Kunjeldho director Mathukutty: Asif Ali's presence was a confidence-booster
The media personality-turned-filmmaker on foraying into direction with Kunjeldho, working with Asif Ali, Vineeth Sreenivasan and what drew him to the inspiration behind the film
After spending a little over a decade navigating various designations from journalist to radio jockey to television host, Mathukutty has taken on a new role—filmmaker—as he makes his directorial debut with Kunjeldho. Five years ago, when he made his contribution as dialogue writer to 2015’s You Too Brutus, the thought of directing hadn’t crossed his mind. His initiation to films happened much before, though, when he had associated with a high-profile filmmaker, Vineeth Sreenivasan, who had asked him to come up with a caption for the promo material that marked 15 days of the release of Thattathin Marayathu.
Did his association with Vineeth or other industry professionals help get Kunjeldho off the ground quickly? Mathukutty says the opposite is true. “My connections did not do much to accelerate the process,” he says. “People may assume that because I knew Vineethettan, things would’ve been relatively easier. But I was particular about one thing. No matter how big the star is, I didn’t want to approach anyone without a completed script. Not only would we be wasting their time, but a golden opportunity doesn’t come along very often. Once missed, it may not come again. And people would later evaluate us based on how we had approached them first.”
Mathukutty is credited as the writer and director of Kunjeldho, but he prefers to see it as a group effort. “I don’t want to be that guy taking the entire credit for the film,” he says, adding that valuable inputs came from Vineeth—who served as creative director—and June and Madhuram director Ahammed Khabeer (co-director).
As for learning the ins and outs of filmmaking, Mathukutty feels it’s not rocket science. For someone who hasn’t directed short films—he has acted in some—or assisted anyone, online tutorials and watching his favourite flicks numerous times helped. “I used to try to figure out why I loved them. I used to study them shot by shot, especially the scenes I loved. I started approaching it academically with a book and pen and later started doing storyboards myself. I must say that my love for cinema grew stronger when I became a filmmaker myself,” recalls Mathukutty, who feels that having a comfortable team is of paramount importance. “I made sure that all my team members read the final draft. And I share a great rapport with my cinematographer, Swaroop Philip, with whom I worked out every scene for over a year. He understood my vision well, and he pulled it off well too. If the pre-production is strong, then execution becomes a piece of cake. Besides, I had an actor whose performance didn’t need much tinkering. We only had to sit and watch him. And Asif’s thorough preparation meant that from the very first day onwards, we didn’t have to be concerned about anything.”
On finding appeal in a campus story, Mathukutty attributes it to personal reasons as well as his love for the Mohanlal classic Sarvakalashala, which he has seen plenty of times. “It’s my favourite campus film,” says Mathukutty. With Kunjeldho, however, he wanted to go beyond a typical campus story. That’s where the personal reasons factor in. Kunjeldho is modelled on his real-life college mate and cousin. “Back then, the activities we did as friends were confined to certain boundaries. Something extraordinary happened in my friend’s life that affected not just him but all of us who knew him. As someone who had witnessed everything, I found the incident unforgettable. And he had taken a decision that most of us in that age wouldn’t have taken. I felt there is a heroic aspect to his struggle that would translate well to the silver screen.”