Fishing his way through a circus: Scenarist Khais Millen on his films, Adithattu and Paradise Circus
Khais Millen on capturing the hitherto unseen aspects of fisherfolk and circus performers in his upcoming features Adithattu and Paradise Circus, respectively
Screenwriter Khais Millen is on a mission. He wants to tell stories about those belonging to the bottom rung of the social ladder, in a way not seen before. One of them, Adithattu, has director Jijo Anthony at the helm and is currently in the post-production phase. The other, Paradise Circus, is being directed by Khais himself. The former is a portrait of fishermen, the latter of circus performers. Interestingly, both films have actor Shine Tom Chacko and the same director of photography, Pappinu, in common.
Produced by Sin Treesa and Susan Joseph, Adithattu was shot last year in the middle of the pandemic. Being in the middle of the sea seemed a safer option for the cast and crew who rarely stepped on land as the events in the film, says Khais, occur chiefly at sea. "It's a slice-of-life portrait set against the canvas of a thriller," says the writer. "We intend to give viewers a peek into a way of life not portrayed on screen before. We believe we have accomplished the goal of telling a story of people whose plight isn't paid much heed by other sections of society."
Khais and Jijo wanted to steer clear of a treatment that would engender preconceived notions. Since it's not a land-based tale, any comparisons to Amaram or Chemmeen is unnecessary in this case. "It's an attempt to understand the exhausting struggle they go through, which we observed after briefly travelling and living with them, and detailed in the script. These are things that we cannot learn by observing from a distance. We have managed to incorporate everything in the pre-production stage, which spanned one-and-a-half months," says Khais, who wanted to give the story a solid emotional grounding.
The idea of shooting a film in the deep sea for 48-52 hours without VFX came with its own set of challenges. The health issues of the crew and weather variations were also a matter of concern. Khais adds that the actors had more clarity on the subject after in-depth discussions during the acting workshop. One of the film's principal characters is essayed by Aadukalam-fame Jayabalan, after those of Shine Tom Chacko and Sunny Wayne. "They all got to understand the ambience - day and night - and how these folks functioned after interactive sessions with real-life fishermen."
On the other hand, Paradise Circus has Shine and newcomer Ishita Singh as the main leads. Over 100 real-life circus artistes are also part of the film that, Khais shares, wouldn't have a Kerala setting. Again, as with Adithattu, Khais hopes for a more serious "behind-the-scenes" approach and not the tried-and-tested treatment. The team has already shot one schedule of the film.
Paradise Circus, which is being set up as a story of pan-Indian appeal, is bankrolled by C Unnikrishnan, Sin Treesa, and Soji Khais. "Shine is the only Malayalam actor. Everyone else hails from various states and will be speaking in their native language," says Khais, whose passion for the project shines through in his words. "People take a ticket to watch a circus performance, and they see only that particular aspect of their lives. What happens before and after? Do they find satisfaction in the applause? Do they do it out of passion? Theirs is a skill that takes years and years of practice. It is also a skill accompanied by a high degree of risk. Some dedicated performers have put in 50 years of service in some companies. There is a lot of history behind that."