Talking to techie-turned-director Basil Joseph, you’ll never guess that he’s a newbie, giddy about the release of his first film, Kunjiramayanam . Basil’s confidence in himself, his actors, including Vineeth Sreenivasan, Dhyan Sreenivasan, Aju Varghese, Neeraj Madhav, Deepak Parambol, Srinda Ashab and the like, his crew, especially cinematographer Vishnu Sharma, editor Appu Bhattathiri, and scenarist Deepu Pradeep, his craft…and, of course, his film, all shine through when we catch up with him on the phone, prior to it’s release in theatres today.
“Making Kunjiramayanam was like preparing for an examination. You slog and slog for days and months, a.k.a. the study leave, in preparation for the shoot, hoping that you’ve done your best to make the exam itself run smooth. We, especially Vishnu and I, had planned everything beforehand, down to minute details of each shot, right from camera angles to placement of extras in the frame. As a result the actual shoot was a sort of an anti-climax!” says Basil.
Kunjiramayanam has been produced by Suvin K. Varkey under the banner of Little Big Films. The original schedule for the shoot was 44 days in Kudallur village, near Kollengode in Palakkad; they completed it in 35 days. No mean feat but not altogether surprising, for Basil is somewhat of an old hand at filmmaking. He was one of the first to ride the short film-making wave that’s now de rigueur among the youth and is the director of popular shorts such as Shh , Priyamvada Katharayano and Oru Thundu Padam .
“When you’re helming a short, you operate as a jack of all trades, responsible for every aspect of the film, from creation to pre- and post-production to distribution. I found directing a feature to be a lot less stressful, even though it comes with a whole lot of other responsibilities such as that to the producer, the cast and crew, the audience… even to Malayalam cinema as a whole. It was like managing a bunch of talented individuals to perform at optimum and making sure that they all stick to my vision,” muses the 25-year-old.
Even after all that preparation though, Basil says he constantly doubted himself throughout the making of the film. “Most of the crew are debutants and we were working with a script that’s quite experimental, which also involves a lot of technicality. There was not much in way of guidance so we just went with the flow. Was it the right way of doing things? Only time will tell. Thankfully, we were all on the same wavelength, having worked with many of them in my short films or when I was assisting Vineeth ettan on Thira . It was a whole lot of fun,” he says.
The fun seems to have translated on film too, taking into account the hilarious and quirky teasers, trailers and songs. “It’s a full-length comedy with elements of fantasy, horror and so on. It’s not over intellectual or slapstick. It’s clean, neat humour. Deepu’s script is based on five short stories that he wrote in his popular blog, deepu.me, ” explains Basil.
As such, Kunjiramayanam tells the tale of a quaint, verdant village in the hills of Kerala, where myths, legends and superstition play an important part in local life. It’s narrated through the “unrealistic adventures and misadventures” of the naïve ‘Dubai’ Kunjiramanan (Vineeth), the first and only villager to seek the greener pastures in ‘the Gulf,’ and his quirky friends such as ‘Cutpiece’ Kuttan (Aju), a successful tailor and the only one in the village who has completed his higher education, the lackadaisical Lalu (Dhyan), Kuttan’s apprentice and Kunjiraman’s cousin, who is at odds with him, ‘Well done’ Vasu (Mammukoya), known for his tall tales, Kanjuttan (Neeraj), a painter, and so on. The village itself is an important character in the film. “Desham, the fictitious village, has an old world charm to it. It’s a timeless space, where the long arm of globalisation has only begun to impact lives,” explains Basil.
Even the look of the characters is reminiscent of ‘old world’ Malayalam cinema in the 80s-90s. Kunjiraman, for instance, reminds one of actor Sreenivasan [Vineeth and Dhyan’s father] in Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam , particularly the song ‘Pavizhamalli...’ “It was deliberate,” says Basil, showering praise on his lead actor.
“Kunjiraman is a character that demands the actor to lose his inhibitions and Vineeth ettan stepped up to the task brilliantly. On that note, so did all the other actors and crew members, putting each other at ease so that they all had the freedom to voice their opinions, if they felt something was not right. There was no ego or hierarchy on set. The Malayalam cinema I experienced so far was fantastic and it makes me all the more determined to build my world right here,” says Basil.
Now, that’s epic.