For someone whose first movie, Mandharam, is about to come out, director Vijesh Vijay doesn't have a hint of worry on his face; he is a picture of enthusiasm and confidence. And one doesn't get the feeling that he is trying to feign either of them. This is a man who knows what he is doing.
When asked how he manages to stay tension-free, he tells us that he had been asked that question before and he doesn't know why exactly. "Maybe it's because I knew that I was destined to make movies. I've struggled a lot, but there was always this feeling inside me that I would get to where I am now. Mandharam was 9 months in the making (there were multiple breaks between schedules). And I also know that audiences will come to see my movie," says Vijesh.
Did these schedule breaks concern him? "Not at all. I was happy that I finally got to direct something, even if it was going to take a while to come out."
The film, starring Asif Ali, was initially planned for a September 7 release. However, the unexpected floods led to their film being postponed to a later date. Asif Ali will be seen in three different get-ups in the film.
Though Mandharam is a romantic entertainer, Vijesh elaborates that it's also a coming-of-age drama in addition to being a story about friendship and parental bonds. "I've always been interested in films that appeal to the emotions and senses. I believe in cinema that entertains. I'm not interested in making films that nobody wants to see."
If you ask Vijesh a list of filmmakers who inspire him, you won't hear names like Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Akira Kurosawa or Martin Scorsese; you'll hear instead names like Mani Ratnam, Gautham Menon, Imtiaz Ali, SS Rajamouli, etc.
"When an ordinary man gets off from a long and hard day at work, he wants to see something that makes him feel good when he comes out of the theatre. Most people don't go to the theatre to get depressed further (laughs). That's the kind of cinema I want to make because that's the kind of cinema I want to see as an audience member," says Vijesh.
Vijesh cites Alphonse Puthren's blockbuster Premam as a perfect example. "I know that there are some folks who didn't like that film. But I enjoyed it. I thought it was a fun experience. Isn't what cinema was invented for?"
Since he had brought up Premam, we asked him about the comparisons some people made between Mandharam and Premam, given the fact that it shows Asif's character in three different time periods. Vijesh clarifies that though they are two different movies, there is nothing wrong with past influences showing up in your work. "Even if you take the Hollywood movies being made today, there are concepts in them that we have seen many times before, in an older era, being repackaged to appear fresh for a new generation of moviegoers. They may have not seen the inspirations but we are aware of this," observes Vijesh.
It's all in the treatment, regardless of how old or cliched the subject is, says Vijesh. "Mandharam narrates the emotional journey of Asif Ali's character; and what he goes through, some of us may have gone through a similar experience. It's possible for more than one person to go through the same experience, no? There are situations in this film that I and M Sajas (writer) have gone through."
Having an actor like Asif Ali on board made things much easier, adds Vijesh. "Being the open-minded person that he is, Asif is willing to accept our ideas and put in that extra effort to help us realise them. And he comes up with some cool inputs of his own. We had an incredible rapport on set. He didn't treat me like a newcomer. Now that I have made one film with Asif, I know everything about him. So in case I make another film with him, I know that I'll be able to utilise him better."
Vijesh says the songs in the film were added much later. "I had a clear idea of where I wanted to place the songs. So I shot the footage I wanted for them much earlier. The actors didn't know that this footage was being shot for the songs. At that point, there were no lyrics or music; we just used some random, dummy lyrics instead. Everything was written and composed later." He confesses that one of the songs, which is about to be released online soon, was written by him.
Mandharam is produced by Monisha Rajeev and Tinu Thomas under the banner of Magic Mountain Cinemas. Kannada actress Varsha Bollamma (who made her Malayalam debut with Kalyanam) and Anarkali Marikar (who debuted in Aanandam) play the main female leads. Jacob Gregory, Arjunan Asokan and Vineeth Vishwam appear in supporting roles.