'I'm targeting only a niche audience'
..says independent filmmaker Ajay Devaloka, whose experimental film, WHO, will span multiple genres
If you're someone who has been wondering when Malayalam cinema will come out with something like a Mulholland Drive or a Ship of Theseus, then we may finally have our answer in the form of Ajay Devaloka's WHO. Starring Rajeev Pillai, Shine Tom Chacko, Shruthy Menon and Pearle Maaney, the film is expected to get a theatrical release soon after its premiere in the Marché du Film section at Cannes next month. And judging by the footage shown to us, it looks very promising.
Devaloka was happy to tell Express about his passion project, which has been more than a year in the making:
Let's begin with the idea. How did it come to you and what made you go ahead with it?
I've always dreamed of doing something that doesn't fit into any particular genre -- something that is a blend of multiple genres. There is science fiction, magic realism, noir thriller elements and dream sequences in my film.
But don't you think there is a big risk associated with a film like this in Kerala?
Yes, I was very aware of that. Anything that challenges the "industry formula" is treated with a hint of suspicion (laughs). I was initially worried about the general audience response. So I've decided to target only a niche audience. I know it won't be easy to get every single person into the theatre. The viewers here aren't that receptive of something that demands they step out of their comfort zone.
How difficult was it to find producers?
We couldn't find any backers because they all thought this idea wouldn't work here. It's funny because everyone keeps talking about how we aren't doing anything "different", and then when we finally approach someone with an idea, they are skeptical. So I finally decided to produce it through my own company, Corridor 6.
Who are the directors who have influenced you the most?
David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, and Steven Spielberg. Just like the films of Nolan and Lynch, I expect everyone to have their own interpretation once they see WHO. There were times when I got confused by my own film (laughs).
How did you convince the actors to say some of the complicated lines?
It was a bit challenging at first because they couldn't grasp all the ideas fully. But things got better eventually.
Can you tell us about your technical team?
Amith Surendran, a Sydney Film School alumni, is the director of photography. Sound design is by Vishakha Bokil (my wife), who has worked on some Bollywood and Hollywood films like English Vinglish, Ra. One, Million Dollar Arm and The Hundred-Foot Journey. National Award winner Sinoy Joseph (Gangs of Wasseypur, Pink) is handling the sound re-recording.
Do you think science fiction would be accepted by mainstream audiences in the near future?
Well, I'm very optimistic. I imagine we'll start seeing more sci-fi films in the next 5-6 years.