'Ariyippu came out of an urge to do something unadulterated': Mahesh Narayanan

While reflecting on the last two films he worked on, Mahesh Narayanan talked about getting slowly comfortable with making films for a niche audience.

Published: 19th January 2023 07:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th January 2023 07:34 AM   |  A+A-

Mollywood director Mahesh Narayanan. (Photo | Special Arrangement)

Mollywood director Mahesh Narayanan. (Photo | Special Arrangement)

Express News Service

In a roundtable conversation with Cinema Express, filmmakers Mahesh Narayanan (Ariyippu), Abhinav Sunder Nayak (Mukundan Unni Associates), Jithin Issac Thomas (Attention Please), Dijo Jose Antony (Jana Gana Mana), and editor Manoj Kannoth (Nna Thaan Case Kodu) gathered to reflect on the state of Malayalam cinema today. Readers can watch the full video by scanning the QR code below:

Recently, we had a 96-min roundtable conversation with five noted film personalities, where we discussed the beginning of their cinema obsession, film school vs self-taught filmmakers, responses to their films released last year, changing audience tastes, theatrical vs OTT release, and what filmmakers need to be aware of to lure people to theatres.


While reflecting on the last two films he worked on, Mahesh Narayanan talked about getting slowly comfortable with making films for a niche audience. The editor-filmmaker, who made his directorial debut with a theatrical release, Take Off, opted to release his second film, CU Soon (technically his third film), on an OTT platform, considering its experimental nature. While he originally intended Malik as a theatrical release, the pandemic-induced circumstances forced Mahesh to have it premiered on the same digital platform too. Interestingly, for his fourth feature, Ariyippu, Mahesh didn’t plan on a theatrical release right from the start. “Ariyippu (streaming on Netflix) came out of an urge to do something unadulterated, the kind of cinema that I always yearned to do,” he says, adding the emergence of OTT platforms has made it possible for films with characters conversing in multiple languages. “We don’t necessarily have to think about doing it in one language. Since Ariyippu is set in the North and has two languages, we can’t completely call it a Malayalam film, even though it has Malayali actors in it.”
Mahesh, who debuted as cinematographer last year with director Sajimon’s Malayankunju (streaming on Prime Video), which he also wrote, is not bothered by the varying responses to Ariyippu or the limited reception for Malayankunju at the theatres. “Not everyone would respond the same way to a film with certain aesthetics. I won’t blame anyone for it because that’s the truth. I made Ariyippu for a few cinephiles. I got the best feedback for it from festivals only, especially from the European side, like Zurich or Locarno. It varies when it reaches BFI (London), North America, Busan, or Marrakesh. We have to explore everything. And I’m particular about one film looking different from the other. I don’t want to do film according to a template.”

Jithin Issac Thomas, who made his directorial debut with Attention Please, concurs. He didn’t expect many people to show up in theatres but notes that the film’s Netflix release post its theatrical release helped it reach more eyeballs. Karthik Subbaraj coming on board as a co-producer also helped. “Before its release, Attention Please was just a ‘film that the IFFK screened.’ It was a case of the first production team and me not knowing what to do. I’m a debutant and haven’t assisted anyone. I learned post-production only after I kept doing it. When they mentioned giving it to an OTT platform, I wondered, ‘How?’ Is it like selling something to a shop? I had no clue; I was trying my best. I met a lot of people. Then via our friend, Thanzeer (banner: Mangoes And Coconuts), we got in touch with Stone Bench Films. They saw it, liked it, bought it, and treated it like their film that Attention Please reached everyone else. When I was writing the film, I knew for certain that only a small percentage would watch it. But I got a far better response than I anticipated. We should be able to make all kinds of films.”

Mahesh observes that the audience’s tolerance level has become low, unlike before. “People are now in a binge-watching mood. We assumed there would be some change in sensibilities now, but that’s not the case. It has now come to a point where we have to present things with more speed and loudness. Theatres need a USP factor. Today, people decide whether to watch a film just after its poster is released. To generate interest, you don’t necessarily have to put up a big flex or anything. A small photograph on a mobile device is enough. Also, the USP is not a star.”

Editor Abhinav Sunder Nayak, who made his directorial debut with Mukundan Unni Associates (streaming on Disney+ Hotstar), talks about having collaborators who trust your vision and are willing to be game for improvisations. He talks about how Vineeth Sreenivasan’s involvement helped a great deal. “In the original script, Mukundan Unni speaks a lot. But he is quiet in the movie. Even when shooting, there were a lot of dialogues, but it didn’t work for me during the editing. It was because we shot the script as it is. At the time of filming, I wasn’t brave enough to improvise. We had put so much thought into the script, so the improvisation should require as much thought. That’s why I took out all the dialogues from the film. Then I turned the content in the dialogues to voiceover. Then I kept re-dubbing and re-editing every scene. Vineethettan dubbed three times; that’s how we introduced the concept of voiceovers. The advantage of that was the audience became so involved with the character, whereas before it was a bit ambiguous.”  

 Manoj Kannoth

While talking about how audience tastes have evolved, Manoj Kannoth, who edited Nna Thaan Case Kodu (streaming on Disney+ Hotstar), recalls visiting the major theatres in Ernakulam to see how the film was doing. “It was on the same day that the movies of Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan movie released. Before Covid, there would be a minimum crowd on the first day in theatres regardless of how the film is. That phenomenon is over. The days when 70-80% of people going to theatres without checking the quality are over. Now only 30% go, and depending on their feedback, others come. If they say it’s good, people come for the next show, and there is a gradual increase in percentage, from 30 to 50 and 60, and the theatre gets filled by evening. In the old days, people would come regardless of the film’s quality. And now some people comment that it’s better to watch it on OTT; it’s not a theatre-friendly movie.”

Mahesh believes people won’t stop going to theatres regardless of streaming availability at home. “If a film can deliver that big-screen experience, they’ll watch it in theatres. You know, once Kamal sir said something interesting—just because there is a prayer room in every home, it doesn’t mean there is a decrease in the crowd in a particular place of worship. Devotion is the same everywhere, even in the case of cinema.”

Dijo Jose Antony, whose Jana Gana Mana (streaming on Netflix) emerged as one of last year’s biggest victors, opines that it’s “essential to recognise your target group and what they need... Audiences are evolving. That’s why OTTs have both their positives and negatives. In the old days, there would be a famous director and actor, and if they got a decent story, they went ahead. But that’s no longer the case. We must consider all factors and find the right project and content.”

India Matters


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