Ajayante Randam Moshanam, a six-year endeavour

Director Jithin Laal on conceiving his maiden film, a big-budget 3D fantasy adventure featuring Tovino Thomas in triple roles
A scene from 'Ajayante Randaam Moshanam'
A scene from 'Ajayante Randaam Moshanam'

At a time when many aspiring filmmakers are in a hurry to make their directorial debut—or, to be more specific, seeing their name on the screen—it’s a relief to see a filmmaker patient enough to wait to realise his dream. If someone else were in the place of Jithin Laal, they would’ve probably considered mounting Ajayante Randaam Moshanam (ARM) on a smaller scale with a different actor or, worse, let go of it.

But Jithin, despite experiencing desperation and getting opportunities to do smaller films, decided to stick to it, no matter what—a choice that, he believes, worked to his advantage.

“I wanted to do something that looked neat and carried a signature style,” says Jithin, a fan of fantasy fiction, folktales, and children’s stories. “Those slice-of-life stories with a realistic bent are not my cup of tea. I’m most excited by big-scale escapist fiction with strong visual storytelling. That’s not to say there won’t be human emotions in my work; it’s just that I would rather put them within an otherwordly story.”

ARM was six years in the making, with the promise of a giant canvas and a stellar ensemble cast that includes Tovino Thomas portraying three characters in three eras. The film is a culmination of Jithin’s taste for exploring fictional worlds that have no connection to ours and the kind of presentation hitherto unseen in Malayalam cinema.

He wonders why films with fantastical elements are few in Malayalam, considering the success of some iconic titles in this category, such as My Dear Kuttichathan, Sakshal Sriman Chathunni, and Ananthabadram. “I don’t know if it’s because such stories don’t happen either due to a lack of capable writers or because such stories simply don’t happen.”  

Also starring Aishwarya Rajesh, Krithi Shetty, Pramod Shetty, Surabhi Lakshmi, and Harish Uthaman, among others, the wheels of ARM were put in motion after the release of Tovino’s Godha (directed by Basil Joseph). Jithin shares that the film’s canvas was initially smaller in scale, scope, and budget.

“It was relatively minimal. We knew then that we’d have to polish the material some more, so we kept working on it. And when the pandemic happened, and everyone was watching a lot of stuff from outside, we realized that we would’ve to step up our game.”

The main challenge for Jithin was to convince Tovino, the producers, and an already accomplished technical team that a first-timer like him could pull it off.

“We constantly kept Tovino in the loop as the material took shape. You know, Tovi always used to say that even though the project took some time to get going, it was a good thing because, in that time, he managed to grow in stature; he became not only a better actor but also a bankable star. As far as the script is concerned, there was a lot of time to work on it because when everyone turned to a lot of outside stuff during the pandemic, we realized we’d have to step up our game. It meant creating concept art, storyboarding, and pre-visualization to give everyone on the team the necessary clarity. So I don’t have any regrets because I believe everything happened at the right time.”

Jithin recalls experiencing a bit of awkwardness when he printed the entire storyboard as a book and took it to some famous cinematographers who, despite liking it, expressed reluctance after pondering the time it would take to execute those ideas. Another concern was, of course, the uncertainty concerning the date of shoot commencement.

“It felt funny when I was releasing a poster every year for three years on all the major festival dates,” he laughs.ARM comes from the pen of Sujith Nambiar, with additional writing by Deepu Pradeep (Kunjiramayanam). The combined strengths of these two writers helped increase Jithin’s confidence considerably.

“Sujith Chettan approached the story in an incredibly detailed manner, which is very useful for a director. But while shooting the movie, it’s important to remember that detailed descriptions won’t be helpful for the technicians. That’s where Deepu Pradeep’s skill comes in handy—to help with the structuring. For a filmmaker like me, I need both their inputs. Sujith Chettan is well-versed in literature and folklore; his imagination is rich and vivid. I’ve heard of filmmakers like Padmarajan incorporating that level of detailing in his scripts. I don’t know how many writers do that today. So when we have a writer like Sujith Chettan whose material is already great, whatever additions we make only enhance it further.” Jithin adds one of the advantages of doing a project of this nature is that they are “not bound by certain rules when it comes to world-building, costumes and props.”

When the team unveiled the teaser, some feedback included comparisons to films like Kantara and RRR. “The script of ARM was completed long ago, so such comparisons don’t hold water. Today, people tend to nitpick every little detail instead of simply enjoying a movie.”

The technical team of ARM features some of the industry’s best, such as cinematographer Jomon T Jomon (Ennu Ninte Moideen, Charlie), editor Shameer Muhammed (Angamaly Diaries, Helen), composer Dhibu Ninan Thomas, and production designer Gokul Das (Joji, Thallumala). The film is backed by the banners Magic Frames and UGM Entertainment.

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