Known for delivering some of the biggest hits in collaboration with screenwriting duo Bobby-Sanjay, Rosshan Andrrews is back with his 9th directorial, a big-budget iteration of a legend many Malayalis grew up reading about: Kayamkulam Kochunni. Nivin Pauly is portraying the eponymous anti-hero and Mohanlal will appear as his mentor and ally, Ithikkara Pakki. The film hits theatres tomorrow.
This is your biggest and grandest project so far. Have you been planning this for a long time?
Long back, I told Bobby-Sanjay that I wanted to do a historical epic, but then we got busy with other commitments and put that thought on hold. Then one fine day, Sanjay narrated me this story — about an ordinary man, who is not a thief yet, with dreams and aspirations like all of us. The idea was to recreate a Kerala from 150 years ago, and tell a story with a contemporary touch. For a director, it's a challenging job. Every movie I've done so far belongs to a different genre. Kayamkulam Kochunni was born out of a need to do a historical epic.
We are living in a time where many viewers have already been exposed to technically superior epics like Game of Thrones or Baahubali. So when you set out to make this film, was there a pressure to deliver something that's on par with those?
Not at all. I believe in my abilities and my thinking process. I don't underestimate myself. The ones you've mentioned have massive budgets, and we have to face the reality that we can't spend that kind of money. We should think about doing something in a budget that's feasible. I needed a Rs 45-crore budget to recreate that old Kerala. To accomplish something grand within this budget is a challenge, yes, but it's a process I enjoy.
How did Gokulam Films come into the picture?
I felt there was no point in doing this if it's not on a big scale. Like I said, I'm creating a new world. We needed a big budget and a producer who is capable of funding it. I was very clear about what I wanted, right from the beginning. Gopalan sir said, "Don't worry about the money. Let's make something we can be proud of." He is all about go big or go home. He always sees things grandly. We didn't have to compare ourselves to other industries. It was about delivering the biggest product that Malayalam cinema can deliver. And Mohanlal and Nivin Pauly becoming part of it made it even more special.
What can audiences expect from the film?
Nothing but pure entertainment. This is not the kind of film that requires you to think or analyse too much. Kayamkulam Kochunni is a likeable character. It's about simply having a great time at the movies. You'll get to see how Kerala looked 150 years ago. You'll see how people used to travel back then (without roads), how they communicated, how they exchanged money, etc. The feeling of reading an Amar Chithra Katha book — be it the scale or the shot divisions — is exactly what you're going to get from the film. One should watch this with the open mind of a child.
Why Nivin Pauly?
Kayamkulam Kochunni is not someone who transformed into a thief overnight. There is a reason why someone turns to crime. It's our society or an incident that does that. He was an ordinary dreamer. What was Kochunni before he turned into Kayamkulam Kochunni? And what was he after he turned into Kayamkulam Kochunni? He turns into a mature man and has his adventures and romance and everything. And in order to do a character like that, we felt Nivin was perfectly suitable mong the current crop of young stars.
Some of the recent teasers were focused on Mohanlal's character more. Are you concerned that he will overshadow Nivin?
I've no concerns like that. Nivin is playing the main character. Mohanlal is playing the character Ithikkara Pakki, which is an extended cameo. His presence has done wonders for our film, sure, but every actor — be it Babu Antony, Sunny Wayne or Priya Anand — has done their parts beautifully.
When it comes to a visually rich production like this, unlike in a small film, a director has to pay attention to the details in both the foreground and background.
How did you go about it?
Whatever film you're doing, one should use whatever tools they have at their disposal to make it as beautifully as they can. For e.g, in Udhayananu Thaaram, we used a single steady cam shot that many people asked me about. I used that approach because it made that scene look good. I did similar things in Mumbai Police too. And to make a project like Kayamkulam Kochunni look as grand as possible, I used mostly wide-angle lenses in addition to other techniques. But in spite of the scale, I was careful not to lose my grip on the emotions the story required. I've been able to make it exactly as I had planned, with the tools and budget I have. The rest is up to the audience.
Is there any film of yours or a performance you directed which you felt didn't get the appreciation it deserved?
Mumbai Police. I'm not sure if it got the appreciation it deserved. Sure, it worked with the public, but I'm talking about critical acclaim and awards. Maybe the jury back then didn't have the ability to recognise its strength. Or it could be the movie's fault. I wish Manju Warrier's performance in How Old Are You? got wider recognition— outside Kerala, that is. Also, I felt we could've released School Bus at a different time. But I'm not going to be sad about these things. No matter what happens, you move on. You win once, you lose the next time, and then you win again. Cinema is a game, and if you see it that way, you learn to enjoy it.
Do negative reviews affect you?
I have the same attitude towards the scathing negative reviews as well as the overwhelmingly positive reviews. I'm a very balanced person. I've been in this field for 15 years. I've done all kinds of films and heard all kinds of responses. I'm now at a point where nothing can affect me anymore (laughs). We only have one life to live. We should be able to recognise our own flaws and do whatever is necessary to correct them, and then move forward.
What are you working on next?
I'll be doing another film written by Bobby-Sanjay soon. It's a thriller. I'm planning to start work on it next year. Chakkalakkal Jose, a London-based producer, is backing it. We'll be making an announcement regarding the same after the release of Kayamkulam Kochunni. Apart from that I'll be doing a Hindi film for Siddharth Roy Kapoor. It's a remake of one of my earlier films. The scripting is done. Location hunt is still going on. The cast details will be out in due time.