Ranjith Sankar: Hollywood cinema inspired me to write Sunny
The filmmaker speaks about his new experimental film, Sunny, that is now out on Amazon Prime Video
The Jayasurya-Ranjith Sankar combination has already resulted in as many as six films. And now, for their seventh, they have conjured up an experimental film in Sunny, one that also marks the actor’s 100th film. "I have been fascinated by films like Buried and 127 Hours, which are about a single character. That inspired me to come up with Sunny, which has satiated my desire to write something challenging," says Ranjith.
Excerpts from the conversation:
On account of the pandemic and subsequent restrictions, filmmakers have been thinking of some unique stories. Did Sunny arise from such a place?
Sunny happened only because of the pandemic. If there was no crisis, this film wouldn't have materialised. It is the story of a musician, who has not been successful in his personal and professional life. The film is about his journey from hopelessness to hope.
I found this project exciting because the human race has never had to go through such a situation before. This was a rare moment in history, and there was an opportunity to record it as a film. I was excited about that possibility.
It wouldn't have been easy to shoot during the pandemic.
To be honest, there weren't many challenges. We rented the entire floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Kochi, and the whole unit stayed there. Once we did the Covid test and everyone checked in, we were all in a bubble. It was a unique experience because every day, I had to wake up and walk ten steps to reach the shooting location.
Among the challenges of making a single-character film is how you have to communicate every emotion through a single character. How did you go about the casting?
To start with, I don't think a film will work solely on the performance. It needs complete team effort, which includes cinematography, editing, art direction, writing, and direction. Performance is only one part of it, and yes, we needed a good actor who would be willing to take up the challenge. During the writing stage, I wasn’t thinking about the casting. I knew that with a good screenplay, I could get a star as many top actors had dates. Also, such a film offers an unusual opportunity for an actor. After spending six months on the script, I began approaching actors. I also needed an actor I'd be comfortable with. Jayasurya was an obvious choice. In fact, he had grown a beard and put on some weight, and looked a lot like the Sunny I'd envisioned.
This is your seventh collaboration with Jayasurya. How different is Sunny from your earlier work with him?
I think Sunny is more challenging because there isn't anything particularly special about this role. In Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam, he is a stammerer. Joy Thakkolkaran (Punyalan Agarbathis) is a smart entrepreneur, Marykutty is a trans person, and John Don Bosco (Pretham) is a skilled mentalist. In contrast, Sunny is a normal person, and that makes everything more complicated. The bigger challenge here was the film's format, as the audience has only one actor to focus on.
You have many seasoned actors like Mamta Mohandas, Siddique and Innocent, voice-acting in Sunny. What were their responses when you told them about this film?
The film demanded these actors as they all play significant characters. It's not only about recognisable voices. It's about making a character work only through the voice. I'm extremely thankful to these actors, who agreed to be part of Sunny just out of their love for us.
What’s next for you?
I have almost finished scripting a thriller that will feature two stars. I’m excited about it. I also have a script about a love story. There's also a Money Ball-like sports script and a Bruce Lee-style action film in the planning.
Clearly, you are a filmmaker who values variety.
When I did Punyalan Agarbathis, many told me it wouldn’t work. Similarly, when I was making Varsham, everybody advised me not to make it as they thought it to be a sad film. But I was confident because nobody had made a film like that in two decades. At every point, I have had four-five scripts in different stages of writing. If a previous film turns out to be a success, that encourages me to experiment further. Let’s see what the verdict on Sunny is.