Vipin Das: We didn't shoot a single scene in Guruvayur temple

The director discusses the various creative choices in Guruvayoorambala Nadayil, the risks he undertook and the results he reaped
Vipin Das: We didn't shoot a single scene in Guruvayur temple

With the last few releases, including a couple of much-hyped films, failing to make an impact, it seemed like Malayalam cinema's golden run in 2024 was coming to a screeching halt. But thanks to some 'divine intervention', cash registers at the box office are back to ringing in full swing. We are talking about last week's Guruvayoorambala Nadayil, a wedding comedy bolstered by a star-studded cast comprising Prithviraj Sukumaran, Basil Joseph, Nikhila Vimal, and Anaswara Rajan. The Vipin Das directorial has opened to exceptional numbers on the first weekend and is already closing in on the elite crore clubs. Unlike his previous film Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey (JJJJH), which was strong on content, Vipin has opted for a lowbrow entertainer this time with a sole objective—satisfying the majority. If the figures are anything to go by, it is mission accomplished for Vipin.

Excerpts: 

Q

You've been trying to get this project done since 2015. What are some of the changes you incorporated to make it relevant now?

A

Apart from the basic skeleton storyline, we had to change everything according to the changing times, sensibilities, and the actors. For instance, the character George was originally there for just one scene. But Joemon Jyothir's performance inspired us to add more scenes and it turned out to be the right call as people are loving his portions.


Q

Back then, it wouldn't have been feasible to recreate the Guruvayur setting. Were there ever plans to shift the backdrop?

A

No, we knew this story couldn't be told in any other setting. We were aware of the challenges and were up for it. For over a year, we lived close to Guruvayur and visited the temple often. This includes our team members from the direction, editing, art, and camera departments. We would study the architecture, observe the devotees, their activities, the weddings, and everything that kept the place busy. With the Devaswom Board's permission, we obtained measurements of the nada pandal and the kalyana mandapams, which helped us recreate them authentically. In fact, we didn't shoot a single scene in the actual temple premises.


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Q

Could you explain more about how you captured the chaos and confusion in the last 30 minutes?


A

We shot the Guruvayur portions for 22 days; 20 with the artists and the remaining two days with the junior artists alone. The biggest challenge was getting all the actors together, because of which we couldn't shoot most of it in order. Say for example, if the scene involved Yogi Babu and Basil talking, with Raju (Prithviraj) watching it from a distance, Yogi Babu's dialogue would be shot on one day, Basil's on the next day and Raju's reaction on some other day. The climax sequence alone has over 3000 shots, out of which around 2000 were not filmed in order. We still had to maintain continuity by ensuring the same junior artists and props were in position for every shot. There were around 1500 junior artists each day and it needed extensive planning. We formulated clear plans for scene choreography with the script having every detail about the camera angles and movements. We also made some last-minute improvisations, like the decision to include a song. We felt introducing each character in that final stretch would take a lot of time. So, we thought of doing it through a song. The film doesn't have a big story, so we had to keep the audience hooked by infusing multiple interesting elements. It's also a trick to lure them for revisits.


Q

Coming after a film like JJJJH, wasn't it a risk to take up a thinly plotted film?


A

This is something even my team members had been asking me since the film started, well, even the day before release. But I was genuinely interested in this idea as I felt it had great potential as an entertainer. There was immense scope for me to creatively contribute and I worked extremely hard. Even JJJJH didn't demand so much work. Had I not put in that effort, I'm sure this film would have failed. We kept working on the output till the very last minute. Most of the jokes that people enjoy now were added during the final dubbing.

Q

Your previous films had a clear political undertone, be it caste discrimination in Antakshari or patriarchal issues in JJJH. But you seem to have played it safe in Guruvayoorambala Nadayil...


A

Right from the onset, we were firm on not discussing any unwanted politics in this film. We felt it wouldn't be right if we did a film around a temple and then mocked the same community. We didn't want to hurt anyone's beliefs. Our aim was always to deliver an entertainer.

Q

There is also a general sentiment that the women in this film are unfairly sidelined. Some say it was odd to see Nikhila's character dancing in the pre-wedding song when she was supposed to be anxious...

A

I accept those criticisms, but in this film, there is no space to address their emotions. Had we taken that route, the lack of depth in our plot would've been exposed. This is essentially a fun film and I didn't want people to be diverted from that genre. Had we focused more on Nikhila's character, the pace would've dropped and the comedies would've misfired. That's why I tried hiding her throughout. While shooting the song, even Nikhila asked me if it would be appropriate if she danced, but I assured her it was fine. We never tried sticking to story logic because only then the long stretch of quirkiness in the climax would be effective.

Q

Unlike most films, the conflict is introduced very early here, which is again a risky choice. Was it a deliberate decision?

A

I would have preferred revealing the twist in the very first scene, but the Basil-Raju bromance was crucial and I had to invest some time in it. Things had to move fast as several other characters were waiting to be introduced. There were concerns within our team about how the second half is choked with too many comic situations, but while doing a comedy our judgements may not always be precise. So we had to trust our instincts. For instance, I didn't like the scene with the dialogues from Drishyam one bit, but people are thoroughly enjoying it. There might have been many such potential scenes in the 20 minutes of footage that we edited out, but it's a risk we have to take. Comedy is like fireworks; not everything explodes.

Q

It is rare to see a filmmaker acknowledging the lapses...

A

There's no point in hiding from reality, right? I was always aware that not all the jokes would work, but I trusted more on the ones that would. We knew we couldn't shoot everything as intended due to some unexpected turn of events, like Raju's injury. The availability of artists became an issue, but we managed to navigate it within our limitations.


Q

Your process involves a lot of on-set improvisations. Was it easy to convince Prithviraj, who is known for his meticulous planning?


A

Raju did have some confusions initially, but he soon realised that this film could be made only like that. Moreover, improvisations don't take a lot of time. We trust our intuitions and let things happen spontaneously, which is crucial while doing comedy. Improvising also means a lot of freedom to the artists to enhance their performances. Raju, Supriya, and many others were concerned if his performance was getting a bit too exaggerated, but I urged them to believe in me. It also helped someone like Anaswara, who might otherwise be intimidated in the presence of seniors.

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Q

You have smartly used old songs like Azhagiya LailaKannam Thumbi to elevate the comic moments. How did you handpick these songs?

A

Kannam Thumbi song was in the script. We shot the scene with the song in the background, leaving the whole crew in splits. It was a big booster for people who were initially doubtful about our process. Azhagiya Laila came after much thought as I wanted a song that's both funny and romantic. After trying several options, this classic eventually fell in place.


Q

Moving on, what's next?


A

I'm scripting Vaazha, directed by Anand Menon. I would call it a male version of JJJJH. Though it has comedy, it's a slightly emotional film focusing on men's issues— something that's rarely discussed. I'm sure it will invite a lot of discussions, forcing us to rethink our existing ideas of family and career. Then, there's a film I'm directing with Fahadh Faasil and SJ Suryah. Its script works are underway and we're planning to go on floors this year.


Q

What about the Hindi remake of JJJJH?


A

The remake is happening, but I'm not part of it. It was wrongly interpreted that I'm directing the film after I shared a photo with Fatima Sana Sheikh. But the truth is, Aamir Khan Productions is making the film with someone else.


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