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Exclusive! Nivin Pauly: Mahaveeryar tackles a global issue, asks pertinent questions through a beautiful narrative

Nivin Pauly talks about Abrid Shine’s time-travel, fantasy satire Mahaveeryar, and why it was important he produced it

Exclusive! Nivin Pauly: Mahaveeryar tackles a global issue, asks pertinent questions through a beautiful narrative
Nivin Pauly in a still from Mahaveeryar
  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 02.25 AM, Jul 21, 2022

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Despite being part of several superhits and also 12 years in the industry, Malayalam star Nivin Pauly concedes that he is having the jitters ahead of the release of Abrid Shine’s Mahaveeryar. Understandably so, as it’s his first theatrical release since the pandemic and the big budget movie, which the Premam star has also produced, is a mix of several genres – making it the first of its kind in Malayalam.

In an exclusive interview to OTTplay, Nivin talks about playing the character of a sanyasi named Apoornnanathan in the movie, working with Abrid Shine again and what captivated him the most about Mahaveeryar.

When Mahaveeryar was first announced, a lot of us picturised it as this conventional period film from the Malayalam film industry. But since the first look, we know it’s almost a genre bender of sorts.

Yes, even when you say it’s a period film, it’s not a Baahubali-type of movie with battle sequences. It’s a story that happens in two timelines and that’s why we have to show the past as well. It’s not an ego clash or fight between two protagonists. The hero of this film is its script and we are all just characters in it. Also, it’s a blend of genres because it’s a courtroom drama with elements of time travel and fantasy. The film also asks a lot of pertinent questions and tackles a global issue through a beautiful narrative.

The make-up and costume department seem to have outdone themselves, with you nailing the look of an ascetic with that wig especially.

That wig was heavy. And once it was set, I couldn’t move much because if I did, it would all fall apart. So, I couldn’t rest even when I had a break. From the start of the day till the end, I had to wear the make-up and costume. That was tiring because we had also shot during the summer. But I enjoyed all of that because to be part of a film with a hitherto untold story was a unique experience.

From the trailer, there’s a lot of contrast; you have a sanyasi, a warrior from the past and then a set of lawyers. Is the contrast one of the highlights of the films?

I’d like to think so. As I said, because it’s a mix of genres, it will be a novel experience for the audience. Usually, when viewers watch a film, they might have an idea on how the story is progressing. In the case of Mahaveeryar, there are a lot of surprise elements and a lot of fresh aspects. Having said that, it’s not an experimental film at all. Usually, when there are so many genres involved, makers would opt for an experimental movie made with a limited budget. Mahaveeryar is a proper commercial film that is made on a big budget with a great cast.

Abrid Shine is someone who doesn’t limit his imagination. But how did you visually conceive it when he first narrated the script of the film?

The film has turned out much better than how I had visualised it in my mind. I had insisted that court scenes should have a particular colour tone and scale. We discussed that it shouldn’t have the regional flavour and could be set anywhere. Even if a non-Indian watches the film, they should think that the film’s making has a certain level of quality and the team has put in that effort. That I believe has reflected and the scenes have come out well.

The dialogues in the movie use archaic Malayalam. Was that a challenge?

Not all of it actually. A layman would understand everything that we say; it’s just that we have used the language differently in certain places. There are certain situations where the characters have to sound like that; in other sequences, it’s just normal Malayalam that even a child would understand.

Nivin Pauly and Abrid Shine
Nivin Pauly and Abrid Shine

It’s also your third film with Abrid Shine, who keeps saying that you are among the first people he bounces off his ideas. With Mahaveeryar also being his most ambitious project till date, how much support did you lend as a producer because conceptually it was tricky and most importantly it is a big film that was shot during the pandemic when there’s a lot of uncertainty prevailing in terms of film’s release as well as box office collection?

Because Mahaveeryar’s concept was new and unique, I was excited about the film and that’s the prime reason I decided to produce it. Also, I believe if you support the film, you could fulfil its potential and make it the way the filmmaker has visualised it. Otherwise, it will be a compromise and that’s something we were clear we didn’t want to do from that start. While doing the movie, section by section, we designed the film’s budget and that’s how we progressed. It was a beautiful process.

In the past few years, irrespective of how your films have turned out in the box office, you have managed to never get stereotyped; something that most actor fall prey to especially after being part of superhits. Do you have a set of criteria while picking your films?

I just select from the scripts that I hear. I don’t plan anything. When someone narrates a script, I check if it’s a character that I have done recently. Also, I decide based on the ability of the filmmaker and also the production team. The criteria keep changing. A lot of people are now asking me when am I planning to do a romcom again? That’s what I am doing next, with Vinay Govind’s Tharam. Work on that is progressing.

You have announced a couple of projects including Shekhara Varma Rajavu and Action Hero Biju sequel that you are producing. Is that a conscious decision after the pandemic?

When you are backing it, you can plan it whichever way you want. Be it to scale up the project or even limit certain scenes, you don’t have to ask anyone else. You have a certain level of control over that. Also, I am someone who wants to make good films. More than the business or monetary aspects, cinema is more important to me and that’s why I want to associate with similar people for my films.

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