Thamizh Talkies: Magic on a blank paper
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
A friend messaged me this morning. The message had just two words: Kumbalangi Nights. It’s almost a month since I saw the film and not a day passes by without a snapshot from the film playing inside my head, and it makes me smile in an instant. A good film does that to you. It lingers. Where does the process of creating a good film begin? Where does an idea originate? The answer is as mysterious as it is to another question that rankles the best of film talent: “Will this film become a hit? Will this film work?”
This question is the toughest to answer. Will this particular story work? Will this screenplay hit the bullseye? Will this film make a mark? It is tough because we begin a film on a blank sheet. An idea begins from nothingness. Then it takes shape inside a writer’s or director’s head in the form of words. The format of whether the story becomes a short story, novel, or screenplay and so on, is the next step. Then what happens is sheer magic.
This magic of taking words and giving it a finite form is what makes the motion picture industry so unique because inside this art or converting words to cinema, lies all art forms that are known to the human mind. To be able to envision the end film when even the beginning is a ‘search’ makes creativity highly valued. But in the normal day-to-day business of peddling ideas, this high value is reduced to data, when questions like the following are asked: “Has the writer had a previous hit?” “What is the director’s previous success?” “What does the lead actor command as market price?” Within these commercial walls, creativity springs forth, and gushes into corners, trying to find its niche.
An idea, which becomes a story and later a feature film, gets narrated multiple times to a film’s stakeholders. It is narrated first to investors who may also become producers, then to actors who need to feel connected to the story and their part, and then, to the technical crew and so on. And finally, the film reaches us, the audience, for whom it was originally written. A producer is the first person who can make a mountain of a difference to a film’s idea, the person who gets agog with excitement about the story along with its writer or director. But most often, what happens in a film industry is this: A producer happens to be just that someone who has the hero’s dates and therefore, the one with only the financial clout to pull off the film. Now in the context of what you’ve read, imagine the journey of a film like Kumbalangi Nights, which is seeing a dream run in not just Kerala but across all its screening centres worldwide.
Imagine Shyam Pushkaran, the writer, narrating a macro concept and then narrating the inherently nestled story of four imperfect brothers who are contrasted with the ‘hero’, Shammi, a picture of perfection. The film ends with the antithesis of all that we see during the first half hour and the story reverses itself. Even in a film-sensitive market like Kerala, a story like Kumbalangi Nights needed ‘famous’ producer-names like Fahadh Fasil (who’s simply outstanding as Shammi, the villain, to the unassuming hero played by Soubin Shahir) and Dileesh Pothen (director) to sell it to a larger audience. All I’m saying is that, this journey from an idea to a film is not easy.
How did Kumbalangi Nights end up doing so well then? Simply because it is a good film and because you and I ensured we spoke about it to one and all. It’s what should ideally happen when the country goes to vote. The uncanny but most deserving candidate must get to win because he or she began the journey at a time where there was nothing, and then… let there be light!