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Malayankunju director Sajimon Prabhakar: It’s mostly a Fahadh Faasil show from beginning to end- Cinema express

Malayankunju director Sajimon Prabhakar: It’s mostly a Fahadh Faasil show from beginning to end

The debutant on working with Fahadh Faasil and writer-cinematographer Mahesh Narayanan through taxing schedules and A R Rahman’s involvement

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Published: 14th July 2022

It’s been two years since we have seen a Malayalam movie of Fahadh Faasil on the big screen. The actor’s upcoming release, Malayankunju, almost went the OTT route. But Fahadh intervened in time, making the necessary efforts to divert the film to the big screen. It was a private screening attended by the crew members and close friends from the industry that prompted the decision. “After Fahadh saw the completed film with the audio and music, he became very confident. He felt a small screen viewing would dilute the audio-visual experience,” says Sajimon Prabhakar, who makes his directorial debut with Malayankunju from a script by editor and filmmaker Mahesh Narayanan, who turned cinematographer for the first time with the film.

Sajimon clarifies that the trigger for the initial “OTT or theatre” confusion was the pandemic-induced uncertainty. “At the time, we were concerned about the pandemic not subsiding anytime soon. We shot Malayankunju while the pandemic was at its peak—the end of January 2021, after pre-production in November 2020. And this isn’t exactly a small project because the cast and crew made up a sufficiently big number; however, it was challenging to shoot with them when the restrictions were in place. And things got more complicated when Fahadh got injured on the first day of the second schedule. He fell from a considerably tall building and fractured his nose. That took out two months from the schedule. And shooting got further delayed when we had to halt due to Covid restrictions,” recalls Sajimon.

Malayankunju, which also stars Rajisha Vijayan, is being touted as a character-centric survival thriller with Fahadh’s protagonist trapped in a claustrophobia-inducing situation after a landslide. “It’s mostly a Fahadh show from beginning to end,” says Sajimon, adding that the film briefly also focuses on his family life before moving on to the central conflict. From the trailer, we get a sense that his survival, along with that of a baby, becomes crucial. Sajimon shares that the film doesn’t mainly revolve around the landslide, hinting at the presence of a potential discussion-worthy subject at the core of Mahesh’s script. “The landslide is just a part of it,” says Sajimon. “It’s about this man and how his character gets impacted when nature meddles in his life. Most often, it’s other individuals causing that kind of change; in this case, it’s just nature.”

The primary challenge for the crew was creating a set that would emulate subterranean space. Sajimon remarks in jest that they tried their best to make things as tough as possible for Fahadh. The team created a 30-foot set in a way that only allowed space for one person to move around, combined with an actual location to make it look seamless. Naturally, this meant an arduous effort on the part of Mahesh—who was helming the camera—and editor Arjun Benn, who had to ensure the seamlessness. (Arju worked as Mahesh’s assistant on another Fahadh-starrer, C U Soon.)

Sajimon notes that the set of Malayankunju functioned in the same disciplined and rigorous manner that all other sets of Mahesh did. As usual, the latter, who is well-regarded for his razor-sharp editing skills, didn’t deviate from his script this time either.

“He only shoots what is in the script,” says Sajimon, who prefers the same method.

The duo go way back: they met when Mahesh started as an editor on the films of Lenin and VK Prakash. “Since he is an editor, he writes his script with the same discipline—he cuts out all the redundant stuff. Only write what’s necessary; only shoot what’s necessary— that’s his philosophy. Otherwise, it’s a waste of everyone’s efforts, time, and money. It’s pointless to shoot unnecessary footage, which has become a tendency for some after the advent of the digital format. If we were still shooting on celluloid now, every minute would count, and people would’ve been cautious about wasting precious film. The sound of a running film reel would make one anxious.”

Having worked with Mahesh on the sets of Take Off and Malik, Sajimon remembers that Mahesh is a passionate cinematography buff who used to do second unit camera work on the abovementioned films.

The duo’s clockwork precision on the Malayankunju sets meant they got to wrap up a couple of days ahead of the initially planned 50-day schedule. “We always plan everything in advance and ensure that the cast and crew are crystal clear about what they have to do the next day,” says Sajimon.

This conversation would’ve been incomplete had we not discussed AR Rahman’s return to Malayalam cinema after... 30 years! Sajimon shares an interesting anecdote about how Fazil—Fahadh’s dad, filmmaker and producer of Malayankunju—almost came close to working with the musical maestro sometime after Rahman’s Malayalam debut, Yodha (1992). So, in a way, Malayankunju sees the Manichithrathazhu director realising a long-cherished dream. Rahman’s last-minute involvement was an unexpectedly delightful surprise for the Malayankunju team. His work, says Sajimon, was one of the reasons why the makers opted for a theatrical release.

Rahman’s work involved creating two songs—a wedding song and a situational lullaby track—aside from the overall score. “Rahman wasn’t part of the film in the beginning. He created the music after seeing the final edit,” says Sajimon.

How did Fahadh convince Rahman? “One day, Fahadh casually sent Rahman a mail, asking him to see the film. After Rahman saw and liked it, he agreed to compose the score for us after a couple of weeks. We didn’t expect that because it’s not the kind of film he usually does, even though he had earlier worked on smaller films. There was, of course, 127 Hours (Danny Boyle’s true story-inspired survival drama), but that’s international.”

Sajimon recalls his interactions with Rahman with a smile. “He was such a chill guy. We spoke just like how you and I are doing right now. He welcomed suggestions and didn’t need a lot of instructions. I mean, the completed film is right there. He just drew inspiration from the visuals he saw.”

Malayankunju is slated for theatrical release on July 22.

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