Prior to making his directorial debut with Maradona, Vishnu Narayan had worked as an associate of directors Aashiq Abu, Sameer Thahir and Dileesh Pothan. Vishnu says these three mentors played a big part in shaping his perspective on cinema. "I learnt a lot about the ideologies, changes and emerging trends in cinema from them. There was a lot of space and freedom for me to discover new things while working with them."
Maradona, which comes out on June 22, is a feel-good movie with romance, family and thriller elements. "It's about the emotional journey of a guy called Maradona (Tovino). And it has got nothing to do with football. Maradona is just his name".
So when did he get the confidence to direct a film on his own? "I've enjoyed a long friendship with Krishna Moorthy (writer of Maradona), who worked as an assistant on Tamaar Padaar. Maradona came up during one of our lively discussions. The basic plot came from a true incident that happened in his hometown, but it's not fully inspired by it though. It was developed into a viable story after several rewrites. I was working on Aashiq Abu's Rani Padmini at the time and that's when I realised that I had the necessary confidence to tackle something on my own. I came to a final decision after several rounds of discussions with everyone I knew."
Vishnu is grateful for the fact that Mini Studio (an offshoot of Dhanush's Wunderbar Films) came onboard. "It was on account of Mini Studio that we were able to make Maradona the way we wanted. They did not interfere and I had all the freedom to mould the film into what it is now. And even though we went through some challenges, be it in terms of budget or location, they had complete faith in the script and did everything they could to make things work. They were with us all the way. I was fortunate to get a production team like this."
His work experience with Dileesh and Aashiq, and the fact that he was working with a team he already knew for a long time, worked to his advantage. "These factors gave me all the confidence I needed. To begin with, the editor Saiju Sreedharan had worked on some of Aashiq's films (Mayanadhi, Gangster); Sushin Shyam did the music; and Deepak D Menon (Theri, Tharangam) is the cinematographer."
For the female lead, Vishnu picked Sharanya R Nair because he felt she was much closer to her character than anyone else. He calls Chemban Vinod Jose's character "someone who looks calm but radiates so much menace".
Angamaly Diaries fame Tito Wilson plays Tovino's best friend. According to Vishnu, Tito's character is one of the film's strongest characters, and added that this will be a welcome change for the actor who has been playing negative characters so far. Kichu Tellus (who also appeared in Angamaly...) is playing a supporting character too. Also making an appearance is an adorable canine named Rambo, which was trained for three months before the actual shoot. Then there is a dove named Angel.
Music will be one of the film's most important aspects, says Vishnu. "We can sort of call this a Sushin Shyam musical. There are six songs in this that are integrated into the background score. They don't feel detached: they take the story forward and depict the different moods and circumstances the protagonist goes through. They provide the emotional support."