'Kannur squad': Men on a mission
Actor Rony David, who co-wrote Kannur Squad with Muhammed Shafi, on envisioning the Mammootty-starrer helmed by cinematographer-turned-director Roby Varghese Raj
Malayalam (or South Indian) cinema isn’t new to men-on-a-mission films involving interstate/intrastate travel. The trend recently found a strong resurgence, with competently made films like Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru, Unda, Operation Java, and Kuttavum Shikshayum figuring in discussions, irrespective of their box office success; naturally, when another film seemingly treading along similar lines announces its arrival, the obvious question would be: What novelty can it bring to the table?
Hopefully, Kannur Squad, co-written by actor Rony David and Muhammed Shafi, will answer it when it hits theatres soon. Headlined by Mammootty, Vijayaraghavan, Kishore Kumar, Sunny Wayne, Rony David, and Shabareesh Varma, among others, the thriller, based on actual events, marks the directorial debut of cinematographer Roby Varghese Raj (The Great Father, Captain).
Rony David tells us he and co-writer Muhammed Shafi found a way to crack the script—an outcome of strenuous research about real-life cases undertaken by real-life policemen—after realising that their initial approach lacked the necessary bite when they pitched it to another star. “The input we got was the first half worked, but the second didn’t, so sensing something amiss, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we did wrong,” says Rony, who turned to his friends Mathukutty Xavier (writer-director, Helen) and Alfred Kurian Joseph (writer, Helen) for suggestions.
As Rony began improving the script during the pandemic, these friends told him that if he was going to do a story about cops, it could not be adapted as it is. “You know, you can’t blame an actor if the initial approach didn’t work for them because the audience responds better to escapist factors. This actor must’ve felt it resembled a documentary, so we opted for some cinematic embellishments—different shades of characters, their dynamics, personal differences, conflicts, etc. A character’s journey gets more entertaining when they get opportunities to excel at something. Everyone wants to see that. So, we reworked four characters and incorporated different issues pertaining to the police system.”
For Rony and Shafi, reworking the second half to make it more commercial-friendly meant it would need a star of Mammootty’s stature to justify the budget necessary to mount it. Fortunately, the actor came on board to produce it. “When he offered to do that, it was a proud moment for us because he must’ve spotted something interesting, right? And as a writer, we should ensure that when working with Mammukka, it’s necessary to know the script by heart, in case he suggests alternatives to a detail or a dialogue,” adds Rony, a physician-turned-actor.
Elaborating on the challenges of writing a police story, Rony cites the importance of having a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the police’s hierarchical structure. “Not being a policeman myself, it was necessary to study everything in detail. I think many people grasped the realities of the profession better when Action Hero Biju came out. While researching for Kannur Squad, I explored in-depth details of these squads, whose assistance is often sought when other officers are preoccupied or encumbered by other assignments or if the cases happen to be very complicated and involve notorious criminals, in which case, certain tactics have to be employed, which these squads are experts at.”
Rony calls Kannur Squad a fictionalised depiction of a couple of significant real-life cases, which require the officers to be smarter than the criminals they’re pursuing and even travel to other states, sometimes skipping meals and rest. “But we also have to remember that this is a movie led by a superstar, and it wouldn’t be wise to depict everything as it is. There would be some commercial ingredients all placed, of course, in the right places while maintaining a sense of verisimilitude. Simply put, Kannur Squad is a blend of both worlds.”
Speaking of expectations, when it comes to superstar-driven vehicles, Rony is wary of those who approach a film without understanding a film’s true intentions, sensibilities, or genre. “One shouldn’t go into Kannur Squad expecting a total commercial potboiler. In some instances, misleading marketing campaigns can set unreasonable expectations among fans. But I can say one thing for sure: It has everything to make it a treat for Mammukka fans.”
An actor who has donned the khaki himself many times, Rony put a pause on such roles as he wanted to channel all his energies and focus on not only the script of Kannur Squad but also the role of one of Mammootty’s fellow officers in the film. I asked Rony if the team considered the idea of casting real-life police officers in Kannur Squad, and he responded that this option wasn’t practical considering the “budget, magnitude, and time-bound” nature of the project. “We did audition real policemen, but, unfortunately, we weren’t impressed with the results. Since we didn’t have the luxury of doing multiple takes, we eventually discarded that idea. So the only thing we can do, as actors playing cops, is emulate everything that real cops would do, right down to the body language of a deferential officer.”
As an actor who experienced first-hand the taxing filming process of Khalid Rahman’s Unda in various locations, Rony calls the Kannur Squad experience “more challenging” as the team had to shoot in Kannur, Ernakulam, Kasaragod, and areas of Pune where they had to endure the “scorching heat.” And since a cinematographer is in the director’s chair, Rony promises that Kannur Squad will be “visually on a higher plane” among all the police films Mammootty did.
That high standard, says Rony, also applies to Mammootty’s character, George Martin —“a soft-spoken ASI who also happens to be a self-respecting man, and that quality can sometimes make him prone to outbursts owing to certain triggering circumstances.” The other principal technical crew members of Kannur Squad are: cinematographer Muhammed Rahil (The Great Father, Vellam); editor Praveen Prabhakar (Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days); composer Sushin Shyam (Kumbalangi Nights, Bheeshma Parvam); and production designer Shajie Naduvil (Rorschach).