‘Directing has been my long-cherished dream’
...says actor Harisree Asokan on making his directorial debut with An International Local Story
One look at Harisree Asokan and you may find it hard to believe that it’s the same man who played the iconic Ramanan in Punjabi House. The actor’s unassuming, affable manner and reserved countenance are a far cry from the hyperactive comedian we often see on screen.
After entertaining many for decades in front of the camera, Asokan is all set to do the same from behind it through An International Local Story, his directorial debut, which is being planned for a release in the first week of February. The script has been written by Ranjith, Eben, and Saneesh, while Asokan has collaborated with the trio for the dialogues.
“The film is a pure comedy. But it’s mostly situational humour. We haven’t added humour just for the sake of it,” says the actor-turned-filmmaker. “But there is also a good story to go along with it. Something with depth. It’s a simple, small film with all the ingredients required for an ideal entertainer. I’m confident it will make everyone forget their troubles and give them a good time for two hours. It’s fresh and a little unpredictable with a satisfying climax.”
Asokan was initially supposed to do a more serious subject but his friends advised against it. “I talked to Siddique, Lal, Priyadarshan, and Ranjith, and they all suggested that it would be best if I did a comedy — at least initially, because that’s what the public would want from me,” he says.
Rahul Madhav, Dharamajan, Deepak Parambol, Aswhin Jose, and Bijukuttan play the five principal characters, while Surabhi Santosh (Kinavalli) and Mamitha Baiju (Varathan) play the female leads. Asokan plays one of the supporting characters alongside Kalabhavan Shajon, Innocent, Manoj K Jayan, Tini Tom, Salim Kumar, Nandhu, and Mala Parvathy. Actor Suresh Krishna will be appearing in a comical role for the first time. “It is Suresh’s breakout performance,” remarks Asokan.
When asked if coming up with fresh material in this age of WhatsApp forwards and memes is a challenge, he says, “It’s possible to create fresh content if one is willing to dig deep. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I can say that there is no dearth of content. But yes, we have to update ourselves according to the times. We need to check if a particular brand of humour would work with today’s audiences. That’s how we have done it. But then again, we can’t be so sure. It’s all in the hands of the public.”
Asokan has been harbouring a desire to direct for many years but couldn’t quite conjure up the confidence to do it before. He was finally able to muster enough courage after numerous discussions with friends. “It was my friends who egged me on. I didn’t go to any director specifically to learn filmmaking. Basically, I learned from all the directors I have worked with. While doing Aamayum Muyalum, Priyadarshan asked me if I intend to get into direction soon because I was taking note of everything he and the cinematographer were doing. And as I was already an actor, I knew what they go through.”
Though Asokan found the experience of directing more thrilling than acting, he admits that the latter is more profitable when seen from a monetary point of view. “In the time you take to direct a film, you can act in maybe 10-15 films. But there is a high you get from directing a film, especially when it’s an actor doing it for the first time. As I was already familiar with acting, directing was an exhilarating experience.”
An International Local Story, produced by M Shijith under the banner of S Square Cinemas, was shot in Malaysia, Ernakulam, and Cherthala. Asokan calls Shijith a very hands-on producer. “He is a friend of mine and he was with me all the way. This is a first for him, and, prior to filming, I had explained to him everything there is to know about how things work in the industry. I told him, ‘What we are doing basically is gambling. The film may or may not work, and only if one is prepared for the worst should one think about getting into this game.’ Sometimes we may get everything right — story, script, dialogues — except for the time of release. A good film releasing at the wrong time doesn’t help at all. We can’t predict these things, you see.”
The director feels promoting one’s work is very essential. “There’s no point in making a product if you’re not going out there and actively promoting it. Your film is like your baby, and every director and producer need to promote their films responsibly. Just showing up with the money alone won’t do the trick. It doesn’t matter who is in the film, big or small. My film doesn’t have any superstars. It’s just the ‘Harisree Ashokan’ brand. That’s it. So naturally, it’s a huge responsibility.”
Having said that, Asokan is not planning to direct full-time even though he is planning five or six projects. “Directing has been a long-cherished dream which I was finally able to realise. After this, I’m back to acting. It will be a while before I direct my next film.”