A still from Manjummel Boys
A still from Manjummel Boys

Against all odds: Malayalam director Chidambaram speaks on Manjummel Boys's success

Malayalam director Chidambaram S Poduval delivers a global hit with his second film, Manjummel Boys, the idea for which struck him during a narration

Inspiration strikes in mysterious ways. For Malayalam director Chidambaram S Poduval’s latest hit, Manjummel Boys, it was an innocuous story narrated by his producer friend Shawn Antony. A group of boys were on a trip to Kodaikanal. While they were visiting the Guna Caves (elevation: 2230 metres), one of them fell through a hole and plunged to a depth of 120 feet. When the rescue officials refused to take the risk of going down, one of the other boys climbed down a rope to save him.

The tale triggered something in Chidambaram, making him visit them in Kochi about 16 years after he first heard the story. And as he listened to the first-hand account of the incident, the director knew it was film-material. His instincts were right for, Manjummel Boys has earned a whopping Rs 226 crore globally. “Every village will have a bunch of mischievous brats who get into trouble. It is a survival thriller. This is a universal theme: a triumph against the odds. Also, Manjummel Boys is a visually told story. Language is not a barrier,” the filmmaker says.

It is, however, easier said than done. To ensure that the film resonated with audiences beyond regional boundaries, he did exhaustive research to recreate the sequence of events, the treacherous terrain, and the danger of it all. He started with visiting the Guna caves. “It was too dangerous. I had heard many stories of people slipping through the holes, and nobody ever found their bodies,” he says, adding that he was given a lemon by the forest guard to “ward off negative energy”.

He recalls the smell of monkeys, dead bats, decomposing plants, and methane gas, the wet earth, and the plastic waste and food thrown by tourists. “It has a psychological effect on you. There is also a cliff, which people jump off. The locals have dubbed it the ‘Suicide Point’. Murders have also taken place there,” he adds. Following the visit, it took Chidambaram a year-and-a-half to gather his thoughts and pen down the script.

The visit to the cave did two things for him—it helped him visualise the peril that the Manjummel boys had experienced, and that the location was completely unsuitable for shooting. So, they recreated it from scratch. Needless to say it wasn’t an easy task. “We built a replica at a warehouse in Perumbavoor, about 38 kms from Kochi. For the frame, we used metal, and fibre for the rocks. The height was about 40 feet. We used VFX to create further height,” he says about the set designed by Ajayan Chalissery.

Chidambaram S Poduval
Chidambaram S Poduval

That their recreation was close to authentic was validated by two senior technicians who, unaware of the purpose of the set, remarked how much it looked like the Guna caves. On further enquiry, Chidambaram found out that the men were part of the crew of Kamal Haasan’s 1991 film Gunaa, which was shot inside the caves.

The second round of vindication came from Haasan himself. He arranged for the movie, which features a song from Gunaa sung by the actor, to be shown at the Tagore Film Centre in Adyar. He invited his friends, family and the Manjummel Boys team. “I watched the movie sitting next to Kamal sir, and Santhana Bharathi (director of Gunaa),” Chidambaram says.

Manjummel Boys is only his second film after Jan. E. Man, and its success has been overwhelming, he admits. But, ask him if he feels any pressure over his next project, and he says, “No. My attitude is to approach each film as if it is my first one.”

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The New Indian Express