KOCHI: You gave Jayaram one of his finest characters in Panchavarnathatha. Did the confidence in your ability to direct actors compel you to approach someone of Mammootty’s stature for your second film?
It’s not just about confidence. I thought the character was so perfect for Mammukka; it was exclusively written for him. We knew it would come out well if he does it. That’s why we didn’t approach any other actor. When I first met him, I gave him a two-line idea and asked for his approval to develop it because it would be a waste in case he doesn’t like what I had written. He told me he liked the subject and that everything would depend on the treatment.
How would you describe Kaladasan Ullas?
Ullas is an ordinary, middle-class guy. We were particular that he doesn’t have any special character traits. We can make Mammukka speak any language or give him a unique get-up, but we didn’t think those would be necessary here. Those were all consciously done away with.
When I discussed the character with Mammukka, I said that when Ullas walks through a sufficiently crowded street, nobody pays any attention to him. That’s the difference between him and Jayaram’s character in Panchavarnathatha. Everyone would notice the latter.
Panchavarnathatha had characters with unrealised dreams. Does Ganagandharvan explore a similar territory too?
There is a little bit of that in it, yes, but it’s a different story. To put it simply, society usually looks at certain things with a one-sided attitude.
Take the media or even the law, there is sometimes a tendency to overlook a different point-of-view. That’s what the film is about.
Why did you pick the title Ganagandharvan?
There are two things. First, it’s a nickname Ullas earns on account of his participation in the local stage events. Secondly, we thought about the name under a different context which makes sense from a story standpoint. In the olden days, Gandharvas (celestial beings) were blamed for any misdeeds or distasteful events that happened in the neighbourhood. Though nobody has seen them, they are still accused of doing those things.
What’s your writing process like?
Once there is a story in place, I believe it’s imperative to be in constant touch with the person for whom you have written the character, to get suggestions rather than doing everything yourself. That way, it would be easier to make changes. Say, we are holding on to a script for a year or more. It wouldn’t be possible to incorporate the changes that happened around us in that time frame. A piece of dialogue we wrote might show up in another film without our knowledge. Since we are writing the story and know how it begins and ends, it is better to let it grow organically.
It’s a multi-stage process then?
Right. A story may invoke different reactions in different people. We have to expect that the audiences are going to come up with all sorts of questions, intelligent or otherwise. We may have a justification for a particular thing at a particular moment, but we can’t do that for a large crowd sitting in the theatre. So, it’s better to clear any doubts first before going ahead. When people say they wrote a script in two years, it’s not that they actually took two years to complete it. It’s about writing one segment, locking it, then proceeding with the rest after a month or so. We have to do justice to the actor. If they didn’t understand their characters, then forget the audience.
While directing Mammootty, were you influenced by his past performances?
That has happened. It’s natural to want your favourite actor to repeat something you have seen him do before. I’ll tell you a funny story. When I was location hunting for Panchavarnathatha, I had a certain kind of house in mind because I had pictured it that way in the script. When we are at Thodupuzha, Maniyanpilla chettan asked me, “Isn’t this the kind of house you were looking for?” I realised that I had seen that house at some point in my life and that’s how the visual ended up in my script. So when directing Mammukka one day, I told him it would be nice if he did a scene the way he did in an earlier film. He told me, “I’ve been noticing this for a while now. You’re always telling me to do something that was done and over with. We should try something that’s not been done before.” His contributions helped me get over those influences.
Given your background in comedy, which kind of comedy do you find harder to write—physical, slapstick or verbal?
Physical comedy is impossible to write whereas slapstick comedy is easily doable. Verbal comedy can be done too, irrespective of the physique, as long as the timing is right. Physical relies a lot on flexibility and other factors. You can invoke laughs by making a person run a certain way. But, things have changed now. Today, the internet has become a platform for such jokes. If we try that in cinema today, it would be branded as chali (poor jokes). Even some of the biggest comedians fail to distinguish good and bad comedy. And with people like me, everyone has certain preconceptions about what we are supposed to do. Just because in the past we entertained people on the stage doesn’t necessarily mean we have to do the same when making our own films. They’re two different jobs.
Name your favourite Mammootty performance—serious and comedy.
Serious: Vidheyan Comedy: Azhakiya Ravanan