'I was so afraid of losing Sreenivasan'
...says veteran director VM Vinu on working with the actor in Kuttymama, his take on new gen cinema, the current state of comedy, and more
In a career spanning over two decades, director VM Vinu has worked with some of the biggest names in Malayalam cinema, including Mohanlal, Mammootty, Jayaram, and Sreenivasan. After directing Sreenivasan in two successful films — Makante Achan and Yes Your Honour — Vinu has once again collaborated with the actor in Kuttymama.
In the film, Sreenivasan plays a retired army man named Shekaran Kutty aka Kuttymama. Meera Vasudevan plays his wife. While Dhyan Sreenivasan portrays Sreenivasan’s younger self, Durga Krishna portrays Meera’s. Vinu has previously directed Dhyan’s elder brother Vineeth Sreenivasan in Makante Achan.
Vinu tells us that Shekarankutty is a comical character who constantly boasts about his daring military escapades to the folks in his hometown. “He is the sort of person who, once he catches you, will make it near impossible to escape from his clutches. All your activities for that day will be stalled. His thallal becomes so unbearable for people that they decide to run away whenever they see him coming from a mile away. A tea shop employee will escape through the back door when he sees Shekarankutty approaching (laughs). We see characters like this everywhere. They pay no need to the listener. The funny thing is, they’re not aware of the fact that they’re being a nuisance to others. For them, it’s normal. As to the veracity of his stories, some stunning revelations are made in the film’s latter portions, which is the surprise factor. Meera’s character plays a big part in the film as the revelations are being made through her.”
Vinu promises that Kuttymama is a proper entertainer with a 2-hour duration. “It has satire, romance, sadness, fights, and lots of humour. The film is, in a way, a reflection of the present society. So I guess that makes it sort of relevant. You look around and all you see is people boasting about this and that with no actual results. It continues to such an extent that we have no clue where things are going to end up.”
The director adds that it’s a film that can be viewed with one’s family without worrying about encountering distasteful humour. “The quality of humour in Malayalam cinema has gone down considerably over the years,” he observes. “It’s saddening to see what is being presented to audiences in the form of comedy these days. There is a dearth of good content. Today’s humour is crude, vulgar, and tasteless — filled with smutty double meanings — and cannot be watched in the presence of your family. The actors are laughing on screen, but not the audiences. Let’s not forget that we grew up in the era of Sreenivasan, Priyadarshan, Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Sankaradi, and Jagathy — all masters of subtle and classy humour.”
When asked if he has modified his filmmaking style to suit the tastes of new generation audiences, he says that even though cinema has gone through several changes, there is still a demand for commercial entertainers. “New gen is a big word, and we loosely throw that around these days. The real new gen cinema was made many years ago. A leading pioneer of new gen cinema, in my eyes, is KG George. We have also seen filmmakers like Padmarajan, Bharathan, IV Sasi, Hariharan, and Sathyan Anthikkad explore fresh and pathbreaking themes. As a writer and director, Sreenivasan has also presented ideas which were way ahead of their time. Sandesham, Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala, and Vadakkunokki Yanthram are unforgettable examples. I personally don’t believe in depicting life in its raw form through art. My primary aim is to entertain. This means being a little more imaginative and poetic with my scripts. I believe that cinema should entertain instead of making someone think a lot or mend their ways. I don’t think we can create awareness through cinema — it can neither corrupt nor turn someone good. We can’t go to a podium and expect our speech to change the way someone thinks. However, I do try to address some issues through some of my work in a way that I see fit.”
Vinu clarifies that he enjoys films like Parava, Sudani from Nigeria and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum but there is also space for other kinds of cinema. “If we only get realistic films with natural acting throughout the year, then we will get bored of them too. It’s why people still line up to see the films of superstars and it’s why films like Lucifer and Madhuraraja are hits,” he says.
Kuttymama’s dubbing session was a deeply distressing time for Vinu because, on the second day, Sreenivasan had to be hospitalised after experiencing acute breathlessness. It brought back memories of another dark chapter in his life. “I went through a similar experience while I was in the middle of filming Balettan with Mohanlal. I had just finished filming the scene where Mohanlal’s character gets very emotional after his father passes away. Immediately after, I got a call from my wife informing me of my own father’s demise. I was devastated. When Sreenivasan was taken to the hospital, it worried me not because it would delay the dubbing process, but because I was so afraid of losing him. So I made arrangements to make sure that he gets medical help as quickly as possible without any obstacles standing in his way. Fortunately, he came back, strong as ever. He is such a bold, positive and confident man, and that’s the secret of his success,” recalls Vinu.
Another highlight of Kuttymama, Vinu points out, is the fact that two father-son duos have worked on the film apart from Sreenivasan and Dhyan. Vinu’s son Varun, a graduate of LV Prasad Film and TV Academy, is the director of photography. The director’s daughter, Varsha, has sung a track with Vineeth Sreenivasan. The music is by Achu Rajamani, son of veteran composer Rajamani.
Kuttymama is hitting theatres on May 17.