When adversity breeds ingenuity
Actor-producer Vijay Babu on conceiving #Home with director Rojin Thomas, finding the right cast, his social media usage, and future projects
When the Malayalam film industry shut down during the last lockdown, Vijay Babu did something unexpected: leaping on the OTT bandwagon when everyone, including film buffs, was gripped by uncertainty about pending releases. Despite the opposition from certain corners, the actor-producer, known for often daring to conjure up unique ideas irrespective of the outcome, became the first mainstream creator to have a film released directly on Amazon Prime Video, to mixed responses. However, #Home, his second direct release on the same platform, seems to have done far better owing to its relatable characters and smile-inducing storytelling. The film also has Vijay Babu in an extended cameo as a psychologist.
Do you find it amusing that almost every big name is now releasing their film directly on OTT a year since your decision?
No, because I was sure of it. During the last lockdown, I took that decision after consulting friends in the medical community who gave me a clear picture of the time it would take for the vaccines to be processed and made available in the market and eventually to the public. After reflecting on it, I expressed my concerns to the various Malayalam film associations that wholeheartedly supported my decision after a few days.
You are also one of the fastest producers in the industry. I’m amazed by how quickly you put your projects together. Has the pandemic in any way impacted your pace?
Not at all. I produced three films last year. #Home was the first one, shot indoor and outdoor with all the pandemic norms, in 41 days. Aside from that, I finished a movie called Theerpu with Prithviraj, Indrajith, Saiju Kurup and myself as leads, along with another film, Valatty, with nine dogs as principal characters. There were some difficult situations, of course. When Sufiyum Sujathayum came out, there were questions posed to me by people who wanted to know why I couldn’t have waited longer to release it. But as far as I’m concerned, I believe in the rotation of money. Many depend on us for their survival, and doing this helps give jobs to a significant number of people. I was also able to do the same in the last three films I mentioned. So, I never sat quiet or relaxed during the pandemic. I worked very hard.
Is there a personal factor in #Home that compelled you to take on it?
Rojin Thomas (director) conceived it five years back when social media and digital media addiction was not at their peak. But I thought the movie had an important story and a message to say. The cast was of paramount importance, and I waited for the right people to come aboard. Take Sufiyum Sujathayum, for instance. I waited for three years to find the right Sujatha until Aditi Rao Hydari landed up. For the film’s most important factor, the protagonist, we had another senior actor in mind, but when he was unavailable due to some health issues, we couldn’t find an alternate and kept it on hold. Then, after the release of Sufiyum, the coincidence of the new generation—especially my teenage son—being hooked to gadgets and taking online classes during the lockdown occurred to us.
You see, my son got into high school when the pandemic started. He is in the 9th grade now, and he hasn’t seen school; it’s all through his phone now. We can’t do anything because they are deprived of outdoor games and other fun activities. So, one day, my wife told me that this is the right time to make #Home. We concluded that this five-year-old script needed to accommodate the changes that happened since then, without losing sight of its core idea—how we ignore the older gen who haven’t been able to keep up with technology for some reason or the other.
How are you with social media?
I try to stay away from it as much as possible. But since we are in this field and keeping in mind how things have changed, especially during the pandemic, there is no other go: we have to be active on social media. I usually use it for my movie promotions and conveying my messages, and so on. Though I’m not addicted to social media, I’m addicted to my phone. I know that my attention span is reducing, which is what #Home also shines a light on—that we are all living in a virtual home right now—even if we are home, we are not really ‘home’.
Speaking about your acting roles, you gave one of your funniest performances in Janamaithri, a rib-tickling entertainer that didn’t do the desired business in theatres. Can we expect more comical roles from you soon?
Yes. I have one in my next film with Midhun Manuel Thomas. It’s a lighthearted comedy. We are planning to begin filming by September. We are doing it instead of Aadu 3 because the latter, a multi-crore film, cannot be shot in the present conditions. I love doing humourous characters. Some people assume I’m a serious person. (laughs)
How are your new projects—the Mammootty-starrer, Theerpu, and Valatty—coming along?
Well, the first is a big-budget film which Murali Gopy is scripting. As of now, he is writing Empuraan, following which he’ll begin work on that one. We can expect the film by the end of next year. As for Valatty, the post-production is in progress. We plan to release it in theatres in 5-6 languages because it’s a universal film. It should be out in April of next year. Theerpu, too, is in post-production. We should be finishing it in two months.