In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the Mollywood filmmaker talks about his latest film Sara’s, which is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Jude Anthany Joseph
Director Jude Anthany Joseph hasn’t had much sleep today. His latest film Sara’s, which has Anna Ben and Sunny Wayne in the lead, dropped on Amazon Prime Video at 12 am and he had been awake till 4am, reading the positive feedback and taking the calls. Since he woke up, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing either. Even in the middle of this interview, Jude had to drop off twice to pick the plethora of calls that have been coming his way since the film released.
Every feedback also affirms to him that his deft way of handling the movie’s simple and relevant subject – of a woman choosing to be childfree – has worked. In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Jude tells us about creating the character of Sara Vincent, his personal experiences and the freedom that OTTs provide.
Ohm Shanthi Oshaana had its female protagonist chasing a man she loves, Oru Muthassi Gadha was about an older woman chasing her freedom and Sara’s is about a young woman chasing her dreams of directing a film. Are you attracted by scripts that have women protagonists going after what they want?
I think when a viewer watches the movie, he or she should feel they haven’t seen this before. When I hear a narration, I listen to it as a member of the audience and if I get the vibe that it’s something new that I haven’t seen or heard before, it immediately piques my interest. I don’t check whether it’s a man or woman who plays the central character. Those are secondary aspects that might matter only in the marketing of the film and as someone who knows how to sell a movie, even that doesn’t figure anywhere in the decision-making process. As far as I am concerned, it’s only a coincidence that all my films had these recurring themes.
Sara’s is a project that materialised during the pandemic after you had asked people for interesting scripts through your social media page. Interestingly, it’s also about point of views and the film has arguments for and against choosing to be childfree, which is what makes it balanced. How did you go about the process?
The initial script that Akshay (Hareesh) had sent me was of a big film. I knew that he is a great scriptwriter and will make for an even greater filmmaker because he loves movies. So, I told him that we won’t be able to shoot this film during the pandemic and it’s better to focus on something small with a woman-man relationship that has potential to shoot within the COVID-19 restrictions. That’s when he asked what if we made this movie, inspired by a scene from Ohm Shanthi Oshaana of a girl who didn’t like children. I immediately thought it was a fresh idea because most women love children.
Then he fleshed it out and told me the story. In the second half, there were portions where the film talks seriously about abortions. I told him that there are people who handle serious topics in that tone but I want the audience to watch it and be entertained. I wanted the word ‘abortion’ to be used sparingly; but we wanted to broach the subject, albeit in a different way. So, we kept discussing and then arrived at a place where the movie would appeal to both sides of people – those who support abortion and those who don’t. From the feedback, I believe it has worked out well.
Anna Ben’s Sara Vincent is a new-age woman, who is comfortable about the decisions she makes in her life and clear about what she wants. Tell us about creating this refreshing character.
From my childhood, I have never looked at their gender before interacting with people. That’s why I have a lot of friends – men and women – and I have seen different personalities. When I do a movie, I borrow aspects of the people around me rather than create a unique personality. With regard to Sara, Akshay already had a lot of situations in the script and our job was to see how she would react to those. It wasn’t a huge challenge.
The movie also had an interesting character of a yesteryear actress called Anjali, who had to relinquish her career when she was at its peak to start a family. Even when new opportunities came her way, she couldn’t take it up and had to put up a façade. How much did her character reflect the realities of what’s happening to women in our society?
It’s a disappointing thing. Even I am guilty. After our marriage, my wife wanted to be a fashion designer. Just when she had begun her course was when she got pregnant with our second daughter. So, she temporarily put her plans on hold because she is someone who loves children and said this is what she wants. But I felt sad; once women become pregnant, they don’t have a choice or the chances of them giving up pregnancy are fewer. Men on the other hand, when they are at the peak of their careers, they prioritise that over everything else. I am someone who believes that there is nothing bigger than their careers. It’s everyone’s personal choice. Through this movie that’s what we want to convey; we are not saying it is wrong or right. It might appear wrong to somebody else, but if you believe deep inside that it is right for you, then that’s what you have to do.
