From lens to megaphone: Sanu John Varghese on his directorial debut Aarkariyaam
The cinematographer-turned-director talks about making the film in the middle of a pandemic
Though Covid-19 brought Malayalam cinema to a standstill last year, it also presented an opportunity for a few technicians from the industry to branch out into other areas of filmmaking, like directing or producing. As the dreariness of the pandemic slowly began to wear off towards the end of 2020, a cheerful announcement popped up: cinematographer Sanu John Varghese, known for his work in the films Take Off, Android Kunjappan and Vishwaroopam, was turning director with a project headlined by Parvathy Thiruvoth, Biju Menon, Sharafudheen, Saiju Kurup, and others.
The presence of other notable names — editor Mahesh Narayanan and production designer Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval are in the technical team — added more weight to the film produced by Aashiq Abu and Santosh T Kuruvilla. The makers recently released the first look and teaser which revealed the film's title: Aarkariyaam.
Given the pandemic, Aarkariyaam was shot within certain constraints which, Sanu says, worked to his advantage. Shifting to direction had been on his mind for a long time. "I've been leading a hectic life all these years. Jumping from one project to another never gave me the time to slow down and reflect. But last year, the pandemic gave me an opportunity to find some clarity needed for writing," he shares.
Having worked within boundaries while doing ads where one has to tell stories within a limited timeframe, he found making a two-hour film to be a whole different ball game. "It's incredibly tough and exhausting. Unlike cinematography, directing comes with a much bigger responsibility. You have a lot of details to think about and remember. It's madness. I don't know if I can direct another film," he laughs.
Aarkariyaam, which concerns a couple travelling from Mumbai to Kerala, took shape after pandemic-induced boredom pushed Sanu to sit down and work on a script with his co-writers, Arun Janardanan and Rajesh Ravi. The pandemic is a major turning point in the plot. But he feels this story would've worked in a non-pandemic situation too, with some tweaking and a relatively bigger canvas, perhaps.
However, he is not sure that it would work better as an "emotional ride" in a different scenario. "It's a story about circumstances becoming the villain. It was a combination of two ideas, one of which I developed long ago. I incorporated elements from my personal experiences too," he says.
A fan of animation films (he adores Hayao Miyazaki's work), Sanu likens the film's writing process to an animation film. "We followed a disciplined approach. The editing decisions were made in advance - during the writing stage itself. Otherwise, it would've been impossible to finish on time. We shot it for just one edit, and we used a single camera. I don't believe in extraneous footage. Besides, Mahesh also brought some interesting editing possibilities."
Sanu brought in his frequent collaborator and assistant, G Sreenivas Reddy, to helm the camera this time. "I've known him for ten years," shares Sanu. "We hang out with each other all the time and share a great rapport. We have a similar taste when it comes to cinematography. I can easily communicate my ideas to him."
Sanu is in the middle of post-production at the moment, to complete the final work in time for the film's theatrical release on February 26.