Thamar KV was almost on the verge of not making 1001 Nunakal when told of the existence of a 2016 Italian film about a group of couples who have their uncomfortable truths out in the open during a get-together. He hadn’t even seen Perfect Strangers, which came out in the same year as the finalisation of his idea. Later, a lightning bolt passed through him when he read its synopsis on IMDb. “I was under the assumption that I have this cool script which could cause an ample amount of ripples when it got released,” says Thamar, who then pondered dropping it and moving on to other projects to be put in motion a few years later. That’s when the pandemic reared its ugly head.
“Now, this was a time when singe-location films were becoming quite the rage, and we regretted not going ahead with 1001 Nunakal before everyone else started brainstorming similar ideas. At that time, I spoke to Khalid Rahman, who egged me on; he suggested I do it with big names, but my mind wasn’t up to it. And then, at the same time, Zakariya (director) was in Dubai to shoot Momo in Dubai, for which their units and actors were ready, but delayed permission issues played spoilsport. So he suggested going ahead with my project and was willing to produce it even. I thought, ‘Well, if everyone is being so enthusiastic about this project like this, then there must be something good in it.’”
Long story short, when Zakariya finally got the go-ahead for Momo, he put Thamar in touch with producer Salim Ahamed, a filmmaker in his own right, who was planning to do a film in Dubai at the same time with the co-producers of his award-winning Mammootty-starrer Pathemari. “Salim sir liked the script, and we announced the project on the fourth day after our meeting,” recalls Thamar. But Thamar’s spirits would dampen again. While in the midst of finding actors for 1001 Nunakal, someone told him about Jeethu Joseph’s The 12th Man, which bears a few similarities to the core idea of Perfect Strangers.
Some digging later, Thamar realised he could confidently move ahead with his film. It wasn’t until 1001 Nunakal got screened at the last edition of IFFK, where it met with an overwhelmingly positive response, that Thamar’s fears abated. “That was when everyone confirmed that it was an original idea. I mean, that’s the crowd already familiar with Perfect Strangers and The 12th Man. You know what’s odd, though? I saw some folks saying it was The 12th Man that inspired it after it began streaming. And here we were worrying about people mentioning Perfect Strangers instead,” he laughs.
Thamar shares that the impetus behind the casting choices was the unpredictability factor. “When I had a plan to do with newcomers initially, a lot of producers were unwilling; even Salim sir suggested bringing in a big star since he had worked with someone like Mammukka, but I was adamant that in a script that has the nature of a play, people would easily predict that so and so actors would have a certain shade if they had been big names. That approach wouldn’t really suit it. It needed that freshness factor. The only risk factor? Finding the right people. Fortunately, whoever we finally found exceeded our expectations.”
The actors were assembled after auditions conducted in UAE and Kerala, with the final list comprising nine actors from UAE and four from Kerala. They were allowed the freedom to deliver the lines in their own way as long as they were uttering the same lines in the script with, of course, back-and-forth inputs.
The tempo of the narrative and the increasing intensity of the truths told by the characters were evaluated with an interval block in mind, despite the film being an OTT platform release.
“That’s why we thought of having two characters revealing their truths and placing that robbery by the time we got to the one-hour mark. We decided that the first lie should be a lighter one in order to make the game feel fun. Since those at the beginning are newly married couples, they won’t have that many life experiences to share, and then the game moves on to the next level, where things get a bit serious. Some people would be more comfortable telling certain truths amidst a group as they find it more comfortable, which is the psychology we applied here. And we envisioned a break in the form of that barbecue moment to give everyone some pause to recap everything that unfolded up until that point. And there was the matter of the apartment fire at the beginning, adding to the intrigue factor. I wanted the flow of the plot to be normal, not forced,” explains Thamar.
A massive fan of Iranian films, Thamar had in mind some favourite references for the film’s visual tone; to execute it, he brought in some of the most skilled technicians in the industry. “The basic idea was that if we are using newcomers on the acting side, having an experienced technical team on the other side would even it out,” says the Dubai-based filmmaker, who contacted director of photography Jithin Stanislaus after seeing some footage he shot for Ahammed Khabeer’s Madhuram. While narrating the story, Thamar recalls being initially reluctant about telling Jithin the climax as he was apprehensive of differing opinions from technicians. “I told Jithin that we might consider adding a tail-end portion later, but he stopped me there to say he was completely on board with the present ending. I heaved a big sigh of relief.”
1001 Nunakal was edited by Nishadh Yusuf (Thallumaala, Saudi Vellakka), who completed his work in six days and told Thamar “it was the fastest film he had worked on.” For the central setting, a blank villa was chosen, with every detail added later, including the paint and props, handled by art director Ashik S. The most impressive piece of trivia: Thamar asked costume designer Gayathri Kishore to pick costumes from different shops -- each shop for each couple in the film -- so as to reflect their financial status and what not. “So, that’s how we did it,” concludes Thamar.