Supriya Menon: Cinema cannot be isolated from reality
Supriya Menon on her three-year journey as a producer, making Kuruthi and addressing the criticisms against it, and what Prithviraj Productions has in store for us
Since the launch of Prithviraj Productions in 2019 with the sci-fi thriller 9, the company has been on an incredible run. Its head honcho, Supriya Menon, has been enjoying her new designation so far. Zero complaints. "I'm learning with each film," she says. "We are getting better with our working process, and our mantra remains the same - to tell original stories that others may not want to tell." It's safe to say their new production, Kuruthi, released recently on Amazon Prime Video, is a testament to that. The journalist-turned-producer gets candid with Cinema Express about making the film, her three-year journey as a producer, addressing the criticisms against Kuruthi, and what Prithviraj Productions has in store for us.
How do you see the big transition from journalism to film production?
Well, it's not that big a transition for me. As a TV journalist, I handled multiple tasks on my own - producing, reporting, filing stories, etc. The only difference now is that I deal with fictional stories instead of real ones. The other difference is that before I could see my bylines on the evening news or paper, but now I have to wait six months to see my film on OTT or in the theatre. (laughs)
When did the process of learning about the filmmaking business begin for you? Was it when you met Prithviraj?
No. I was very much a journalist when I met Prithvi. After marriage, I went back to journalism for a while. Since we both couldn't keep up our residences in both places at the time - he lived in Kerala and I in Mumbai - the distance thing was difficult to manage. Since his work was more location-specific, I decided to take a break for a while to be with him. Then after we had a child, we thought of starting our production company because it had been on Prithvi's mind for a while - a company of his own. So, for me, the process started once we set up Prithviraj Productions. The love for cinema was always there, but figuring out the ins and outs of filmmaking began after the company came into being.
When 9 came out, sci-fi fans viewed the film as a potential game-changer and inspiration because we don't get enough of those in Kerala. Was the reception for it encouraging?
It was, but in hindsight, it was also a film ahead of its time. Maybe the reception would've been very different had it come out directly on OTT. We are still happy about having done the film when we wanted to. Perhaps now it might be perceived a bit differently because the world has become much smaller now. Everyone can consume the same content at the same time. Back then, theatres reigned supreme, and streaming services were in their infancy. Today such a film might find more takers. We still get a lot of positive feedbacks from film buffs who loved it.
How did Supriya the producer and Supriya the journalist look at the script of Kuruthi?
Well, I have put 'Supriya the journalist' on the backburner for now as far as filmmaking is concerned. The producer in me thought it was a fantastic, well-written, well-balanced story - a sensitive subject handled so beautifully; at no point does the film take sides or tell you how to think. We found it to be a story that needs to be told, and who better than Prithviraj Productions to do that.
The film worked for a lot of people but didn't for some. A section of viewers opined that the film portrayed one community in a negative light. Some have taken issues with the simplistic dialogues - likening them to Clubhouse, WhatsApp discussions - and the downbeat ending, to name a few. How do you look at these things?
Let's be very clear. Kuruthi is a fictional story about a group of people stuck in a house and how their ideologies propel them to act in a particular manner when cornered, and that is what we were trying to show. At no point in time - as a producer or a creator - have I told you that you must think this way or something is right or wrong. We intended to steer clear from all that; it was about showing both sides equally balanced. You take away whatever you want to. Filmmaking is ultimately a very personal journey for Manu (director) and Prithvi. But at the end of the day, it's a personal takeaway for the audience. Our intent was not to make any generalisations or comment on any community. It's a home invasion thriller, and that's what we have tried to do.
How has the pandemic impacted Prithviraj Productions in terms of designing new projects? Are you guys looking at more small-budget films now?
Not quite. We are working on two big films - Jana Gana Mana and Kaduva - which we have put on hold because of the pandemic. But yes, the pandemic has affected everyone in the industry, not just Prithviraj Productions. However, if a big, larger-than-life subject comes our way, we'll say, yes, we want to do it, but maybe right now is not the time to pull it off because we have to be mindful of what is happening around us. We are still amid the pandemic in Kerala and most other states too. But the pandemic has also ensured the increase in budgets because we now have to keep aside a separate budget for testing crew members and ensuring strict sanitisation protocols. Besides, if a director tells me that they want to shoot a scene with 200 junior artistes on set, I would have to say that is impractical in the present scenario. We are dutiful citizens. Cinema cannot be isolated from what's going on around you.