Vinay Forrt: With Aattam, we aimed for a fast-paced drama

The actor and writer-director Anand Ekarshi on creating a thought-provoking film for the ages
Vinay Forrt: With Aattam, we aimed for a fast-paced drama

One of the concerns of filmmaker Anand Ekarshi and actor Vinay Forrt before the release of Aattam was that audiences would perceive it as an 'award' film owing to its tour at various festivals, where it garnered several awards -- and deservingly so -- but these factors and the film's noticeably independent status aside, Aattam is doing considerably well in theatres, at least in the big cities, a week into its release, impressive considering its perceived budget and scale, attributed to its relatively fast-paced quality, which is not what one would say for most films with a 'screened at a festival' tag.

Anand credits Vinay with initiating the film's core idea, essentially a talking heads narrative involving an unpleasant incident experienced by a female theatre actor within her theatre group and the attempts to seek the truth behind it; meanwhile, the group ponders a lucrative proposition that might interfere with the former.

Being a friend of the filmmaker for the longest time, Vinay spearheading the project as one of the main leads meant a comfortable space for Anand, who was particular about having an actor willing to put aside his star persona for the film's sake. "I prefer a dedicated actor with a certain level of finesse, free to do whatever with his star aura outside the film, but not inside," says Anand, who, along with Vinay, wanted to do a quality film with a screenplay that does justice to eleven talented newcomers -- theatre actors part of Vinay and Anand's circle -- and give them the necessary exposure.

"It was my theatre days (at Lokadharmi) that taught me about arts, literature, performances, how to be on stage... all those things," adds Vinay, who got the idea for Aattam while undertaking a long India-wide trip with a play: "We never got to take that kind of journey since then. Back then, I made genuine friends and forged strong bonds, the kind I didn't get from cinema."

Though he was fortunate to be part of the films of accomplished filmmakers like Mahesh Narayanan and Lijo Jose Pellissery, Vinay understandably didn't have the luxury to get them to cast people close to him.  

"That's not something I like doing because I don't believe in meddling with a filmmaker's creative freedom," says Vinay. "With Aattam, I wanted to create something representing our art and theatre group... All these actors are engaged in different roles outside of theatre -- vegetable sellers, tile workers, loading and unloading workers, etc. They needed to do substantial work in cinema, and I'm not sure a commercial film would be the right space for them to showcase their talent."

Vinay was hugely confident in Anand's abilities as a filmmaker, given his experience assisting filmmakers like Imtiaz Ali on Tamasha. "I asked Anand if he could create a screenplay to showcase their talents and carve a film out of it. After he developed the script during the pandemic, the one-line he narrated hooked me. Under Anand's leadership, he shot a 16-minute pilot for pitching purposes. When we finally landed producer Ajith Joy (who also backed Mukundan Unni Associates), he greenlit the project in the 20th minute of narrating the outline. Ajith Joy is the best thing that happened to this film because Anand's requirements involved rehearsing for 35-40 days, multiple cameras, and sync sound, all of which got okayed."

Echoing the same sentiments, Anand feels it's essential to have an "informed producer who understands all the references and has seen a lot of international films in different genres." He believes a project gets interesting when there is an element of risk. By this, he means taking a risk on something with an aesthetic value and potential for commercial success instead of envisioning a "sure shot hit". "There is a sweet spot in between; it's in the packaging, to which we must pay attention from the writing stage onwards. And when such a producer is involved, then there's no problem. There are, of course, the marketing challenges and stunts, but, you know, when we see films like Kaathal become successful, it's so encouraging."

Like Anand, ensuring an engaging experience that won't test the viewer's patience was important for Vinay, too. "Of course, it's an unconventional film, but at the same time, our goal was an intense, fast-paced drama that would leave the audiences content once they leave the theatre," says the actor. "We cannot simply categorise something as an 'award film' just because it won all these prestigious awards. We had a great time shooting the film, and we cherished the experience, but our efforts will reach completion and fulfilment only when these 11 newcomers get opportunities in other films. For that to happen, people have to come to watch Aattam in theatres."  

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