Vincent Vadakkan: I see Trance as one complete film
The writer opens up about working on the film, crafting the arc of Fahadh Faasil's character, and some of the criticisms
No Malayalam film in recent memory has received the kind of polarised reactions that Trance got. Love it or hate it, one can't deny that this Anwar Rasheed directorial is a one-of-a-kind audio-visual experience. "Maybe it needed some changes here, but as my first film, I'm happy how it turned out," says writer Vincent Vadakkan as he spoke at length about its development.
Excerpts from an interview:
How was the evolution of Viju Prasad to Joshua Carlton conceived in your mind?
In the first half, I wanted to scratch the surface of his psychological issues and then exploring his inner turmoil in the second half. In my research, I chanced upon something called trance and possession disorders. That's what Joshua was suffering from, but we left it ambiguous in the film. He has delusions of grandeur. He thinks he is God and wakes up from his coma believing he can cure all the world's ills.
Many felt Trance was more like two films in one. Some found the tonal differences between the first and second halves jarring. Was it written that way or did the script evolve into something else once the shoot began?
It had gone through several drafts. The earlier ones were much different. But something evolves out of discussions with the director, and you eventually find a middle ground somewhere. I see Trance as one complete film. For me, it was all about following Viju Prasad's (Fahadh Faasil) journey.
I think one reason for the confusion is that I had conceived backstories for certain characters which were not explained in the film. There were aural and visual hints alluding to their past here and there. But I wasn't interested in spoon-feeding. Every film has its universe, with its own set of rules and characters that don't necessarily have to reflect those in real life.
Viju Prasad comes from a financially backward background family that also has a history of mental illness. Did the possibility of writing him as someone from a well-to-do family -- or a narcissist, perhaps -- ever come up?
Not really. I was clear about Viju turning into a faith healer from early on. When I thought about his back story, I looked for elements that would evoke empathy, which wouldn't have been possible had he already been successful. But one doesn't always have to be like Viju to become someone like Joshua.
Sometimes the rich want to get richer. I wrote Viju as a struggler and loner who goes through failure after failure, which includes failing to save his brother. But regardless of the script changes, the brother always remained constant. The central conflict was derived from the clash between Viju's opposing beliefs. He is an atheist forced to play a believer, and things get complicated when he is slowly conditioned to become one.
Though it features primarily Christian characters, the film makes a statement about fake faith healers/miracle healers across all religions. Did you use Christianity because the milieu was more familiar to you, or was it because of its global appeal?
I wrote it based on my experience. I'm a believer. I used to be gullible once. I no longer look up to any pastor. I looked at several documentaries on miracle workers for references. I found some encouragement in some real pastors who backed my idea. I have a friend who is a pastor. They all wanted to see a film like this happen. But I also faced a lot of opposition. You see, not all pastors are like Joshua. The genuine ones do it as a service, and they do so for their enrichment. They don't go for healing or making predictions.
A few doctors criticised the film, saying it presents misleading facts about the use of certain psychotropic drugs.
My point of reference was a study by a renowned psychiatrist named Dr Peter Breggin, who has published many books and articles on psychiatry. He has talked about the negative impact of anti-depressants. He was all for using alternative methods to treat psychiatric disorders.
Some readings on the film mention the significance of the communist iconography. There is also the scene where Vinayakan shows up with a sickle.
I've been asked that by others too. It was not intentional; I don't support any ideology. It was merely happenstance.
You recently said you were a self-taught screenwriter. When did the learning process start for you, and how has that been?
Being from an advertising background, I got the confidence to tell a full-fledged story from my ability to tell stories in 30 seconds. Screenplays of films such as Fargo and The Shawshank Redemption gave me a lot of insight, in addition to YouTube videos from which I got to learn about character arcs and resolutions. I also learned a lot from Anwar. I'm also a big fan of Aaron Sorkin.
Were there any films or books that influenced you while writing certain scenes?
To get the mood of the scenes between Fahadh and his brother, I looked at Padmarajan's Novemberinte Nastham and Vincent Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo. Writing those scenes was emotionally overwhelming because I have a brother too.
What are you working on next?
I'm writing two projects. The first one is a yet-to-be-titled bilingual thriller starring Kalidas Jayaram for which I'm only writing the dialogues. Vinil Varghese, who assisted Anwar in Ustad Hotel, is directing it. The other one is a project I'm discussing with Anwar.