The Malayalam director talks about what went into the making of the upcoming socio-political entertainer, which also has Mamta Mohandas, Dhruvan and Vincy Aloshius as part of the cast
For director Dijo Jose Antony, his second film Jana Gana Mana took as much time and effort as his debut venture Queen. This was not only because his sophomore venture was made on a grander scale with bigger stars, but the pandemic restrictions meant the movie had to have start-stop schedules that prolonged its shoot for almost 18 months.
Dijo, who is now set for the film starring Prithviraj Sukumaran, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Mamta Mohandas to hit theatres worldwide on April 28, seems visibly confident about how the project has turned out. He, in fact, tells us that he has been able to make it just the way he visualised it when he had first narrated the script to Prithviraj way back in August 2020 – no mean feat considering that the film began shooting after the pandemic.
OTTplay caught up with the director in Kochi to know about what went into making the film, working with Prithviraj and Suraj, and also plans for its sequel.
Jana Gana Mana is a much bigger project compared to your debut film Queen, which was set in a campus. Take us through the process of landing on the theme for this movie.
It’s been almost four years since Queen released; two of those were robbed because of COVID-19 pandemic. But it was during those two years that we got to do Jana Gana Mana. After Queen, we had lined up a few projects but they kept getting delayed due to the artistes’ dates and other issues. So, it’s after a bit of time that we landed on Jana Gana Mana.
If you ask me if it has the campus flavour that was there in Queen, yes it does. But Jana Gana Mana is not just a story restricted to its two lead characters played by Prithviraj Sukumaran and Suraj Venjaramoodu. You can never say that Jana Gana Mana is just one person’s anthem, it belongs to the entire nation and this film too travels through so many characters and their emotions. It has experiences that would have happened to different people and it uses all of that and our reactions to those to tell the story.
The film’s teaser and trailer have scenes from its sequel. Was this the idea from the conception of the project onwards – to make it into a two-part film?
We didn’t have a set idea. When the story of Jana Gana Mana took shape, the perspectives of certain characters changed. So, we felt that the story isn’t just limited to what we initially had in mind and there’s still more to be told. So, we built the characters and story in a way that it organically leads to the second part.
It was my call to shoot some of these portions from the sequel. The producers were fine with that. Even though the shoot lasted for over a year, we had only filmed for 80 days.
Do you have a timeline on when the sequel would begin?
That depends entirely on the success of the film. It’s a massive hit then it could be fast-tracked, else we will have to take a call on the second part much later.
How much did having actors such as Prithviraj and Suraj onboard help the project and also would aid in giving such a film a far-wider reach than your debut venture?
I think it was massive to have them onboard. Though Jana Gana Mana and their characters have no connection to their previous superhit Driving Licence, their combination was widely accepted by the audience. It’s a boon and bane at the same time. That said, we didn’t cast them deliberately because their combination had worked earlier. We felt they were the right fit when the characters were written.
In fact, after we had narrated the story to Prithviraj, he was more excited by the character that Suraj would be essaying. He asked me who is playing the role and when I told him Suraj, he asked, ‘Can he do this?’ It’s because Suraj’s character is not just a supporting part; he speaks several languages and he has also maintained his physique to emulate the body language of an Assistant Commissioner of Police. So, he left behind what people expect from Suraj’s characters and fit into what we needed for this film. This was what happened with every artiste in the movie including Prithviraj.
Prithviraj is also producing the film. From the promo videos, it does seem that the movie also tries to touch upon politically sensitive issues. How important was having the support of a producer to make the film the way you wanted it to?
It has helped a lot. Neither he nor Listin Stephen involved themselves into the film’s technical side. In certain areas, Listin would ask if we really have to shoot the scene in such a way and then Prithviraj would say to go ahead because “it’s ultimately your film”. To have an actor, director and producer, who thinks that way, helps a movie superlatively. We have made the film based on exactly how we presented the idea initially.
I still think having them as producers is the chief reason this movie got made. If it becomes a success after it releases on April 28, people would laud the director and team, but to be able to make a movie on this scale, the producers have to first believe in it.
When a movie is split into two parts, there’s this tendency to save the best aspects of the story for the sequel. How did you tackle that?
That problem was definitely there, but I believe even a small ad or a scene is a movie and so each sequence in my film must entertain. In Jana Gana Mana’s case, each sequence is precious to us. In Queen too, we had first released a trailer that had scenes that weren’t in the film. Similarly, I could have dropped Lal Anthem in the movie online before the film’s release but I wanted people to watch and experience it in theatres. I believe that Jana Gana Mana has even better scenes than the four-minute trailer featuring the sequel’s content that we had released.
Jana Gana Mana’s music has already won over a lot of fans and you are associating with Jakes Bejoy again after Queen. Tell us how much does his music help in elevating the story and connecting the emotions?
I have known Jakes for over five years now. I believe Queen has been pivotal in kick-starting Jakes’ career in Malayalam cinema and it was an important film for him too. And we made it a success. So, I know that he will be the person who will be composing for my next movie too. I was a musician and I was inspired by Jakes’ albums; I had done music videos. So, my movies will always have importance to music and consequently, Jakes. He is like AR Rahman to me.