Rojin Thomas: My father inspired Indrans' character in #Home
The writer-filmmaker on developing #Home, his love for fantasy and animation films, and his upcoming big-budget project Kathanar
Last year, Rojin Thomas was supposed to get things rolling on his big-budget fantasy epic Kathanar, based on the legend of Kadamattathu Kathanar starring Jayasurya. However, the pandemic forced him to consider an alternative option - a relatively much smaller concept that occurred to Rojin seven years back - pulled off in a short time.
It all started with the character, Oliver Twist, played by Indrans. The real-life inspiration? Rojin's father, who, one day, asked his son how to recharge his mobile phone via a desktop. "I wondered how it would be possible to teach someone who, up until that point, did not know how to switch on or operate a computer. And the moment I started to teach him, he took out a dairy - as you see in the film - and jotted down each step until he filled up more than half the page. Then I asked him to try it himself, and once he did, his face lit up with a kind of joy I never saw in him before. So #Home was not only inspired by his struggle with technology but also others like him. I did not have a story at the time - only a feeling and the title, which I conveyed to Vijay Babu sir, who asked me if I could finish the script in a month. I took two."
Rojin wasn't a compulsive social media user when the story idea occurred to him. But since he was writing a script with social media as an integral factor, he was compelled to set up the apps to understand their functions. "I'm more active now. I even taught my brother how to use it," he laughs.
The film's most poignant and talked about moment arrives in the climax when Anthony Oliver Twist (Sreenath Bhasi) learns an extraordinary truth about his father. This, too, came from Rojin's father. “It was a true story. It happened when he was about 15 years or 16 years old. So, one day he called me on Skype and asked me to narrate the script I was working on. He then narrated this story where he helps a woman reach the hospital on time. In my 25 years with him, I never heard it from him until that moment."
Rojin's work so far embodies a breezy, magical quality usually found in Hollywood animation films, particularly the ones made by Pixar. When I ask him if he found animation and fantasy films influential, Rojin's response didn't surprise me. "I'm a big fan of Pixar and other animation films and often wish to try something like that in Malayalam," he says. "I'm impressed by how they manage to come up with relatable stories even when the films don't always feature human characters. I have studied their work in detail, and perhaps it's that influence sometimes showing up in my writing. I also find the high-concept films of mavericks such as Steven Spielberg and James Cameron greatly appealing. I'm awed by the way they execute their films."
Since Kerala rarely produces sci-fi and fantasy films, does he believe that Malayali audiences would warm up to such subjects in the near future? "I think they would if we give them characters they can connect to. Take my film, Jo and the Boy, for instance. It wasn't appreciated much because the subject was quite unusual. Most of the reviews said the film wasn't relatable. But I got positive feedback from animators because their profession is part of the story. So I feel it's all about the relatability factor. Once the audience finds that, I don't think it should be an issue. Like I said earlier, people connect to Hollywood animation films because, as long as the characterisation is brilliant, it doesn't matter if the character communicating with you is a snake or some other creature."
After #Home, Rojin will return to Kathanar, for which he has grand plans. It is expected to be the first Malayalam film to employ virtual production (aside from the recently announced fantasy project starring Prithviraj). Rojin is looking to do an "international film with regional technicians" as he believes there are "many experienced visual effects artists here who can deliver something that's on par with anything made in Hollywood".
"We have people with so much untapped potential waiting for the right opportunities," he says. "We have the subjects, but we just don't have enough creators or directors making use of technology. One understandable hindrance, of course, is the budget. Fortunately, I have Gokulam Gopalan backing Kathanar which is a dream project for me."
Though he is enticed by the technology at his disposal, he wants to put the story above all else. "On a project of this scale, the story demands the use of virtual production," he adds.
Rojin will begin the pre-production of Kathanar next month, aiming to start filming next year. "Given the research and development involved with this kind of technology, it's a year-long process. We need to test everything first. The CGI or animation should be seamless for the viewers. Since Malayalis are very observant, and there is usually a tendency to compare our films to the superhero movies made in the west while forgetting that they have relatively larger budgets, we have to be extremely cautious."