The acclaimed cinematographer-turned-filmmaker talks to us about his upcoming Prithviraj Sukumaran and Mamta Mohandas-starrer Bhramam, which is set to release on Amazon Prime Video on October 7 in India
It’s been almost seven years since acclaimed cinematographer Ravi K Chandran directed a film and almost two decades since he worked in a Malayalam movie. But getting the Dil Chahta Hai and Saawariya cinematographer to helm Andhadhun’s Malayalam remake, Bhramam, was a surprise that promises not to disappoint, judging at least from the recent trailer of the movie.
Ravi, who is currently shooting for another remake – the Telugu version of Ayyappanum Koshiyum titled Bheemla Nayak – in Hyderabad, talks to OTTplay about why he believes a Malayalam remake of Andhadhun will work, its casting and what Prithviraj Sukumaran brought to the lead role.
What prompted you to take up Bhramam as your second directorial and that too in Malayalam?
I saw Andhadhun on the first day itself because KU Mohanan shot it and Tabu is a friend too. After that, I spoke to Sriram Raghavan and told him, ‘This looks like a Malayalam movie and not a Hindi film’, because the character of a pianist and the quirkiness of the film doesn’t quite fit into the culture, especially because it’s set in Pune. Else it should have had a Goan setting. I told him it would have been better if the film was set in Fort Kochi, and that’s when he said that he had actually gone to Fort Kochi to see the location and wanted to do the movie with a Malayalam actor. It’s only because he couldn’t get his dates, he pitched it to Ayushmann Khurrana. So, he himself wanted to shoot it in Kochi and that became the trigger point.
Then Sriram connected me to Viacom to buy the rights of the movie, but they initially wanted to give the rights of all South Indian languages as one package. But that didn’t happen, and later when they decided to split and sell them, we bought the rights. So, Sarath S Balan wrote the Malayalam dialogues and we pitched it to Prithviraj. And he said that he had wanted to buy the rights of the movie when he first watched it because it would make a good Malayalam remake. You rarely get to remake a Hindi movie in Malayalam.
Did you have to make many changes to suit the sensibilities of the Malayalam audience, especially because Andhadhun was a popular movie?
The movie belongs to a different genre, like, Double Barrel. It’s a quirky, black comedy that fits into Malayalam sensibilities perfectly. Also, we all think that everyone has watched Andhadhun, but honestly only an urban audience would have seen it. Even in my crew, 80% of them hadn’t seen Andhadhun including the sound designer and the writer. I was surprised by that. I had asked the receptionist and attendants at the hotel I was staying in Kochi, if they had seen Andhadhun. They had no clue; in fact, a lot of people don’t even know who Ayushmann Khurrana is. So, only film buffs have actually watched the Hindi film.
When we were shooting for Aamir Khan’s Ghajini in Hyderabad, people were asking, ‘Who is this?’ We told them it’s Aamir Khan and their response was, ‘Who?’ We had to tell them it’s the actor from Lagaan. They kept enquiring if Salman Khan was present. People didn’t come and bother us during the shoot and so we could shoot freely. Director AR Murugadoss then told Aamir, ‘After this film, you will become very popular here. This is the first commercial film you are doing with action etc.’ Till then Aamir was playing intense roles in Taare Zameen Par and Lagaan. Though these were big films, they didn’t quite have the mass appeal and those are the movies that connect with the people.
How much did getting Prithviraj as the lead help the movie?
Prithvi himself is a director. He knows how the film, its logic and its shots work. He has a clear idea about those. Despite being a successful director, he doesn’t interfere with the making of the film. He didn’t even come to the monitor to watch the shots or look at the edit. As a director, he knows when something is working well.
While doing a remake, did you subconsciously also draw parallels between Ayushmann’s and Prithviraj’s performances?
We tweaked the script for Prithvi’s personality. He is an alpha male, who has a physique of a tough, well-built man. You can’t compare him with Ayushmann. Both of them have two different body languages. He has performed wonderfully in the movie. I have watched Bhramam many times now because of the editing and other post-production work. Every time I watch it, I could spot a new detail that he had brought in that I didn’t notice during filming. All of them are very subtle but outstanding; he has put in so much thought into the role. He also remembered everyone else’s lines in the movie and so even if other actors forgot their dialogues, he would prompt them.
Apart from Prithviraj, Bhramam also has an exciting cast. How did you arrive at the artistes to play each part?
Shankar sir was among the first people we had cast. We wanted him because he had great songs, he was a lover boy and had been missing from the scene for several years; so, he was the perfect choice and the first person we cast in the film, even before Prithvi. We got Mamta in because she’s someone who can pull off both glamorous and quirky roles. For Mamta’s character to have an affair, we needed a good-looking chap, who is well-built and is a quintessential hero. That’s how Unni Mukundan came onboard and he’s done a brilliant job. Ananya plays the role of his wife and she’s terrific in the movie. Jagadish again was a brilliant casting.
It has taken seven years for your second directorial. Why such a long gap?
I made a Tamil film, Yaan, but it didn’t work. When that happened, it became a dragging experience. After that I was offered many films to shoot and so I went back to cinematography. It’s just that I wasn’t chasing chances to direct movies. Now that I got this opportunity, I thought I will take it up. If Bhramam connects with the audience, I might get another movie to direct.
You have also handled the cinematography for Bhramam. Was doing both challenging?
I actually hired another cameraman to shoot Bhramam. But Prithvi and the producers said that I haven’t shot a movie for the past 20 years in Malayalam. Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu was my previous Malayalam film. So, they insisted I handle the cinematography for this film. Prithvi also said, ‘I haven’t acted in a film with you as the DOP. So, it’s my dream to work with you’. I told him that it would be too much work for me and I wouldn’t be able to shoot it quickly. He said he would give me more dates if I shot the movie.
Bhramam’s release mode is again something that is new in Malayalam with it releasing in India through an OTT platform and across the world in theatres. How do you see the impact of OTTs?
OTTs like Amazon Prime Video have opened up a big avenue for Malayalam cinema. In the North, people are looking at Malayalam cinema like how we used to view Iranian cinema in terms of the riveting content and novel way of telling stories. That is a big boon. Earlier, really good movies would be made in Malayalam but very few would watch it outside Kerala. But OTTs have completely changed the game. For instance, when Angamaly Diaries released, not many watched it outside Kerala but during the pandemic, people started watching it. A lot of my friends asked me to send them a list of Malayalam films that they should watch. So, many filmmakers are now watching Malayalam films. It gives a bigger edge to the industry and I consider myself fortunate to be part of this zone right now.