Prithviraj-starrer 9 is best experienced on the big screen: Jenuse Mohamed
The director, who made his debut with the Dulquer Salman-Nithya Menen film, 100 Days of Love, talks about the making of his much-anticipated second film
Not many filmmakers are fortunate enough to do a big-scale science fiction film as their second project, that too with backing from a big banner like Sony Pictures, along with actor Prithviraj and his wife Supriya Menon (under the banner of Prithviraj Productions). A huge Stanley Kubrick fan, Jenuse Mohamed regards the legendary filmmaker’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as the greatest sci-film ever made. “I don’t think anyone has tackled every genre as Kubrick did, and I don’t think anything tops 2001 — it’s the first film that comes to mind whenever I think of sci-fi,” says the director.
Excerpts from a conversation with the filmmaker:
Sci-fi is a genre that hasn’t been easy to sell in Indian cinema, especially in Malayalam. Isn’t it a challenge to write a script in this genre without making certain compromises?
It’s a genre that’s rarely tried. But it’s a very rewarding genre: it provides infinite possibilities — there is so much that you can explore and it gives space for an original voice. However, as with any genre, you’re trying to sell it to a target audience, and we have to write the script keeping that in mind. But 9 is more of a cosmic sci-fi story than what you would normally associate the genre with. It’s not a dystopian story or one featuring robots. It’s got universal themes beneath its sci-fi layer. And at its core, it is a father-son drama. Unless there is an emotional core, there is no point.
How did you manage to convince Prithviraj and Sony Pictures?
When I wrote the script, I thought of casting Prithviraj in the lead. He'd always wanted to do something like this and he loved the script. Once he was on board, we started thinking of the best way to take it forward in terms of production. Prithviraj had wanted to start a production house for a long time and he felt this would be the ideal project to begin. He is very encouraging and gives you so much courage and confidence to do these things.
And Sony Pictures wanted to do something fresh and exciting. They felt it was something they would like to associate with instead of doing the regular stuff. We then went to Mumbai for the meetings. Everything came together at the right time. The producers made sure that we had whatever was necessary for the film. Everything was well-planned and on schedule.
Do you guys believe you have pulled off something brilliant?
We’ll know that once the film comes out. (laughs) However, I will say this: 9 is best experienced on the big screen. I wouldn’t recommend watching it from a torrent. The way it looks and sounds, it’s a purely theatrical experience. Obviously, we don’t have the budget to do something on the scale of a major Hollywood blockbuster, but this is a small attempt to give a much more immersive viewing experience than what we are normally used to, at least in Malayalam cinema.
The principal photography was wrapped up in 48 days. Did post-production take longer?
Naturally. A film of this magnitude requires at least six months of post-production, considering the VFX and other technicalities involved. We shot in Kochi and then predominantly in Manali, Spiti Valley, and then a song in Delhi. We wrapped up in Delhi.
What made you pick Abinandhan Ramanujam as director of photography?
Actually, Abinandhan happens to be my junior in college. He is a very talented guy. I used to know him before he worked on Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Amen. I felt 9 required a cameraman who was a little adventurous — someone who thinks out of the box. He has so much energy and it shows on screen.
I heard he shoots a lot of footage. Was it hard to edit all that?
Not really. Having a lot of footage is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you have a wonderful editor like Shameer Muhammed who knows what works for the film and what doesn’t. In the 50 days that we shot, we actually got 75 days worth of footage. Abhinandan keeps rolling, be it the aerial footage or time-lapse photography, to make sure he gets what he wants. We’ve got a huge collection of time-lapse footage. I used to joke that if someone wants to shoot a documentary series, they can use that footage. (laughs)
But isn't there a tendency sometimes to get attached to a particular shot?
Yes, that’s a difficult thing for a filmmaker. It’s a challenge to be objective about what you’re shooting. But it’s always important to keep the audience in the foreground and not you. The thing with 9 is that it’s got a good pace, and I don’t think it’s something you’ll get easily bored with. Once you connect to it, you’ll find it a great ride.
Do you think Malayalam cinema ought to come up with more high-concept films?
Absolutely. I’m sure a lot of those are coming up right now. We have a lot of talented filmmakers and technicians who are capable of coming up with some great stuff. We have already done films like Guru (1997) and Iyer the Great (1990), which were way ahead of their time. I think we can do more of that in the coming years. If any of them turns out to be a commercial success, then everyone in the industry will wake up to the different possibilities.