Amal Neerad is unlike other famous Malayalam cinematographers and directors. He owns a giant gait, speaks very little and his camera often looks from a worm’s point of view — getting as low as it can. He does not love pace and as a director, lets his characters take ages for a single stride. When combined, the sedately-paced low angle scenes and unconventional frames define Amal Neerad. Neerad’s films are chided and celebrated for two Ss — slow motion and superheroism. Yet his films are awaited and anticipated, very unlikely for a relatively young filmmaker. Even when he talks, he is measured and monotonous, leaving us to wonder whether the frission his films produce springs from the very same man.
Nothing except films has ever excited Neerad. As a school kid, on Fridays he would be missing from the extreme right corner of the last bench and could be spotted right in the middle of the front row of Shenoy’s theatre in Ernakulam. The more he watched, the more intense grew the addiction. When it was time for his pre-degree, Neerad chose history. His silent but supportive parents were a bit curious about the choice, which was soon clear — the boy wanted to join film school and thought history would assure him the required marks. “I’ve always had a liking for history. Maybe because I read a lot of Amar Chithra Katha as a child,” he says. The college days at Maharajas College, Ernakulam, passed on smoothly, calm and peacefully, unlike his films. His father Omanakuttan also worked as a professor in the same college, but both seldom interacted. “He never posed any problems for me. So I was obliged to not cause any headaches for him. It was cool with me that my father was in the same college,” he smiles.
Neerad grew up with Left leanings and politics was irresistible, which saw him getting elected as the college union chairman. In college, he was a lover but not a pining Romeo. “I was in love but unsuccesful,” he says followed by a studied pause. He was smart at studies but not studious. “I was not one among the students who never missed his lectures and kept studying all day. History came naturally to me. I was good at combining part fiction and part reality which is what history is all about,” he explains further.
Neerad was one of the toppers in his class, something that shocked a few teachers, ‘‘who loathed laying their eyes on an irreverent student who never attended lectures or had no respect for the teachers,” explains Neerad.
His confidence was dented when he failed in his first chance to get admission into Satyajit Ray Film Institute, Kolkata. “They asked me arithmetic and logic as if they have known my weakness in both subjects since childhood,” he laughs. But Neerad did clear the exams for the second time and got admitted for a PG in cinematography. He won a scholarship and flew to Berlin Film School during his final year, which was unexpected. He calls himself a product of the liberal atmosphere of Maharajas.