M Padmakumar takes on a rom-com

Scripted by Arjun T Sathyan, Queen Elizabeth has a female-oriented subject that pivots primarily around the titular protagonist. 
Padmakumar with Meera Jasmine.
Padmakumar with Meera Jasmine.

For the longest time, Padmakumar proved himself as a filmmaker fitting comfortably in the thriller space, having delivered some successful entries in the genre, such as Vaasthavam (for which Prithviraj won his first Kerala State award), Vargam, and most recently, Joseph. But of late, he has grown slightly weary of it. 2023 marks the filmmaker’s 20th year in the Malayalam film industry since his directorial debut, Ammakkilikoodu, a feel-good drama. So his return to the same territory, through the upcoming Meera Jasmine-Narain starrer Queen Elizabeth, makes complete sense.

“I haven’t done a proper feel-good film since Ammakkilikoodu,” says Padmakumar, as he opens up on the compulsion to do a lighthearted entertainer. “Cinema is changing and evolving, and if we have to keep up with the younger generation, our tastes also have to change, no? Also, I think today, the films that work in theatres are either of the big-scale or humourous variety. The serious films don’t find much acceptance these days because people are not in the mood to get so tensed,” he chuckles.

Scripted by Arjun T Sathyan, Queen Elizabeth has a female-oriented subject that pivots primarily around the titular protagonist. For Padmakumar, zeroing in on the right actor was quite a challenge. “When we first read the script, our biggest dilemma was finding someone to play this overtly bold woman who doesn’t interact with the outside world much and isn’t close to her family members. The subject’s general crux is how a sudden setback in her life gives her a different perspective. We approached a lot of people, but eventually, it was Meera’s name that popped.”

And, of course, having Meera Jasmine playing the main lead was also a motivating factor for Padmakumar. “Her performance bowled me over. Also, she looks great and is as charming as ever. For her, it’s the sort of material that would be apt for an ideal comeback.”

So what was in the script that made Meera say yes? “She felt it bears some closeness to her real personality,” recalls Padmakumar. “She isn’t someone who can gel with everyone, so that is a similarity she tapped into.”

Elaborating further on Meera’s performance, Padmakumar calls her a “very spontaneous” actor. “She is not the sort to prepare too much for a scene or anything, unlike some actors who would’ve prepared the previous day. Meera comes to the set in the morning, listens to the scene and dialogue, and performs it in front of the camera. She does what we tell her to do. In Malayalam, such actors are rare. Of course, Lalettan and Mammukka are the best examples. They would get into character while talking to us and then return to their real selves once they get out of character. Of course, Meera has read the script, but she is not too intense with her preparation: she is quite effortless in that regard; it may not seem like she is performing, but on camera, the results are there for all to see.”

Meera’s casting naturally meant that the next step was to cast Narain, who had previously shared the screen with her in Achuvinte Amma, Ore Kadal, and Minnaminnikoottam. “Again, we thought of different names, but Narain seemed the most sensible choice,” says Padmakumar. “And although he hasn’t done humour much, he revealed himself to be good at that.”

Padmakumar is not the kind of filmmaker who believes that one has to be of a particular age group to make a film on them. “I feel we can cover almost anything since we watch all kinds of movies. Maybe not so much about the much younger couples, but something about people above 30s is more convincing. And when you think about the target audience, most moviegoers fall under the 15-30 age bracket. But a film like Queen Elizabeth should work for other age groups too when they feel that they can connect to the nostalgia factor in it, they’ll also come to theatres.”

Ranjith Manambarakkat and Sreeram Manambarakkat are producing the film under the Blue Mount Productions banner with Padmakumar. On his decision to back Queen Elizabeth, Ranjith says it “discusses a serious issue, plus, it’s the sort of film that people have a good time with and can find something to connect to.” The technical team of Queen Elizabeth includes cinematographer Jithu Damodar, art director M Bava, editor Akhilesh Mohan and composer Ranjin Raj.

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