Neerali director Ajoy Varma is visibly excited about his directorial debut in Malayalam. The Mumbai-based Malayali filmmaker, who mostly worked in the Hindi film industry as an editor for 15-20 years, has also directed two independent Hindi films, Dus Tola (2010) and S R K (2009).
What compelled you to make your debut in Malayalam?
It's pure and simple: Mohanlal (laughs). I wanted to make a film in Malayalam for a long time, and that too with Lalettan. I grew up watching his films. One day, a very good writer friend of mine, Saju Thomas, approached me with a script. We usually work on a script together. So he came up with this idea which I thought was very interesting. We started developing it and came to the realisation that if Lalettan doesn't do this movie, there is no point in making it. When you see the movie, you'll know why I said that. Nobody apart from him could've done this role -- at least, I feel so.
What's the movie about?
It's basically a thriller-cum-drama. So naturally, we can't reveal anything other than what we showed in the trailer. There are emotions and humour but it's primarily a thriller. It's a family-friendly story. And it's not a road movie despite revolving around a trip during which something bad happens.
Did you originally intend to do it in Malayalam?
Yes. It was meant to be in Malayalam only. Saju Thomas wrote it in Malayalam and we decided that we needed a terrific actor to pull this off. It's not easy to do something like this. I felt Lalettan would be an excellent candidate. And when I showed him the script, he immediately liked it.
How would you compare your experiences here with respect to the Hindi film industry?
I didn't find any differences. Making a movie is always difficult, be it in Hindi or Malayalam. For me, the best part of this was that I got to direct a legend. That was the most exciting part. Otherwise, the filmmaking process is always the same.
Lalettan being a part of this, how did you handle the heavy expectations?
Well, my view is that when you're making a film, we shouldn't be concerned about these things. The script should be the main focus, and the challenges that accompany filming. For me, being with Lalettan and seeing him perform was the most exciting thing about the entire shoot.
Was it difficult to convince others when you were making a jump to Malayalam?
Like I said, anything is difficult. The first thing is you must be ready with a story that should convince the actor. That's the most important thing. The actor has to be excited about it, and then you get the approval when they're convinced that you can deliver. Conviction in the script and the belief in you -- these are two primary requisites for any director.
Some reports say that this film has the maximum number of visual effects compared to any other Malayalam film -- more than Pulimurugan?
There are lots of rumours going around like that. Yes, there are visual effects but the 'maximum number' report is false. Neerali and Pulimurugan are two different movies, so there is no comparison. That news was created by somebody else. It didn't come from me (laughs). There is no authenticity to such news unless I say it.
Is it true that a portion of the music was composed in Poland?
Yes. There was this one song, sung by Vijay Yesudas, which required a particular orchestration that Stephen Devassy (the composer) wanted, and we didn't get that here. As he travels a lot and is a very good musician, he knew a group of artists who could handle this particular portion really well.
That cliffhanger sequence in the trailer -- was it a combination of green screen and practical effects?
When it comes to a sequence like that, obviously you need the help of visual effects. We shot some of that in a studio in Mumbai. We also shot some portions live. For the difficult shots, we had to employ CGI (computer-generated imagery).
What about the sound design?
That was also done in Mumbai. There is a popular sound designer called Arun Nambiar who did some well-known Hindi films (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Anaarkali of Aarah).