Stories about human-robot interactions have in the past provided fodder for some of the most acclaimed and tremendously successful Hollywood films.
So, there is a certain degree of excitement when one learns that a human-robot story is being attempted for the first time in Malayalam cinema, through Android Kunjappan ver 5.25, starring Soubin Shahir. The film marks the directorial debut of Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval, the production designer of films such as Kammattipadam, Badhaai Ho, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, and Ezra.
The filmmaker reveals that despite having a small science fiction element, Android Kunjappan is largely a village-set family drama exploring a father-son bond. Suraj Venjaramoodu plays the former and Soubin the latter. “It’s not a full-fledged science fiction story,” says Ratheesh. “What happens when a robot is introduced to a family? This is the basic premise, which we have tried to narrate in a convincing way. It’s a fun, emotionally layered story with natural dialogues. We didn’t use any complicated technical jargon. The robot has been treated like just another character. All kinds of audiences will be able to connect to it.”
In the film, Soubin plays a mechanical engineer. Ratheesh calls the character a “simple, ordinary man”. “Soubin was always our first choice for the character. I had narrated the story to him before the release of Sudani from Nigeria. So it’s not that we tried to capitalise on his market value post the success of Sudani or Kumbalangi Nights. But it can’t be denied that the success of those films worked to our film’s advantage,” shares the director. The film will also have Saiju Kurup playing an interesting character.
A Mumbai-based team worked on the robot’s design—a blend of VFX and puppetry-—for two years. Recently, the makers released a first-look poster featuring a robot in a Lord Hanuman pose atop a lotus with Soubin’s photograph on its chest. The idea to use a mythological background in the poster, Ratheesh says, was to “give people a sense of familiarity despite the presence of a robot in the story”.
Speaking about his transition from production design to directing, Ratheesh tells us he didn’t find it a challenge as his past work had afforded him enough opportunities to study filmmaking. “Since a production designer works closely with the director and cinematographer—being involved in everything from script discussion to pre-production—it got me comfortably acquainted with the filmmaking process. The only thing that felt new to me was the post-production.”
It’s been a 16-year journey for the filmmaker, who started out as the assistant of veteran art director Bava before moving to Mumbai and later working independently for seven years. “Though directing my own film was always at the back of my mind, I didn’t make attempts to pursue that goal in a rush and just let everything happen organically,” he says.Android Kunjappan was shot by cinematographer Sanu Varghese, who worked with Ratheesh earlier on Badhaai Ho.
Jyothish Shankar (Kumbalangi Nights) has worked on the production design. Saiju Sreedharan (Virus) is editing the film while Jayadevan Chakkadath (Carbon) is working on the sound. The film is scheduled to arrive in theatres on November 8.