When Joseph Mathew, a cine fan, watched the scene in the film, 'Spirit', when Mani, the drunken plumber, was beating his wife with violent thumps to the head, he shielded his face and looked downwards. “The scene was far too intense and powerful,” he says. “I could not bear to look.”
A few days after the movie was released, another 'Spirit' viewer called Ranjith. “He vowed that he would never beat his wife again,” says the director. A woman said that if the film had been made five years ago, her husband, who died of alcoholism, would have been alive.
One young man called to say that just like Mani suspected his eldest son was the product of an extramarital relationship of his wife, he was also in the same boat. It was no surprise to Ranjith when he was told that the boy’s father was a drunkard. “You cannot think straight when you are an alcoholic,” says Ranjith.
'Spirit' is about a former bank employee, Raghunandan (played by Mohanlal), who becomes a famous TV anchor. He is an alcoholic who is divorced by his wife because of his addiction. And as he slowly becomes entrapped in the disease, Mani’s case brings about a transformation in Raghunandan. Not surprisingly, in Kerala, which has one of the highest per capita consumption of liquor in India, the film struck a chord among the audience. “The movie showcases the dangers of drinking too much,” says Joseph.
This is Ranjith’s third film in a row which has become a hit. The earlier two were 'Pranchiyettan & the Saint' and 'Indian Rupee'. While 'Indian Rupee' was about a real estate agent trying to make a fast buck, in 'Pranchiyettan', a merchant displays a golden heart and has lengthy one-sided conversations about life with a saint.
Asked why the movies did well, Ranjith says, “I have addressed social issues, which have been troubling society for a while. Apart from that, I have been honest. In all the three films, there were no ingredients to make it a hit—like colourful songs, action sequences, fights, and peppy cinematography. The content is what made them do well. In short, the script is king. Without a good script, no matter what technical skills you possess, the film can never do well.”
But Ranjith takes a while to find a subject. “I always ask myself, ‘why am I doing this theme?’” he says. “If there is a convincing answer within me, then everything will shape up beautifully.” Even though he writes the basic script, within weeks, he keeps changing the dialogues till the last minute. “As the shooting unfolds, I might get new ideas,” he says.
Of course, it helped that superstar Mohanlal came up with a superlative performance in Spirit. “He is the best actor in the Malayalam film industry,” says Ranjith. “Writers and directors have not been able to tap his talent fully.” But in 'Spirit', Mohanlal rose to the challenge. All thanks to Ranjith who is in a creative bloom in the second-half of his career.