying a lot of attention to us too. It’s the same for Malayalam films. They are being recognised in India like never before. In short, it’s a great time to be in films. A lot of experimentation is happening and I’m loving it.

Fill us in on ‘Brown Nation’

I’m very excited about the show. It’s a satirical comedy that deals with the lives of immigrants from India and Indian Americans living in the U.S.. Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms is producing it, along with Indus Media. The show revolves around an IT guy, again a misfit. He lives with his wife, who is an aspiring actress, his father-in-law and a dog. Actors Doug E. Doug, Shenaz Treasurywala, and Omi Vaidya ( 3 Idiots ) are part of the cast. It’s mainly in Hindi and English but its got a good mix of regional Indian dialects as well, including Punjabi, Malayalam and the likes. It’s set to go on air online on Netflix, Hulu, Star network and the likes sometime this year.

( Monsoon Mangoes, produced by Thambi Antony under the banner of Kayal Films, is set to release on January 15).

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