Writer Bibin Mohan: Writers cannot be bound by limitations
The Shylock co-writer talks about working on his debut feature and the lessons he learnt from working with Mammootty
Among the recent ‘mass’ entertainers of Mammootty, Shylock was a pleasant surprise for many. Scripted by two newcomers, Bibin Mohan and Aneesh Hameed, the film reminded one of the actor’s memorable performances in Kottayam Kunjachan and Rajamanikyam.
The writers, who grew up on a steady diet of over-the-top South Indian action cinema, were very clear about the kind of movie they wanted to sell. “Maybe it’s because we were ready with a proper, bound script that Mammukka decided to listen to our pitch,” says Bibin. “We believe we have delivered exactly what we promised.”
As with every other film, Shylock didn’t work for everyone, made obvious by some of the vitriolic responses on social media, especially after the film’s debut on Amazon Prime. While a majority of the viewers lauded Mammootty’s vibrant performance, others were not as kind. But Bibin likes looking at the bigger picture. Since the reviews were largely positive, he finds it best to not be affected by the small percentage of negative comments and trolls.
“Of course, it’s not possible to please everyone,” continues Bibin. “People who spend Rs 100-150 on a film can give their opinion, provided it’s healthy. We never claimed that this was going to be another Vatsalyam or Thaniyavarthanam. But please don’t tell us that Shylock is not cinema. Now, if the film hadn’t worked, then that’s a different story. Fortunately, it turned out to be Mammukka’s highest-grossing film.”
When asked what he thinks about the section of audiences who don’t prefer seeing Mammootty in such roles, Bibin says, “What’s wrong with him doing roles like this? When we planned this film, we couldn’t imagine it with anyone else other than Mammukka. It was not a random thought. Shylock wouldn’t have existed with some other actor in it. We still stand by that statement. Audiences would never accept it if it were a different star playing Boss (his character). Not everyone can do a role like that.”
A former pharmaceutical professional, Bibin says working with Mammootty was a learning experience. “Mammukka treats every film as if it’s his first film. The effort he puts into every character is admirable. He came up with some very helpful suggestions. We realised that some of the dialogues we wrote wouldn’t have worked that well in the context of certain scenes.”
Bibin recalls instances where he had to make instantaneous decisions, like writing a new line within minutes. He cites the actor’s intro scene and the bar fight scene. “I remember it rained on the day we shot the intro scene. Mammukka wasn’t okay with the dialogue we had written. He asked us to change it. He said, ‘The audience may applaud on the first day, but they may respond differently to this scene later.’ So we altered the scene to the way it is now. Something similar happened after the bar fight scene. As Mammukka was finishing up the scene, he said he needed one more dialogue, which we had to write in five minutes.”
Given that Mammootty’s character in Shylock is a cinema addict, the writers incorporated a few lines from popular South Indian masala entertainers. We also saw references from ‘new-gen’ films such as Angamaly Diaries and Kumbalangi Nights. When asked if this was the writers’ way of suggesting that one should appreciate all kinds of films, Bibin explains, “It can be interpreted in any way. It was not intentional. I’m someone who watches all kinds of films—even the ones regarded as trash by some. For me, only two types of movies exist—the ones we like and the ones we don’t, regardless of their genre. Aneesh and I often use trolls and memes in our day-to-day conversations. The same thing happened in our dialogues too.”
So what was the biggest obstacle the writers had to overcome? “The limitations set by certain people,” says Bibin. “We were told Mammukka won’t do this or do that. But we went ahead and expressed our ideas regardless. If we were worried and held back, we wouldn’t have been able to go that extra mile.”