Vishnu Narayan, Poster of Nadanna Sambhavam
Vishnu Narayan, Poster of Nadanna Sambhavam

Nadanna Sambhavam director Vishnu Narayan: I was firm on not visualising domestic violence

Filmmaker Vishnu Narayan on his sophomore outing Nadanna Sambhavam, dealing sensitive issues on screen and what makes him tick as a storyteller

For around a decade and a half, Malayalam cinema has been witnessing the advent of many filmmakers who leaned on deconstructing existing ideas about masculinity. One of them was Vishnu Narayan, who debuted with the Tovino Thomas-starrer Maradona (2018), a gratifying film centred on the redemption of an undesirable thug. His sophomore outing, Nadanna Sambhavam, also explores what "being a man" means in the form of a light-hearted entertainer.

His major plunge towards pursuing his passion was by discontinuing his postgraduate course in philosophy. Despite coming from an orthodox family in rural Kottarakkara and lacking formal academic training in filmmaking, he was fortunate to learn the art and nuances of storytelling from esteemed filmmakers like Aashiq Abu, Dileesh Pothan, and Sameer Thahir. He values this experience deeply. "Learning from them has significantly enriched my understanding of the craft and provided me with a new perspective, particularly on the collaborative nature of filmmaking."

As we catch up with him, the filmmaker is pleased that Nadanna Sambhavam is finding appreciation, especially among family audiences.

Excerpts:

Q

Both Maradona and Nadanna Sambhavam dissect various aspects of masculinity. Are you particularly drawn to themes that explore masculinity?

A

Not exactly, I usually pick a story that I confidently feel will be suitable to make into a film. Every man has positive and negative shades of masculinity. In the case of Maradona, the questionable protagonist starts thinking differently about the value of relationships when he is surrounded by good-hearted people. In Nadanna Sambhavam, we are showcasing two main leads—one is a lovable character, Unni ettan (Biju Menon), and the other is the despicable Ajith ettan (Suraj Venjaramoodu). We can see both kinds of men in our real lives. Ajith ettan is that kind of self-entitled person who cares for their family from their perspective but has an innate sense of proprietorship over the family due to their male chauvinistic thinking and moralistic leanings.

Q

How did you end up finalising Nadanna Sambhavam to be your second film?

A

After Maradona, I tried pitching a couple of other stories. The one project I finally planned with Biju chettan had to be postponed due to the pandemic, as it was envisioned on a huge canvas. Also, post-pandemic, how our audiences consume entertainment—cinema or web series—has seen a paradigm shift after gaining more exposure to world cinema through OTTs. That is when I came across Rajesh's (Gopinadhan) story for Nadanna Sambhavam through my friend and filmmaker Jijo Antony. I found it exciting as it addresses an important topic. Women's friendships can be just as uninhibited as male friendships. Despite being completely normal, our society's gaze turns red when it is between a man and a woman, even in 2024. Even though the story progresses primarily by exploring the friction between Unni ettan and Ajith ettan's characters, we tried to showcase the latter's conflicted wife Dhanya's (Lijomol Jose) resolution as the film's core. In that way, I see it as Lijomol's film, which I chose to narrate within the confines of a film headlined by men.

Q

Could you elaborate on the casting choices of Biju Menon and Suraj Venjaramoodu?

A

Since Unni ettan is a lovable and cute character, I had to look no further than Biju chettan because it is easier to establish those character traits as people love his presence on screen. As for Ajith ettan, we wanted someone who could subtly elicit laughs while playing this negatively shaded character who is mean, narrow-minded, and unreasonable. Suraj ettan fitted the bill perfectly and made it more memorable than we imagined.

Q

Were you deliberately mindful to ensure that Suraj's performance did not resemble his role in The Great Indian Kitchen (TGIK) , given the similar characteristics of Ajith?

A

That thought never crossed our minds. Ajith ettan and the man in TGIK are different men in contrasting settings despite their entitled and chauvinistic nature. As far as I am concerned, Suraj ettan—being the wonderful performer he is—has brought a distinctive identity to both characters.

Q

How did you zero in on Lijomol Jose?

A

Even though Dhanya's character has limited dialogues compared to those headlining it, we still needed a solid performer who would be suitable as a simple married woman with Malayali sensibilities in an urban setting. That is how we finalised Lijomol, who could bring out the ordinariness and newfound confidence of Dhanya with ease.

Biju Menon, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Vishnu Narayan
Biju Menon, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Vishnu Narayan
Q

Considering the film's exploration of female friendships and their dynamics, how did you approach understanding and portraying these relationships?

A

During the scripting stages, we did some research regarding the sensitive topics the film delves into by consulting the women around us. While some of them were clueless as they hardly discussed such topics amongst themselves, many were instrumental in providing us with interesting viewpoints, which were incorporated into the screenplay.

Q

Nadanna Sambhavam notably avoids preaching its political message, unlike many films in the genre. Did you and the writer intentionally decide to steer clear of sermonising elements?

A

Of course. It is undoubtedly boring to make a film solely for sermonising the audience. We have seen many Malayalam films addressing issues concerning women without compromising on storytelling, such as Sreenivasan sir's Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala (1998). Also, I consciously decided to avoid documenting beyond what is necessary for the story in this regard, as we are not making a documentary.

Q

The way you documented the domestic violence scenes was through the children's perspective without depicting it graphically...

A

The moment I committed to the project, I decided firmly as a filmmaker that I wouldn't visually represent the violence in those assault scenes. Instead, they are communicated through sounds alone from the children's vantage point. Beyond making the film family-friendly, it would have been redundant to shoot such scenes after establishing the characters of Ajithettan and Dhanya.

Q

There have been readings that Nadanna Sambhavam is a fresh spin on the 1992 film Ayalathe Adheham with progressive gender politics...

A

To be honest, we never considered Ayalathe Adheham as a reference point, and any perceived similarities are purely coincidental. We believe the settings and characterisations in Nadanna Sambhavam are distinct from those in Ayalathe Adheham. As for whether it offers a fresh perspective or not, I believe cinema has been evolving and adapting to the times we live in.

Vishnu Narayan
Vishnu Narayan
Q

In light of your previous stance that heroism does not involve beating up opponents, how do you respond to criticisms that Nadanna Sambhavam contradicts its commentary on toxic masculinity towards the end?

A

I still firmly believe in what I said earlier. Rather than portraying Unni ettan's actions towards the end as heroism, we intended to depict it as a situation where he was left with no alternative but to react to Ajith ettan's violence. Also, what I intended to illustrate as Unni ettan's heroism was his compassionate understanding, particularly when he decides to intervene and help Dhanya during her ordeal at the police station.

Q

Given that the two films you've directed were scripted by others, do you aspire to delve into screenwriting yourself?

A

I have already written some scripts, but I have never been satisfied with them. Even when someone else is writing, I remain involved in the scripting process to continually exchange ideas and engage in discussions.

Poster of Nadanna Sambhavam
Poster of Nadanna Sambhavam
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