Director Arun Vaiga on sketching Gunda Jayan
Director Arun Vaiga on giving actor Saiju Kurup a meaty lead role in Upacharapoorvam Gunda Jayan and creating an authentic wedding ambience in his film
When Arun Vaiga pitched the character of 'Gunda' Jayan to Saiju Kurup, he didn't want the latter to give him a retread of Arakkal Abu (from the Aadu films). Instead, the filmmaker and the actor strove to craft a character with a distinct personality. Saiju is back as a lead character again in Upacharapoorvam Gunda Jayan, which marks the actor's 100th film since his debut in 2005's Mayookham.
Arun, when he tells us that the actor hasn't done a character like this before, he wants to assure us that he isn't saying it for the sake of it. "Saiju chettan plays an ex-gunda, although we don't delve into that aspect of his character much. One of his peculiarities is he doesn't smile anywhere in the film except in one instance. Some of these gundas remind you of those old patriarchs who don't smile or laugh till they die. What happens when a man like that hosts the marriage of his sister's daughter? That's the film in a nutshell."
As the film's trailer already suggested, Upacharapoorvam Gunda Jayan gives the impression of a humour-infused drama swirling around a wedding. And some of the humour, says Arun, comes courtesy of Saiju. "Gunda Jayan is a stubborn character who appears serious, but he does some things that look funny to us. I guess we can categorise that under dark humour."
Arun, a former wedding photographer and videographer, adds that the film's setting is not of the Kalyana Raman variety but inspired by weddings organised in ordinary households. He hopes that audiences familiar with the same in their neighbourhood will connect the situations presented in the film.
Arun added insights from his former profession and research and later edited the script accordingly. "Gunda Jayan is gearing up for the wedding of his sister's daughter. Some conflicts, twists and comical scenarios spring from this event which sees the attendance of a large number of guests," says Arun. "We didn't shoot any extra scenes. Whatever we shot is in the film. We completed the whole thing ahead of schedule, in a month, before the pandemic arrived. I'm grateful to all the actors, including junior artistes who, despite having only a passing appearance, were so co-operative and ensured that the shoot progressed smoothly."
One can sense Arun's joy and confidence when waxing eloquent about Saiju's performance in the film. "I'm not saying this because it's our film, but as a viewer, I felt that we won't see Saiju at all in Gunda Jayan. He is also happy with what we have achieved. He is a fantastic actor. One thing that worked in our favour is we both hail from the same place, so when I narrated the script, the cultural context came quickly to him. Gunda Jayan is a composite of two-three characters I know. He also has OCD, something I also have, so I've made that part of his character. He has a peculiar body language -- he walks fast, never closes his eyes... Traits like these assure that he is far away from Arakkal Abu."
Though Saiju plays the titular character, Upacharapoorvam Gunda Jayan will also have actors Siju Wilson and Shabareesh Varma in prominent roles.
Arun initially had concerns about people comparing his film to Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam, which also focused on the events in and around a house gearing up for a wedding. But all his fears vanished when he realised that it was different in tone and subject from his film. "Ours is more cinematic. Besides, both films portray two different cultures. And our film has way more people as opposed to the limited members in Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam," he clarifies.
Arun was particular about keeping the ambience and the detailing authentic. "The dramatic events happening in the film may not happen in real life, but we shot like as if everything happens during a live wedding. And since we didn't find the use of sync sound practical, we dubbed normally and worked on the sound design extensively to make it resemble a sync sound-like experience. It's similar to what they did in Premam. In fact, Premam sound designers Vishnu Govind and Sree Sankar worked on our film. I hope audiences will experience and appreciate what we did on the big screen."
Scripted by Rajesh Varma, the film was shot by Eldho Isaac (Vaarikkuzhiyile Kolapathakam) and edited by Kiran Das (Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum). Sebab Anicadu produced the film in association with Dulquer's Wayfarer Films.