Aashiq Abu brings Udalaazham to the big screen
Directed by Unnikrishnan Avala, the film stars Mani of Photographer fame in the lead role
Debutant Unnikrishnan Avala’s Udalaazham is finally coming to theatres after doing the rounds at the festival circuit. The film, which was screened at several major film festivals across the world, including MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival), IFFK (International Film Festival of Kerala), and London film festival, is being brought to the big screen by filmmaker Aashiq Abu.
Produced by a trio of doctors — Dr Manoj KT, Dr Rajesh MP, Dr Sajish M — under the banner of Doctors Dilemma, the film will be released in 45 theatres on December 6.
Unnikrishnan tells us Aashiq’s involvement made things much easier for them. Udalaazham was one of the Malayalam films playing at IFFK last year along with Aashiq’s production Ee Ma Yau (directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery).
A fictitious story about an ostracised tribal man Gulikan (played by Photographer-fame Mani), Udalaazham deals with themes involving body/identity crisis. “Gulikan is an outcast always on the run due to certain factors. He runs away from the forest and constantly finds it difficult to seek shelter wherever he goes and tries to overcome the situations he encounters along the way. He is closely observing society to find his true identity,” says Unnikrishnan, who is a teacher by profession.
On Wednesday, the film met with a warm reception after a special screening held in Thiruvananthapuram for members of the legislative assembly and press.
Speaking about the film’s style, Unnikrishnan says he gave the film a slight cinematic treatment in spite of its documentary vibe. This is quite evident from the film’s promos and songs. “My intention was to make a film that would engage the audience. I didn’t want to make something that would feel dull to them. Narrating a serious issue in an entertaining manner is a challenge and I believe we have been able to accomplish that fine balance.”
On working with Mani, who belongs to the Paniya tribal community, Unnikrishnan recalls that it was initially difficult to get him on board as the actor’s life was fraught with some personal tragedies. After getting a Kerala State Award for Best Child Actor in Photographer, Mani awaited more offers but luck wasn’t quite on his side. Due to his economic troubles and also due to the fact that he didn’t get paid for one project, Mani became quite disenchanted with the industry. However, when a couple of big offers did come his way, fate had other plans. His father got jailed around the time a Rajinikanth project knocked on his door and later an opportunity to act in a Mammootty film was foiled after his sister took her own life. As no offers came calling since then, Mani started working in a ginger farm in Shimoga where he met his future wife Pavizham.
Despite acting in this film, Mani is not out of the woods yet. “He is still struggling,” says Unnikrishnan, who cast him in the film because he wanted someone with a special kind of eyes — eyes that could convey both pain and innocence. “We looked at some other good actors as well but it was only Mani who felt right for the part. He was initially not interested in getting back to films, but since his wife was interested in the arts, she gave us his number and we managed to get in touch with him. Me, my wife, and my crew were able to develop a strong bond with him and his family. The film is the culmination of an eight-month-long journey with him.”
As Unnikrishnan’s script was in Malayalam, Mani helped in translating the script into the Paniya language. The crew shot the film with available light and in sync sound. Muhammed A is the cinematographer, Renganaath Ravee the sound designer, and Appu Bhattathiri the editor.
Udalaazham sees playback singers Sithara Krishnakumar and Mithun Jayaraj debuting as music composers. Also worth noting is that the film saw the introduction of the first female make-up artist in Malayalam cinema, Mitta Antony, who was recently part of Anjali Menon’s Koode. Since Koode was released in theatres first, it is officially credited on some movie websites as her debut work.
The other integral characters in Udalaazham are essayed by Indrans, Anumol, Sajitha Madathil, and Joy Mathew. Anumol plays a friend of Gulikan’s who is admired by him as she represents the ideal Malayali woman to him. “This film is not just about one character. The characters played by Mani, Anumol and Sajitha experience body crisis in three different ways. That’s why we have titled the film Udalaazham (Depth of Body),” explains Unnikrishnan.