Ajai Rahul, one part of the writer-duo of the upcoming comedy 'Padayottam' talks to TNIE on the character Chenkal Raghu, casting, and absorbing Trivandrum flavour into the screenplay.
Padayottam releases on 14 Septemeber 2018.
How did the Chenkal Raghu character happen?
It was scriptwriter Arun AR, who narrated the story to me. Arun was then working as an assistant director in 'Anarkali' and was also involved in making short films in Ernakulam. His story was about a guy who beats up another guy in Trivandrum and the latter's friends travelling to Kasargod to beat him back.
So that was the thread. We couldn't develop the story then itself since both of us were involved in other projects. The next time when we could develop was during the filming of 'Anuraga Karikkin Vellam' where I was working as the casting director and Arun was an AD.
We decided that in the script, the guy whom the gang were going to beat up would be the son of a major player in the area- we were trying to bring conflict in the story.
We found that there must be a character who is outside of all this commotion to push the story forward. In colonies, more particularly in Chenkal Choola (literal translation - Red brick hearth) area of Trivandrum, there will be people in their mid-30s or 40s who acts all tough with small kids looking up to them- Raghu is one of them. Raghu (played Biju Menon) in the film wasn't born in the Chenkal Choola but has made a life around it.
'Raghu' was just a name given during story development but it became Chenkal Raghu when character slowly imbibed the typical behaviour associated with that area.
So, Biju Menon plays a 'Thironthoramkaran'?
Yes, he does. Does he talk in the 'Trivandrum slang'? Yes and No. What we have seen in recent Malayalam cinema as Thiruvananthapuram dialect has been more or less a form of mimicry.
It is not authentic. The way people in Trivandrum city talk is way different from the way folks do in Venjaramoodu area or Pulluvila or Parassala. The rhythm of the language changes from area to area in Trivandrum district itself.
Although there is one thing which has stuck- even when people from the district tries out other languages or dialects, there will be a 'Trivandrum effect' on it. Even when Mohanlal tries his hand at the Thrissur slang in 'Thoovanathumbikal', it isn't perfect. So is the case with Biju Menon speaking Palakkadan dialect in 'Ordinary'. So when Bijuettan was trying to learn Trivandrum slang in Padayottam, he himself would remark, "oh this became Palakkadan slang again".
Dileesh Pothan, who plays a major role in the movie, initially told, "Da, if it is the mimicry version of the slang, I can do it but exact slang would be difficult."
How did the casting happen?
The central characters or the 'gang' from Trivandrum include Sreekuttan, Senan, Renju and Raghu. It is to avenge Senan's (Dileesh Pothan) character that they travel to Kasargod.
The story was developed for a small film with another actor in the lead. Things changed during the shooting of 'Anuraaga Karikkin Vellam'. Rafeek (director of Padayottam), was working in the film as an Associate director, Arun was an AD and I was the casting director. The film helped to gain an audience with its lead actor Biju Menon but it took further time and only during the dubbing session of 'Kavi Udheshichath' was when Menon was properly narrated the story. We were relieved when an artist like him came on board.
The project got a bit delayed due to prior commitments and the team finding other jobs to survive. Rafeek had gone on to work in 'Captain' and later we met Sophia Paul, who liked the story and agreed to produce the film.
Biju Menon was the first actor to come onboard on Padayottam. Later Suddhi Koppa was cast as Ranju, an impulsive character who convinces Chenkal Raghu to go to Kasargod.
The last actor to be cast was director Lijo Jose Pellisserry, who plays a kickass role in the movie. Pellisserry was impressed by the script and plays an extended cameo in the film. There are other directors like Basil Joseph and Dileesh Pothan acting in the film.
While Dileesh Pothan plays a character called Senan, Sreekkuttan is played by Saiju Kurupp and the role of Renju, played by Suddhi Koppa. There are also actors like Sonu and Sarath among a number of other newcomers with the film. All these characters reflect the mannerisms of people I have met in Thiruvananthapuram.
Padayottam is still a small film. A gang travels to Kasargod from Trivandrum and back. Though developed from a small concept, the film was shot in extreme conditions. From the guy Kuttettan, who used to serve us tea, to the light boys, everyone in the crew played a big role in finishing this movie.
Both 'Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum' and now 'Padayottam' has Kasargod as a major space. How different is the terrain in 'Padayottam' compared to the hostile and dry land in 'Thondimuthalum...'?
See, this particular gang lands in Kasargod with a mission to do. Moreover, they reach the place by the interval of the film and from then on, it all goes haywire, absolute commotion. The terrain shown in 'Padayottam' is different than the one in 'Thondimuthal..'. There are no big wastelands or anything in Padayottam. Maybe in two or three scenes, those kinds of visuals might be visible. 'Thondimuthal..' was a very different subject.
Would it be right to call 'Padayottam' a spoof?
Padayottam is not exactly a spoof but actually comedy-thriller. We have written it as a situational comedy and it doesn't use crass scenes to generate laughter. These are characters derived from real people.
See, in Trivandrum, you don't need many reasons to start a fight. How people in Trivandrum react to an issue is- act first and then talk. Usually, the one who got beaten up and the one who started the fight might be probably simpletons. But the image of people in Trivandrum in popular culture is often vilified because of the 'slang' and general prejudice we have carried on.
So is Biju Menon's character also based on someone with Dutch courage, like in Vellimoonga?
Raghu is not a character based on idealism or anything. He is one of those guys who has got some followers at his local space, someone who is part of the temple committee etc. Raghu is not a goonda but he will throw some punches if he needs to, that's it. Raghu stands with his three friends who are neither strong nor brave enough to take revenge. It is Renju (Suddhy Koppa), who convinces Raghu to take up the task (to go to Kasargod for revenge).
You talked about the commotion in Padayottam's post-interval scenes. Any Priyadarshan influences there?
Padayattom's inspirations are actually Tamil films. Recent flicks like "Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara', 'Soodhu Kavvum' etc. If films like these were not made in Tamil, I probably wouldn't have written this. The story is by Arun AR but we have collaborated for the script. Sonu and I have written the dialogues.
I was initially working on a funeral comedy called 'Anenkilum Allenkilum' starring Fahadh Faasil. Around 20 per cent of the film was shot but will be completed after Fahadh's other commitments. There is also a campus film which we are working on with a story written by Arun AR.
('Padayottam', directed by newbie Rafeeq Ibrahim and produced by Weekend Blockbusters is set for a September 14 release.)