'It's now the responsibility of filmmakers to bring the audience back to theatres'
...says Jaladhara Pumpset director Ashish Chinnappa, who talks about working with Urvashi, similarities with Nna Thaan Case Kodu, and more
It's yet another Friday, and we've yet another debutant director living his dream. For Ashish Chinnappa, it took an arduous journey of 16 long years of donning multiple hats before he could turn director. "I entered cinema as an animator. I did the title animation for Mohanlal sir's Flash (2007) and Bhagavan (2009). Then, I worked as an assistant director in a Tamil film, after which I took a break. Later, I joined director Rejishh Midhila's team and worked under him in Varikkuzhiyile Kolapathakam (2019) and Innu Muthal (2021)."
The association with Rejishh invariably led Ashish to his debut film, Jaladhara Pumpset Since 1962. Rejissh's brother, Prajin MP and Ashish co-wrote the film, which is based on real-life incidents. "One of our friends, Sanu K Chandran told us about an interesting legal case fought by a woman he knew. We sensed a certain spark in it and developed it as a satirical courtroom drama over the next four months," recalls Ashish, adding that he had fixed the lead actor in his mind during the scripting itself. "The subject demanded an effortless performer like Urvashi chechi. She was our only choice because we knew only she could hold the audience's attention for 120-odd minutes."
Urvashi, who recently had the release of her 700th film Appatha, plays a character named Mrinalini teacher in Jaladhara Pumpset Since 1962. While she is the petitioner in this legal tussle, the respondent opposite her is a thief, played by Indrans. "Though we initially thought of a couple of other options for the role, we finalised Indras ettan because it's a combination that hasn't been attempted before. We felt the audience would be curious to see Urvashi and Indrans being pitted against each other."
Apart from the two leads, Jaladhara Pumpset also has TG Ravi, Johny Antony, and debutant Sagar in important roles. The film demanded a mix of seniors and fresh faces, says Ashish. "Working with the veterans was an incredible learning experience, and they never made me feel like a newcomer. With Sagar, I go a long way back. We both graduated from the same film school, and I'm glad we're both debuting together. He is also one of the film's producers."
A satirical courtroom drama with a thief—this one-liner might ring a bell with the last year's hit film, Nna Thaan Case Kodu (NTCK), which recently swept the Kerala State Film Awards. Ashish, however, clarifies that the similarities end there. "We had begun the shooting even before NTCK hit screens. Moreover, the treatment in both these films are completely different. While they opted for a more realistic approach, ours is a drama shot in a more cinematic style. We wanted to cater to a wider audience, particularly the families."
As our conversation veers into the alarming topic of reducing footfalls in theatres, particularly for small-scale films, Ashish sounds concerned. "We can't deny the fact that our cinema is going through a period of transition. The movie-watching crowd are increasingly becoming dependent on streaming platforms. It's now the responsibility of filmmakers to bring the audience back to the theatres. Jaladhara Pumpset was conceived, designed, and executed with that intention. We hope our efforts yield results."