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Home»Interview»Exclusive! Aishwarya Lekshmi was so convincing that people called her Archana on the sets: Akhil Anilkumar»

Exclusive! Aishwarya Lekshmi was so convincing that people called her Archana on the sets: Akhil Anilkumar

The debutant director talks about his movie Archana 31 Not Out and the segment Geethu Unchained from Freedom Fight – both of which will release on February 11

  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 10.03 AM, Feb 10, 2022

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Exclusive! Aishwarya Lekshmi was so convincing that people called her Archana on the sets: Akhil Anilkumar
Akhil Anilkumar and Aishwarya Lekshmi

For director Akhil Anilkumar, it’s been a string of sleepless nights this week that he is hoping would conclude on February 11. The filmmaker has his debut directorial Archana 31 Not Out, featuring Aishwarya Lekshmi in the lead, and his segment Geethu Unchained, starring Rajisha Vijayan, from the anthology Freedom Fight gearing to hit theatres and release on Sony LIV, respectively, on Friday.

Ahead of the release of two films, OTTplay caught up with the young filmmaker, who had previously helmed short films, to know about his experience helming his debut feature film, working Aishwarya and more. 

How did you decide on the story of Archana 31 Not Out for your debut directorial?

Actually, it was only after I had a few short films that I began feeling confident that I could direct a film. By my fifth short film, those who had watched it too started feeling the same and that’s when I began to write a story for a movie. I had studied sound design and because it was my first film, I wanted to include as many elements that I was familiar with. Archana 31 Not Out is about a woman and revolves around her wedding. My younger sister’s name is Archana, my mother is an anganwadi helper, I have two cousin sisters, one of whom is a school teacher like the film’s protagonist. Also, I have been part of a lot of pennukaanals (bride-seeing ceremony) as part of their lives and have been in lead during their weddings too. I have also gone for catering and photography, so I am well aware of the ambience at weddings and landed on this subject organically.

This was initially a 60-page script, till it reached (producer) Martin (Prakkat) chettan. Once I narrated the story to him, he said there’s something interesting in it but I will have to develop it further. That’s how my friends Ajay Vijayan and Vivek Chandran came onboard. They are also from Palakkad and we know how weddings in the district are; they are a bit different from other parts of the State. So, we placed this story there and added the elements of pennukaanals. It took us about a year to complete the script.

Even though the movie is set in a world you are familiar with, it would have come with its set of challenges. What were they?

It was tough. Primarily because of the pandemic and the pressure involved. Also, there were challenges getting the right locations and also during crowd scenes. But most importantly, it took almost three years for the movie to reach theatres.

If you look at my segment Geethu Unchained, how that evolved was I called Jeo (Baby) chettan, the producers were ready, we pitched to the artistes, immediately began shooting, then moved on to the post production and we were done. That’s how I like to work. But with Archana 31 Not Out, we had a year for post production where we are watching the same footage over and over again. So, it was a movie that I had finished with a lot of effort.

It’s a female-centric film and so required an actress who could carry the entire movie. Was Aishwarya your first and only choice?

When I wrote the script, I didn’t have anyone in mind. It’s always risky to write with someone’s face in mind because if we don’t get the dates of the artiste, we can’t do it with anyone else. However, when I pitched the story to Aishwarya, I narrated it to her with her in mind as Archana. Even then, there was a confusion because she hadn’t played such a role before. What sorted that out was a look test. I had taken a photo with my phone and once others saw that, the entire crew said, ‘She is Archana’. From then on till the end of the shoot, nobody called her Aishwarya or Aisha, she was referred to as Archana. She was that convincing.

Aishwarya had earlier told us that the entire set was a very collaborative space, with everyone from herself to the producers being involved in the film. How did that help in Archana 31 Not Out’s making?

We used to tell them everything and they would also ask us why a certain scene unfolds in a particular way. If we don’t have the answers, we find them and let them know. There’s a limit to how much we can judge our own script. So, someone outside can always remain objective and give us good suggestions. We might not have used everything but there was teamwork.

From what I have heard, producers would be people who would come to the sets and pressurize us based on the budget allotted. But the producers of this film were different. Everyone was involved – from the scripting process to the release.

On February 11, two of your movies are coming out. What is your state of mind?

I am nervous and happy at the same time. All my effort in my life will see the light of the day on February 11. When my short films were released online, I have heard a lot of negative and positive feedback through social media. What I used to do was that after two months, I would make another short film in which I would ensure I didn’t commit the mistakes that I did in the previous one. But I have spent almost 3-4 years on Archana 31 Not Out and so that tension is there. The script was completed three years ago and so, I am nervous whether it will work now. Also, it has a different making pattern and I am anxious to know if it would click with everyone. On top of that, there are two releases, so the tension is doubled.

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