Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval: You get branded as a propagandist if satire goes wrong

Writer-director Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval on his upcoming directorial Sureshanteyum Sumalathayudeyum Hrudayahariyaya Pranayakadha (SSHP) and his penchant for writing satire
Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval: You get branded as a propagandist if satire goes wrong

Five years ago, Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 (AKV), which seamlessly blended humour and pathos in a refreshing manner, marked the arrival of a distinctive filmmaker and writer. With his subsequent films, Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval has now carved a niche for himself in the Malayalam industry with his quirky brand of satire. The State Award-winning Nna Thaan Case Kodu (NTCK), a biting courtroom drama, further cemented his stature as a unique voice.

Before entering the world of storytelling through a television series as an assistant in the art direction department, Ratheesh grew up in a quaint village in Payyannur, where the idea of pursuing cinema seemed alien as even film shoots were almost nonexistent in his locale. "As my interest in cinema grew from my childhood, there was no one to guide me on how to pursue it, as my family had no film background." 

He cherishes his journey from a production designer to writer, director, to producer, while acknowledging that his fervour for filmmaking cannot be attributed to any single director or film. Ratheesh is also known for making cameo appearances in his own films. "I mostly take up acting only to save time and cost."

Ratheesh is now busy gearing up for the release of his fourth directorial, Sureshanteyum Sumalathayudeyum Hrudayahariyaya Pranayakadha (SSHP), a spin-off featuring a couple from NTCK in the lead. During the time of NTCK itself, the writer-director had already crafted a basic outline for the backstory of Sureshan (Rajesh Madhavan) and Sumalatha (Chithra Nair). Following the release of NTCK, the audience's overwhelming response to these two characters sparked an idea in Ratheesh's mind. Speaking about the inception of the characters, Ratheesh added, "Sureshan and Sumalatha are based on a real-life couple. I know about their story extensively and I have incorporated those into SSHP."

In contrast to NTCK, Ratheesh eschewed the need for a rehearsal shoot for SSHP, citing that the process of putting together the film was different this time. "We finalized the casting during the pre-production stages and went on floors straightaway." Apart from the lead pair and Kunchacko Boban, SSHP sees no returning actors from NTCK, reveals the director, while adding, "Almost every actor in SSHP is a newcomer from around Payyannur, with some of them having theatre backgrounds."

When discussing SSHP's dicey prospects at the box office, the writer-director says, "Of course, it is a risk to envision a film such as SSHP featuring a lead cast with hardly any market value. But beyond a point, we cannot limit ourselves by the commercial prospects alone while making a film. I believe an engaging story that has a connection will find its audience regardless of the names headlining it. I am fully confident about SSHP that way." Rajesh has been a common presence in Ratheesh's films since AKV, both as an actor and casting director. "He is the easiest guy to deal with and understands what I am trying to communicate," says Ratheesh.

Opening up about his penchant for penning satire, Ratheesh explains, "I am a light-hearted person who is most comfortable when I am writing humour, and satire comes to me naturally, given the way I look at life. I mean, if we take our daily lives or politics, we see ridiculous events happening around all of us regularly that leave us in splits." He also acknowledges the challenges of writing satire while having to undergo a lot of self-censoring. "One has to be extra careful with satire, as people can brand you as a propagandist if it goes wrong." Shedding new light on self-censoring, the writer-director adds, "Also, it's not just about political correctness. I get so disturbed when I see those disclaimers about smoking and drinking on screen that I try my best not to write scenes featuring cigarettes or alcohol."

When asked about his future projects, Ratheesh revealed that his next film will see him reuniting with Kunchacko Boban as the lead actor. "I'm attempting something new with this film, which is envisioned as a psychological comedy. It also features Sajin Gopu and Rajesh Madhavan. And, of course, I will also be a part of it in front of the camera like in my previous films," he laughs.

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