'Vinayakan is free of artificiality'
...says Thottappan director Shanavas K Bavakutty, as he talks about what drew him to the story, directing his actors, working with Vinayakan, and what he seeks from every film
When Shanavas K Bavakutty made his directorial debut with Kismath in 2016, he was part of a new set of filmmakers who, like him, managed to make a mark with their fresh and distinctive voices. It was the year that Dileesh Pothan debuted with Maheshinte Prathikaram, Johnpaul George with Guppy, and Khalid Rahman with Anuraga Karikkin Vellam. Kismath, with its sensitive storytelling and strong performances, established Shanavas as a director to watch out for.
Now, after three years, he is back with his second film Thottappan, starring Vinayakan, Roshan Mathew, and newcomer Priyamvada in the lead roles. Noted writer Raghunath Paleri also has a part in the film. Adapted by PS Rafeeque from a story of the same name by Francis Noronha, Thottappan is among the list of promising Eid releases arriving next month.
What is it about Noronha’s story that attracted you?
Thottappan is about the story of a father and daughter and the bond they share. Films on fathers and daughters have been made before but what actually drew to me is the idea of a father and daughter who are not of the same blood. I found that idea very interesting. How does someone handle the responsibility of a girl child who is not his own? And when I read the story, the face that instantly appeared in my mind was that of Vinayakan’s. Once it was decided to cast him, it was not so hard to get the project going.
When one thinks of influential father-daughter stories in Malayalam cinema, the first title that comes to mind is Amaram. Has the emotional power of that film influenced you by any chance while making Thottappan?
Absolutely. Amaram has influenced me a lot. Bharathan’s direction and Lohithadas’ screenplay are stupendous. It’s a film that’s ingrained inside every serious film buff. While the screenplay of Thottappan was being developed, at one point, I started to feel the soul of Amaram in a few places. But I don’t think I can do something on par with Amaram. If I try to imitate something like that, it would be such a bore (laughs). Aside from the father-daughter aspect, Thottappan is completely different from Amaram, and is told with a different narrative approach.
You recently said you couldn’t adapt Noronha’s story as it is but took some elements out of it.
I did that because I don’t think someone like me is currently in a position to demand from production houses the kind of budget necessary for adapting the story of this magnitude as it is. So what I have done is work with a screenplay keeping the limitations in mind and create a better film with the budget given to me.
Are you always compelled by stories about strong relationships?
Yes. Whatever I’m now is because of the love and support of people who helped me get to where I’m now. I’m very much aware that I can’t achieve everything by myself. It’s all the result of a group of people. The ‘us’ takes precedence over an ‘I’. Once the love inside someone is lost, it leads to conflicts. And that is why I’m drawn to stories that explore those emotions.
From Kismath, it was evident that you can get the best out of your actors. What’s your approach to directing them?
I prefer to treat my actors the same way I would my friend or brother or son. It’s all about establishing a good rapport and making them as comfortable as possible and creating an environment where they can clearly comprehend my ideas and intentions. I want them to convey it on the screen without any confusion whatsoever. I always try to create friendships with every person working on the film.
As a director, you’re dealing with actors of different temperaments. Do you study their personalities first before approaching them?
Yes. It is imperative that I try to make them cool and tension-free as possible. Though a director has to deal with various problems normally associated with film production, I don’t let the actors know about all that. I think it’s best to keep these things to yourself so as to not affect the mood of the actors. If the actor is perturbed by these issues, it may reflect in their performance subsequently changing the way they approach their character, which I don’t want to see happen.
Vinayakan is someone with a complex personality. Suppose a first-time director wishes to cast him, what are the things he should keep in mind before approaching him?
Vinayakan is such a raw, honest, and genuine individual. He is free of artificiality. As he is very clear about who he is and what he wants, you’re expected to be just as transparent. Vinayakan has what you call a ‘universal’ face. No one else has that face or personality. And, needless to say, he is a fantastic actor, and, for a director like me, my character couldn’t have been in safer hands than Vinayakan’s. I didn’t have any problems because of him. Our shoot went very smoothly. Also, I don’t think there has been a Vinayakan film made with this kind of budget before.
Different filmmakers hope to gain different things from the films they’re making. What do you wish to gain from yours?
Emotional gains. For me, the first and foremost thing is doing a subject I deeply care about and then enjoy the process of making a film about that. And Thottappan is a film I very much enjoyed making. I always want the subject to move me on an emotional level. Some films can make you feel happy while some others make you feel pain. For e.g, a film like Piravi pained me while a film like Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu made me laugh. I can say confidently that Thottappan will make everyone happy. It’s not a dark or depressing story. It’s meant for all kinds of audiences. Anyone would find the characters relatable.