The protagonists of Ohm Shanthi Oshaana and Sara’s also had extremely supportive fathers. How much has that influenced in shaping their characters’ decisions?
I have heard my mother and her father were very close. He passed away before I was born but from what I have heard from my mother, that sentiment has always stayed in my mind. I have two daughters. I believe that usually mothers are more loving to their sons and fathers to their daughters. In Sara’s, the reason that Sara is able to decide anything and not worry about the consequence is her father. The dad in the Bollywood film Thappad who supports his daughter even when her marriage falls apart, has influenced us in a way. Those are the type of strong fathers that we want in the society and that manifested in the movie’s character.
Your first film was in 2013 and till now you have only done three movies. Is there a good reason for that, especially because all your films have been hits?
It’s something that even I ask myself, why did I become like this? Sara’s took shape last year around June. Akshay and I finalised the script by July, worked on it in August, announced the shoot in September and completed filming in October. So, before and after the film, I never thought about doing a movie at all. Today, the movie released and I am enjoying the feedback.
I am someone who doesn’t want to earn a lot and wishes to live freely without thinking about tomorrow. In between my movies, I also got married and had two children. I am usually at home, spending time with them. However, when I have a financial reason, that’s primarily when I decide to make a movie. Apart from that, I do hear a lot of scripts. But I choose films only that instantly make me want to direct it. Hopefully, the gaps between my films will reduce because I have picked four scripts from the ones I heard during the lockdown and they are ready for production. The only task is finding actors suitable for the characters and narrating the story to them. I am also acting, so I do earn what I need from those ventures.
You have collaborated most with Vineeth Sreenivasan, Shaan Rahman and Alphonse Puthren. How much of a joy does it give you while working with people with similar wavelengths?
I have always wanted to continue to be the same person that I was before I entered the film industry. I still have that admiration and respect for Vineeth the filmmaker and I am still jealous of the brilliance Alphonse had displayed even when we had studied together. I want all of that to continue; to learn and grow as a filmmaker. So, whenever I do a movie, I ask them for their opinions. For Sara’s though, I told Vineeth just before we began the shoot. As the movie was made for OTTs, it gave me more freedom and I didn’t have to commercialise it to make it run in theatres.
I see how Shaanikka mixes the background score for the projects that we have directed. It’s a magical process and once you have seen how he goes about it, you won’t go to another composer. I do wish to work with other people, but eventually I just come back to these guys.
All of them are geniuses in terms of packaging the movie for audiences of all age groups. In which stage of the film’s making do you factor that in?
It’s right when the story is narrated. As I had mentioned earlier, when Akshay told me about Sara’s, the script had a few dark elements and I told him that the audience might not welcome it with open arms. So, you are also constantly predicting the audience’s reaction. The day I nail that would be when I would wrap this up and leave. So, effectively you are just relying on your intuition. It could be based on the films we have watched or the books we have read.
Do you enjoy the freedom that OTTs provide more than making a film for theatres?
What I enjoy the most is obviously releasing a movie in a theatre and getting the majority of the audience to watch and applaud it. The freedom that OTTs allow is only required in certain kinds of films. Sara’s needed that. For Ohm Shanthi Oshaana, I didn’t. It was an all-out commercial film made for theatres. Even my next project 2403FT is made for cinema halls; no matter how much people offer me, I won’t do it for OTTs. So, each platform has its audience. OTT releases are made for people to watch at their homes at their convenience. We can use those aspects to our advantage. For instance, there were scenes in Sara’s that were spaced out because nobody was going to walk away.
What’s the status of 2403FT, which is based on the Kerala Floods?
It’s a movie that requires technicians and artistes to interact and that too in water. Even while shooting on land, there are strict restrictions about social distancing, so it’s near impossible to do that in water. I don’t think we will return to it this year with fears of third and fourth waves of COVID-19 already looming.