‘Kannur Squad’ story: Rejection, 15 rewrites, Mammootty and now a hit!

Kannur Squad, apparently, is well on its way to registering a thumping success. TNIE catches up with the film's director- Roby Varghese Raj
Roby Varghese Raj and Mammootty
Roby Varghese Raj and Mammootty

Over 30 years after his father, C T Rajan, and Mammootty joined hands for the making of ‘Mahayanam’, Roby Varghese Raj has rekindled their family’s association with the ace actor through his directorial debut, Kannur Squad, which was released on Thursday.

Mammootty dons the lead role in this investigative thriller, which, interestingly, is penned by Roby’s elder brother, Rony David Raj, alongside Muhammed Shafi. Since its announcement in January, the anticipation surrounding the film has been palpable. This shows in its early reception at theatres. Kannur Squad, apparently, is well on its way to registering a thumping success.

Perhaps this victory tastes the sweetest to Rajan, who had to exit the film production arena after Mahayanam, despite garnering critical acclaim, failed to rake much at the box office. Interestingly, Kannur Squad is produced by Mammootty. It is the third production venture of Mammootty Kampany.
TNIE catches up with Roby — who was cinematographer of several popular films such as Puthiya Niyamam, The Great Father, and Captain — for a free-wheeling chat wherein he discusses how he refined the script, Mammootty, future plans and more…

You and your brother, Rony David Raj, collaborated on this film’s script. Could you elaborate on how you shaped the film’s concept and got Mammootty on board?
We began the process two years ago, during Covid. Our initial script, essentially a raw draft, resembled a documentary-style narrative and had very little ‘entertainment’ elements. We approached a well-known actor in the Malayalam film industry during this stage. But he didn’t like the script. That did not deter us. Instead, we went back to the board and refined the script, thus transforming it into an engaging one whilst retaining its core realism.

With a better-looking script, we knew it required a star-calibre actor and a strong producer. Because our film required shooting in various locations across India, we also had to plan meticulously and budget for the extensive travel and other logistical aspects. This was when we decided to approach Mammookka. He was impressed with the script and expressed his wholehearted interest in also producing the film. His belief in our project and commitment to its realisation is indeed truly humbling.

Mammootty has done over 30 khaki characters. What makes his avatar in Kannur Squad stand out?
In the movie, Mammookka’s character, George Martin, faces greater physical and mental challenges. I think this is what sets it apart from his other police roles. In the film, Martin’s frequent travels contribute to his mental transformation. Interestingly, this mirrors Mammookka’s travels for the film’s shooting, leaving home and family behind for extended periods. This parallel between the actor’s personal life and Martin’s character added depth to the portrayal, creating a sync between the two. Mammookka exuded a strong presence on the set, embodying the same qualities as his character in the film.

Audiences are not unfamiliar with the investigative thriller genre. How did you infuse freshness and unpredictability into ‘Kannur Squad’?
As you point out, audience expectations have indeed evolved. Many are able to anticipate and correctly predict plot twists. This awareness prompted us to take a different approach. We watched a lot of thrillers to understand the nuances. The storyline was tweaked significantly to ensure a fresh take on a familiar concept. There were a total of 15 drafts done over two years.

Kannur Squad’s casting has won a lot of praise. We see Azeez Nedumangad and Shabareesh Varma in refreshing roles. Could you elaborate on how these choices were made? 
For many of the major characters, we had detailed character sketches. This guided our selection process. For actors from other regions, we conducted auditions. Initially, we explored other actors but circled back to Azeez and Shabareesh as they were a perfect fit.

The film is on course to become a major hit. In view of this, what are your future plans? Do you intend to continue as a cinematographer, or has your domain grown?
That’s wonderful to hear! The film’s success is undoubtedly the result of the hard work and dedication of the entire team. I am grateful to them. Teamwork truly makes all things possible. As of now, I have not taken up any new commitments. 

I will definitely continue as a cinematographer.

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The New Indian Express