Location Diaries: Close calls
Cinematographer Shyju Khalid talks about his experiences working on the films, Sudani from Nigeria, Chandrettan Evideya and Sethulakshmi
In Malappuram, during the shoot of Sudani from Nigeria, the hero Samuel Abiola Robinson was supposed to jump into a pond after a football game. The unit members asked him whether he knew how to swim because the pond was quite deep. Samuel nodded. The shoot began. Samuel jumped into the water. But he suddenly realised there was no land underneath to stand on, and he sank. “I did not notice this, as I was busy looking through the lens,” says Shyju. “[Actor] Soubin [Shahir] gestured to me, but I could not understand what he was saying.”
By this time, Samuel panicked and began flailing his arms and legs. “Thankfully, since there were other people in the pond, they were able to get hold of him and pull him up,” says Shyju. “So, in the end, we realised Samuel did not know swimming at all.”
Another sequence in the same film was set in Africa, and the crew went to the Buduburam camp, 44 kms from the capital Accra in Ghana. Through a contact, they were able to get some actors.
One of them was Abraham Attah, a boy who had acted in the Hollywood film, Beasts of No Nation. “We also took a few other boys who had acted in Beasts...,” says Shyju. “Then we selected a girl who acted as Samuel's sister.”
In the film, she is supposed to carry a pitcher on her head, to give an indication of the water shortage of Samuel's village in the film. And Shyju was taken aback when he looked through the lens. “In my career, I have never seen a face as beautiful as this girl's,” says Shyju. “Her eyes were also beautiful. Then we came to know that she is half Indian: her father is from Mumbai, while her mother is Ghanian. But I got the feeling the father was not with the family any more.”
Overall, it was a very interesting experience for the crew. “We were introduced to a football player who was travelling to Thrissur the next day to play a tournament,” says Shyju. “This was amazing because our film was about these players.”
Shyju had quite a different experience when working on the film, Chandrettan Evideya. The film was about Dileep, a government employee and an ardent classical dance fan. The shoot was taking place at midnight on Kowdiar Avenue in Thiruvananthapuram. For the film's climax, Dileep had to walk home, looking lost. Just then, a car came up, almost hit him, and the passengers shouted abuse at Dileep, who ignored their taunts.
“The moment the director [Sidharth Bharathan] said, 'Cut', another car, with three men in it, came at full speed and stopped inches from the camera, almost as if they wanted to hit it,” says Shyju. “We did not know what was happening.”
A muscular man stepped out and said, “Now the next scene is action on our part. Come on.”
The crew were puzzled, but both Shyju and Siddharth apologised immediately. “We did not want a fight because we did not know who they were,” says Shyju. “Maybe they were politically connected. And although the others felt that we should have given them a bashing, I felt that we needed to manage them, so that shooting could continue. We could not afford to waste a single moment because all these delays would become a financial burden for the producer.”
Meanwhile, the trio accepted the apology, and then the muscular man admitted that they were drunk. In the end, they went away. And the shoot continued.
When shooting for Sethulakshmi (part of 5 Sundarikal), there was drama of a different kind. The shoot was taking place inside a forest in Wayanad. The child actor Baby Anikha had a night scene with her parents.
After that shoot was over, and the crew was getting ready to leave, the villagers told them that there were numerous elephants in the vicinity. “So, we placed Anikha and the others in a car,” says Shyju. “Then there were cars in front and the back so that they were suitably protected. We moved in a procession, almost bumper to bumper. There was mist all around. But through the car headlights, we could see the elephants. There were many around. We kept our fingers crossed. It was a moment of tension. Everybody kept quiet. The cars moved forward slowly. We had to travel a few kilometres like this. Somehow, luckily, the elephants decided they would not attack us. So we managed to escape from there, without any problems.”