Asif Ali's eyes are as expressive as Fahadh's: Kasargold director Mridul Nair
The filmmaker behind the 2018 hit B.Tech on the challenges of conceiving his second feature in a quick span and working with Asif Ali and Vinayakan
Given the runaway success of his debut feature, B.Tech (2018), some would've expected filmmaker Mridul Nair to put in motion the wheels of his second project faster than expected, but, being the cautious and serious-minded filmmaker that he is, a five-year-break doesn't come as a surprise. One also imagines it's hard to put together a feature-length film while being an ad maker on the side. Mridul recalls conceiving his new film Kasargold -- releasing on September 15 -- in an unbelievably short time. Pitched to Asif Ali during the second lockdown, and initially, on a smaller scale, the success of bigger-scale films in a post-pandemic world compelled them to expand their imagination. However, when Asif's date became finally available, Mridul was in a bind.
"We only had a one-line of the film at that point, and I had a 10-day commitment for shooting ads for Amul in Gujarat," recalls Mridul about pondering the scenario of losing 15 days of pre-production time. "We had to write a script, scout locations, finalise an art director and cinematographer and wrap up pre-production all in the remaining ten days. I don't recall any recent Malayalam film made in such a rapid-fire environment."
Mridul, who envisioned the core story, which he describes as an "action thriller with the mood of a Coen Brothers movie in which almost everyone is an a**hole," credits scenarist Sajimon Prabhakar (director of Fahadh Faasil's Malayankunju) and editor Manoj Kannoth (Nna Thaan Case Kodu) for filling the gaps that Mridul couldn't. "Sajiettan is phenomenal in that regard. Having worked in around a hundred films in various capacities, he could rise to the challenge. He can finish a draft in one sitting. And this is a man who had neither been to Goa nor participated in any underground/techno parties there, nor has he met anyone who has tried substances. So, in those ten days, I showed him all the locations and introduced him to all the people necessary for basic research, including the unsavoury ones. He wrote everything from the perspective of an ordinary Malayali who has seen all these things; that helped a lot."
As for Manoj Kannoth, Mridul shares the editor had contributed a couple of scenes when some things weren't working out as they had hoped. "He went to the location in the morning and figured out the choreography of it. And Manoj ettan also oversees all the visual aspects during post-production, including graphics. The disciplined and passionate folks he and Sajiettan are, we all look up to them; without them, Kasargold wouldn't have existed.
Mridul considers Asif one of his best friends with whom he would've "bonded well even if he weren't an actor." He found Asif an ideal candidate for portraying some aspects of Mridul's campus life in B.Tech, especially one involving a movie hall. But above all, he regards Asif as "the most underrated and relatively most versatile" among the younger Malayalam actors.
"Asif's eyes are as expressive as Fahadh's. He arrived before Dulquer and Nivin and has a wealth of experience to his advantage. He can emote beautifully and often delivers above what the director interprets," observes Mridul, who recalls an instance in BTech where the actor had to deliver a speech in front of 500-600 Kannada-speaking extras, a supposedly cumbersome task, especially when doing it in one take. "Asif needed three days to prepare. Unfortunately, at the last minute, we had to change the speech, and he got furious as we also had to deal with certain production-related snags. But Asif finally relented, and guess what? He pulled off the entire speech, and everyone started clapping even though they didn't understand a word. It worked because he conjured up a degree of emotion like someone of Kanhaiya Kumar's stature."
Aside from Asif, Kasargold has a significant presence in the form of Sunny Wayne -- "the emotional core of the film," says Mridul -- and Vinayakan, essaying a cop under suspension who starts pursuing the chaos. Mridul shares amusing anecdotes about working with the latter, known for his unpredictable personality. "When I told Vinayakan chettan the story, he was in Goa; he asked me what his costume was. I met him with Mashar Hamsa (costume designer), with whom Vinayakan chettan had previously worked, whereas I've never met him. When I told him the character is a stylised cop, he was initially apprehensive as he was about to start shooting for Jailer, and he wasn't in a position to take off his beard. So, Sajiettan and I altered the character to make him a suspended cop from North Malabar. For us, the actor in Vinayakan was more important than his beard. This character drives a cult vehicle, drinks single malt whiskey, speaks German and French, and has political connections in Goa. And we were all aware of his range even before Jailer."
Mridul calls Vinayakan the "best thing to happen to him after Asif Ali." The actor has been lately basking in the adulation for his standout portrayal of Varman, the principal antagonist of Rajinikanth in Jailer. Mridul says every apprehensive thought that others have planted in his mind about the actor disappeared after the two bonded on set. "We became good friends after that first meeting. We synced incredibly well. Even when the shoot of his portions gets over in the noon, he'll stay back on set till the night. When someone tells him his car is ready, he tells them he is with his friends. He is so involved in a way that even if he had no shoot, he would stay back on set till night."
Mridul fondly remembers being invited to Vinayakan's home, which rarely happens with others. "He hasn't invited anyone to his home in recent memory, but I had the privilege to visit his home and talk to him. He calls me 'Baba'. People have a narrow perception of him. He has studied advertising, worked with Prahlad Kakkar and Suresh Natarajan long ago, and has a sense of style and music. You know what? Even after filming wrapped, he would come from the location of Jailer to Vishnu Vijayan's (composer) studio. And just like Asif and Sunny, he is an exceptional actor who asks questions, even giving suggestions for action sequences."
While on action sequences, Mridul adds that Kasargold boasts many, choreographed by multiple stunt choreographers, including contributions from Mridul himself. "It's simply a case of remembering that we are competing with comparatively bigger budgeted films, so how do we get the best out of the budget we got? Kasargold has characters on the run, encountering various obstacles that naturally engender intensely chaotic moments. The idea is to give audiences a fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat experience."