Following the unexpected success of Kettyolaanu Ente Malakha, screenwriter Aji Peter Thankam’s name is one to look out for. Starring Asif Ali as a man who suffers from performance anxiety issues, the film won over many viewers by packaging a sensitive subject in a subtle, feel-good narrative.
However, a small section of audiences found some of its ideas quite problematic. The film is still a topic of debate on social media, especially after its recent OTT release. Aji, who is currently at work on his next script (he says it will be “totally different from Kettyolaanu Ente Malakha”) sat down with us to clarify some of the ideas in the film.
What preparations did you take to make sure that such a sensitive subject was accessible to all age groups?
I had spoken to a lot of people, not just friends but also filmmakers. Since it’s a risky subject which hasn’t been attempted before, everyone said it would be difficult to pull off. The possibility of getting an ‘A’ certificate, that too for a debut film (for both writer and director), was brought up. But I didn’t visualise it as an ‘A’ certificate film, and I was very confident about a neat approach right from the beginning. What happened to Sleevachan (Asif Ali) cannot be termed ‘vulgar’. For me, it was nothing more than an embarrassing situation happening to a very naive young man.
Some have pointed out that Rincy’s (Veena) quiet and forgiving nature and Sleevachan’s innocence have diluted the seriousness of the violence.
When we first visualised the script, we wanted to give Rincy the necessary space. She says and does things in a certain way. That’s how the character is and this is her story, not someone else’s. If I had made additional modifications and given Rincy more space, then she would’ve turned into some other woman. We felt the current space was apt for Rincy as a character. And Sleevachan transforms from a man who had attacked Rincy without her consent to a man who asks for her consent in the end.
Another point raised is how the film makes only a passing reference to counselling without exploring that aspect more. A section of viewers also found the ‘sex education through nature’ portions a bit awkward.
The sex education that Sleevachan gets in the film was intended for the general public too. We had initially written a detailed counselling scene, but we asked ourselves this: What if a daily wage worker saw this film? The thought of counselling wouldn’t be exactly practical for him, would it? That’s why in the film the suggestion of looking at nature comes to Sleevachan from a worker employed at his home. We should also take into account cases where counselling failed to make any impact.
Our society still hasn’t found the right approach to impart sex education. Today’s youngsters learn about sex from pornography. Their perspective on sex and expectations are shaped by it. The priority today is more for lust than love. Sex is something to be viewed in a positive light but the sad thing is we can’t even utter the word in the presence of family members. When we do, it is viewed as something bad or sinful. So that’s another thing we wanted to address through our film—the lack of communication creates problems. We envisioned things in a way that would be accessible to people not just in Kerala or India, but also the rest of the world. Isn’t the goal of good art to reach the most number of people?
The film ends on a positive note. Is it because you felt it wouldn’t have reached the masses had it ended differently?
Yes. I don’t think it would’ve worked out this well had Rincy taken a different decision in the end. Ultimately, this film is sort of like a pre-marriage course meant for anyone who is about to get married, among other things. It was also a small lesson on the importance of love, something which can’t be taught in an awareness class.