SJ Sinu: Djibouti was designed for big screens
The filmmaker on his debut feature based on true events, led by Amit Chakkalakkal
Last year when the entire film industry came to a standstill owing to COVID-19 rearing its ugly head, Djibouti, helmed by debutant SJ Sinu, was the only Malayalam film in production. What worked to the filmmaker's advantage was the location, an East African country named Djibouti, which the film is named after. The isolated Tadjoura, a city in the place, was, at the time, believed to be free from the threat of the pandemic.
Now that the team has finished the post-production, they have released a trailer that introduces us to its principal cast comprising Amit Chakkalakkal, Gregory, Anjali Nair, Dileesh Pothan, Alencier Ley, Biju Sopanam and others. The footage presented gives one a sense of the film being a drama that eventually forays into thriller territory.
Sinu tells us that the film, based on actual events, is intended for family audiences. "As we wanted to do justice to the individuals that inspired the film, we only felt it appropriate to shoot it in the location where the incidents took place. We didn't pick Djibouti for the sake of the terrain," he explains, adding that an alternative option would've meant diluting the intensity of the story. "Though we have taken some cinematic liberties by incorporating action sequences, we have remained faithful to the core subject and its emotions."
Sinu, who has previously directed several episodes of the well-known Malayalam sitcom Uppum Mulakum, collaborated on the script of Djibouti with Uppum Mulakum team member Afsal Karunagappally.
As for release plans, Sinu hopes to get Djibouti released in theatres considering its scale. "As of now, we are aiming for the big screen. Despite discussions with OTT platforms, we are not looking at a digital release at the moment. We have decided to hold on to the film till November at the most. We are hoping for a positive development by then," he says.
Elaborating further on the insistence for the big-screen experience, Sinu feels that a small-screen experience might slightly devalue the efforts that went into the film. "Shooting in that terrain was hard work, especially taking into account the climate. We shot the majority of the film in Djibouti in one 45-day schedule, with around 15 days of shoot in Kerala locations such as Vagamon, Munnar and Ernakulam."
On casting Amit Chakkalakkal in the lead role, Sinu shares that he considered the actor after watching his previous work and seeing "hero material" in him. "Given the various integral factors such as the nature of the material, the climate of the location, and the absence of date issues, I was confident that Amit would be the ideal choice for the leading man."
Sinu didn't forget to add that he has high hopes for Amit and his place in Malayalam cinema. "I think we will get to see more of his potential soon. If it were not for the pandemic interrupting our plans, we would have seen him do some wonders already. In fact, we are doing our next film with him. We are announcing the title soon. The same producer, Jobi P Sam (of Nile and Blue Hill Motion Pictures), is backing the project, which is relatively smaller in scale."
Cinematographer TD Sreenivas shot Djibouti while Samjith Mohammed edited it. Deepak Dev composed the music to lyrics by Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri and Vinayak Sasikumar. Sabu Mohan handled the art department, and Saranya Jibu designed the costumes.