Director Aashiq Abu is sitting among the audience during the first show of his latest film, Da Thadiya (Hey Fat Guy). At the end, the hero, Luke John Prakash (Shekhar Menon) has to decide whether he wants to reignite his childhood romance with Any Mary Thaddikaran (Ann Augustine). Luke is standing on the edge of a pier at Fort Kochi, while Ann stands a few feet behind him. After a few moments of reflection, Luke decides to spurn Ann, quite unlike what happens in almost any film in any language in India.
The audience boos initially but then settles into a sustained applause. “In this story, it will look unnatural and forced if the hero accepts the heroine,” says Abu. “By this point, the viewer is completely identified with Luke. So I was sure there would be no problems if she was rejected.”
Da Thadiya is about the travails of a fat man. “Every man is different from each other physically and mentally,” says Abu. “You should not categorise people according to their size. Even dark and short people have a problem. Today, when the parents of a girl are looking for a boy, a fat man is definitely out of the picture. I wanted to make a point that there are all types of people, and we should accept them as they are.”
Da Thadiya is emerging to be a ‘word of mouth’ hit. The collections have been more than satisfactory, thanks to the holiday season. But what has been most unusual is that there are no stars in the film. The hero, Shekhar, was playing his first role, although he is a well-established disc jockey in Kochi. His cousin, Sunny Jose, played by Sreenath Bhasi, is your ordinary happy-go-lucky youngster. “I could have taken stars, but it would have looked contrived,” says Abu.
Asked about the qualities needed for a film to be a hit, he says, “The script should be engaging, logical, and convincing. Suppose I introduce a character named Narayanan. Subconsciously, as the film continues, the audience is searching for more details about Narayanan: Where is his home town? Who are his parents? What is his mindset? If there is a moment’s break in this, the viewer will lose interest, and get bored.”
By this success, Abu has also shown that you don’t need a star to have a hit. “For me, the concept comes first, followed by the story and screenplay,” he says. “It is only in the end that we think of selecting the actors.” This is in marked contrast to most Mollywood directors who select the star first and then frame a story around him.
Another change that Abu is spearheading is the injection of quality into commercial films. “There is a belief in the industry that when you make a commercial film, the aim should be to make people laugh,” he says. “So a character should wear a bright red shirt or yellow shorts. The camera should not focus on an actor’s face for too long. The less logical it is, the better. This is because of the fear that the audience will not accept serious cinema. And, therefore, films should not be a depiction of real life.”
Abu’s previous two films, Salt ‘n Pepper and 22 Female Kottayam, depicted real life in intense images and proved to be big hits. So, it looks like he is on the right track. And the stars also want to get onto his track. The young director’s next film, Gangster will star Mammooty in the lead role.