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Ayisha would have happened the way we conceived it only if Manju Warrier was part of it: Aamir Palikkal | Exclusive

Ayisha director Aamir Pallikal talks about his debut film, which has Manju Warrier in the lead

Ayisha would have happened the way we conceived it only if Manju Warrier was part of it: Aamir Palikkal | Exclusive
Manju Warrier and Aamir Pallikal
  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 04.21 AM, Jan 20, 2023

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For his debut film, Ayisha director Aamir Pallikal has attempted a feat that no one has in the Malayalam film industry yet. He chose a movie set against an Indo-Arab backdrop and cast about 80% of its actors from other countries. This also led to the movie getting an Arabic version, which releases along with the Malayalam film in GCC countries on January 20.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Aamir talks to us about how the project took shape, the importance of casting Manju Warrier in the film and more.

How would you summarise Ayisha for the audience?

I believe it’s a film that would appeal to all types of family audience and would make for a good theatrical experience. It’s about the titular character’s journey and that encompasses all kind of emotions. Apart from Ayisha, there are several strong characters in the film. Moreover, it’s based on a true story.

Ayisha is a film that’s set in the Middle East and has a host of foreign actors as part of the cast. Being your debut movie, that’s a massive undertaking. How did the project take shape?

The movie’s story is set in Saudi Arabia and about 90% of the film happens in a palace there. So, those in the palace would be gaddamas (domestic help), the workers, their business partners - and all of these would be people from other countries. And obviously, those in the household would be Saudi nationals. So, from the onset, we were clear that this was not a story that we could pull off with just Malayali artistes. Also, I was conscious that being my first film, it has all the elements that would help me leave a mark in the industry. That’s how I had approached it as well.

A still from Ayisha
A still from Ayisha

Manju Warrier had said that the characters in the film speak their own languages. So, how challenging was breaking up those dialogues to also communicate the essence to the audience without subtitles?

I am confident that the audience will understand because that’s how the script has been written and even during the making, we had paid extra attention to that aspect especially because it’s a movie that is made for theatrical viewing. You won’t have to depend on subtitles like a proper foreign-language movie. We have ensured that what characters, who speak other languages are saying, are communicated, visually to the audience.

Manju Warrier in a still from Ayisha
Manju Warrier in a still from Ayisha

How different is Ayisha from previous Malayalam films that have dealt with domestic help in Arab households?

One film that stands out is Kamal sir’s Khaddama, which dealt with the struggles, abuse and tears of its protagonist. Ayisha is not a story of despair and dreams. But it has emotions, and we have tried to present it in the most colourful and lively manner, with humour. I am not saying it’s an all-out fun entertainer, but it has that mood.

How crucial was it for someone like Manju Warrier to essay the titular character?

Ayisha would have been complete and happened the way we conceived it, only if Manju chechi was part of it. We believe it’s a character that would stand out in her second innings. I wouldn’t say that it’s her best yet, but it will definitely be among the top characters in her career. We only had her name from the start. We did think of other actresses but always kept coming back to Manju chechi. Primarily, because of her acting potential. Also, we knew if this story had to be told in a manner we wanted to, it would require a huge budget. We needed someone who had the stardom, as the film had to have a wider reach. If we had done it with another actress or a debutante, there would have always been a risk element. So, when a superstar like Manju chechi plays Ayisha, the latter grows in stature automatically.

Who are the other pivotal characters in the movie?

Radhika plays a Tamil character. There’s also Krishna Sankar. We have an Egyptian actor named Islam Abdelgawwad, Salama from UAE, Sarafina from Nigeria, Jennifer from Philippines and so many other artistes. All of them play important characters in the movie and are pivotal to the story. It’s not like the usual roles that foreign actors are cast in Malayalam movies.

The film is also getting an Arabic version. So, was it easy or tough to convert it into Arabic once you had the Malayalam version locked?

It wasn’t easy. The challenge was getting all the foreign actors to work together. We did get a lot of time for the pre-production of this film and during that time, we got to know the actors better and made them understand the movie’s canvas. There were also training workshops for that. So, during the shoot, it was easier because everyone was clear about what they had to do. The reason for the Arabic version was that when about 80% of the cast are from other countries and the story is set against a Middle East background, why not release it in Arabic too? That’s how we dubbed the Malayalam dialogues in Arabic. The movie will be available in both Malayalam and Arabic in GCC countries from January 20.

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