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Thankam director Saheed Arafath: It is a marvelling experience to work with Syam Pushkaran- Cinema express

Thankam director Saheed Arafath: It is a marvelling experience to work with Syam Pushkaran

Saheed speaks about making his upcoming Thankam, his experience working with Syam Pushkaran, cast and crew, and more

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Published: 24th January 2023
Thankam director Saheed Arafath: It is a marvelling experience to work with Syam Pushkaran

In 2017, an ambitious film aspirant, Saheed Arafath made his debut with Theeram, an experimental small-scale film. The grit and determination to pull off such an experimental project held him in good stead as he took a courageous leap to embark on something bigger. 

Six years later, today, he is awaiting the release of his second directorial, Thankam, backed by Dileesh Pothan, Fahadh Faasil, and Syam Pushkaran's Bhavana Studios. In this conversation ahead of the film's release on January 26, Saheed begins by taking in a breather to dwell on the momentousness of this opportunity. "I am so happy to have got such an opportunity, and I'll always be thankful that my name is associated with a banner like Bhavana Studios."

Unlike his debut film, Thankam is a crime drama that is rather expansive and traverses various layers. "It also has thriller and emotional elements. Thankam follows the lives of two working-class men, played by Vineeth Sreenivasan and Biju Menon, who want to start a gold business of their own. A series of events unfold that brings in a police investigation too." With a gold business being at the centre of things, it is clear why Saheed wanted to name his film Thankam. However, Saheed lets us in on another reason why he felt the title to be apt. "Firstly, we have a part of the film in Thrissur, considered the Gold City of India, and moreover, Thankam is also a term of endearment in Malayalam and Tamil, and it is reflective of the layers of the film."

The journey of Thankam is a rather interesting one as the film was supposed to go on floors in 2020. The film was initially pitched to Vineeth Sreenivasanm. Then, reports about Fahadh Faasil replacing Vineeth came in, and then, finally, in 2021, Vineeth was said to have been roped in for Thankam, yet again. Speaking about the rollercoaster casting of Thankam, Saheed says, "There was a delay in the production, and Vineeth got busy with his commitments. So we considered casting Fahadh for that role. However, when things finally fell into place, Vineeth's dates were also free, and he was back onboard Thankam. Even the rest of the cast, including National Award-winning actors Biju Menon, Aparna Balamurali, and Girish Kulkarni, were our first preferences. We are happy that it was possible to get such a talented ensemble."

Apart from the stellar cast, it is ace scenarist Syam Pushkaran's involvement as the writer that has elevated the hype around Thankam. Calling his association with Syam a 'deeply enriching and marvelling process', Saheed says, "When I pitch a thread to him, he will come up with many exciting possibilities to expand it. Our discussion from then on will lead into in-depth research to go develop the plot and characters."

Saheed makes a fascinating observation about Syam, who is known for writing films like Maheshinte PrathikaaramKumblangi Nights and Joji. "When it comes to writing for films, it is a very arduous task to move around cliches because some are just inevitable. But Syam is relentless in his pursuit of presenting a refreshing narrative. It is something I marvel about Syam," says Saheed, adding that the depth in Syam's writing allows the actors to enhance their performances. "It is exciting to collaborate with creative minds in any capacity, as they bring in different perspectives to the story."

The gap between Theeram and Thankam helped Saheed on multiple levels as he not only chiselled the script of the latter to its best version, but also did extensive planning to ease the production workflow. "We had to shoot in many locations--Coimbatore and other interior places in Tamil Nadu, densely populated places in Mumbai, and Thrissur in Kerala — and this required proper pre-production. We could do it with considerable ease because of the planning," says Saheed, who shares that the multiple locations gave rise to actors speaking in multiple languages, including Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and Marathi. Signing off, I couldn't help but ask who is the 'Thankam' of Thankam, and Saheed says, "Thankam has many characters with strong arcs, and who is the Thankam of them all will be based on the audience's perception."

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