‘We felt Mohanlal would be perfect as Ithikkara Pakki ’
Screenwriter Sanjay of the Bobby-Sanjay duo speaks at length about their latest, Kayamkulam Kochunni
Screenwriters Bobby and Sanjay are known for delivering some of the most critically acclaimed films in Malayalam cinema such as Traffic, How Old Are You? and Mumbai Police. Their collaboration with director Rosshan Andrrews began 12 years ago with Notebook and since then they have written six films for Andrrews, including the upcoming Kayamkulam Kochunni, which is their passion project.
As Bobby wasn't available, Sanjay spoke for both of them.
When did you two feel that you could finally do a movie on Kayamkulam Kochunni?
Kayamkulam Kochunni is a character we all grew up reading about in the comics and he was always there at the back of our minds. He was our local mythical hero. Back then we weren't that serious about doing a Kayamkulam Kochunni movie, but somewhere along the way, we thought it would be a good idea to develop an epic script based on him. When Rosshan read it, he was so thrilled, as Kochunni is one of his favourite heroes too. It's his confidence that encouraged us. Also, the fact that Gokulam Gopalan (producer) trusting our vision was a huge confidence-booster. It was only now that everything has fallen into place.
Was the research process challenging?
It was challenging and exciting at the time. We were doing the research simultaneously. We needed to know a lot of details such as the religion, caste, language spoken by the upper caste and lower caste, legal system, etc. We had to know what someone getting off a bullock cart was thinking about or what a horse-rider was thinking about. A lot of new information -- things that many of us don't know about -- came to light. Some of it was implicit and open to interpretation. Kochunni is a character who is positioned between history and myth.
Did you deviate much from the folklore?
No, we stayed faithful to it. We didn't create any new characters. We only included the characters that are part of the folklore. Though we made up names for some of them, the characters are all the same. We also found out the names of the characters we weren't aware of initially, such as Janaki, the girl Kochunni was in love with. The same goes for Suhara, another girl in his life.
Why Nivin Pauly? Did you write the character with him in mind?
We needed someone who looked ordinary and vulnerable but also capable of turning into a larger-than-life hero -- someone who is not burdened by his heroic status. When we dug deeper into Kochunni's legend, we found out that sometimes there was more than one angle to the same story. For example, we learned that he once stole some jaggery from a temple, and our research showed that there could be two sides to that story. We believe what we want to believe.
Everyone is talking about Mohanlal's Ithikkara Pakki.
Ithikkara Pakki was Kochunni's predecessor. When we wrote the character, we felt we needed an extraordinary actor to play him. He is someone who lives in the present and has a cool aura. Naturally, we felt Mohanlal was the right choice. There was evidence which suggested that Pakki and Kochunni could've have interacted with each other at some point. So we thought of exploring that portion a bit. Mohanlal's is essentially an extended cameo.
As for his look, it was actually Rosshan's idea. We wanted to see Mohanlal in something other than a mundu (laughs). Pakki adopted the style of all the foreign traders he used to rob. And he was very athletic. He could jump from one tree to another and he needed a garment that would facilitate this. Ithikkara Pakki translates to 'The bird from Ithikkara'.
What's your writing process?
I have my own room for writing. I am not on any of the social media; it's so distracting. And I take a long break between projects. The residue of every movie we do will be a bit hard to shake off for a while. After we wrote this one, we didn't do anything for two months. It will be a long while before we do another period film like this (laughs).
How do you deal with failure?
It was quite hard at first but now we have gotten used to it. If one thing doesn't work, then we move on to the next. But what actually hurts me more is when a producer, who has put so much faith in us, fails to get back his money. We can't predict these things. What looks good to us may not look the same to someone else. For example, we put so much effort and research into writing School Bus but the reception it got was so disappointing.
What advice would you give aspiring screenwriters?
Be honest with your writing. It must be free from any form of adulteration. Don't imitate others. You should be asking yourself, "How can cinema benefit from your presence?", or, "What new ideas can you bring to the table?" Also, I suggest reading Syd Field's book, Screenplay: Foundations of Screenwriting.
What are you working on next?
We have two scripts at the moment, both contemporary subjects. One of them is a police thriller based on a true incident. It's not another Mumbai Police, as some rumours say. We don't like repeating ourselves. There is pleasure in doing different subjects.