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Exclusive! Ranjith Sankar on 4 Years: I’ve found that it’s always better to return to our roots when we’re confused

4 Years director Ranjith Sankar talks about his latest movie and casting Priya Prakash Varrier and Sarjano Khalid

Exclusive! Ranjith Sankar on 4 Years: I’ve found that it’s always better to return to our roots when we’re confused
Ranjith Sankar and a still from 4 Years
  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 11.57 AM, Nov 24, 2022

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The pandemic has changed the outlook of not just the audience but also filmmakers. Malayalam director Ranjith Sankar is among those. The director, who had helmed Jayasurya’s Sunny last year, is now ready with his first campus film – 4 Years – which he says, is also him returning to his roots and giving back to his alma mater.

In an exclusive interview with OTTPlay, Ranjith talks about the backstory of his protagonists in the film, starring Priya Prakash Varrier and Sarjano Khalid, why he decided to make a campus film and how the youth of today will relate to its story.

When did the thought of doing a campus film occur?

I always wanted to do a campus film. I've wanted to shoot a movie at my college since 2011. I thought of a few stories and even came close to making some of them. But I felt it had to be genuine. The best theme for a campus-set film would be a love story but I never had the confidence to do it. I thought it would be experimental because it won’t have any stars in the lead as the cast had to be in their early 20s. So, I thought of making the movie revolve around the lecturers, but it didn’t appear organic.

It was around 2017 that I decided that if I was making a love story, it would be when I had the confidence to do it. During the pandemic, I made Sunny. It was made for OTT and I understood the kind of responses such films get. I also realised that independent cinema happens only in theatres; it’s only a perception that OTTs are for independent films. Sunny was bought by an OTT platform because that time was good for such films, but otherwise, they wouldn’t have. Their policies also keep changing.

So, I wanted to make a theatrical film. I decided on a multi-starrer but when I came close to making it, I decided to drop the idea because I felt it won’t work as people have seen similar movies and won’t go to a theatre to watch it. I was confused at that point.

That’s when I went to IFFK and I happened to meet Sarjano Khalid there. The first thing I felt was that I could make a love story with him. That’s what triggered the thought again. It’s not that I had the confidence, I was still confused but I realised that at such a stage it’s always better to go back to our roots. I made Punyalan Agarbatties when I was confused and so I went back to Thrissur. I did the same with this film and returned to my college. I felt I won’t regret it because I told myself that I won’t compromise while making this film. It’s me giving back to my college.

Priya Prakash Varrier and Sarjano Khalid in a still from 4 Years
Priya Prakash Varrier and Sarjano Khalid in a still from 4 Years

Be it Passenger, Kamala or Sunny, there has always been some element of experimentation in your films. What can we expect from 4 Years?

I think my experimentation is in choosing the subject. Take the case of Njan Marykutty. What I usually try to do after picking the subject is to dilute it and make compromises to cater to a wider audience. Since the pandemic, I have stopped doing that. I think with 4 Years, I have picked a subject and attempted it without diluting it, and at the same time tried to ensure that it’s a good commercial film.

For a campus movie to work, you also need the chemistry between its protagonists to work. How did you go about casting Vishal and Gayathri?

I always believe that the fate of the film is decided the moment I pick a story. We then just travel with it. So, I think the destiny of 4 Years has already been decided. As I had mentioned, I had Sarjano in mind after I met him. But even with him, it took me 4-5 months to cast him because the character of Vishal was very different from who Sarjano is. Vishal is a local youngster from Nadapuram, Kozhikode, who has a political backdrop. He belongs to the lower middle class and so Kothamangalam itself is a big town for him. I told Sarjano that it’s going to be a performance-driven movie and if the performance didn’t work, it would totally fall flat.

Gayathri, meanwhile, was born and brought up in Thrissur. She has only studied till Class 4 in Thrissur and because her dad was working in a bank, they had lived in Bengaluru, Mumbai and other cities. She had that kind of outlook. She too had a love affair in Plus-2 and her plan was probably to live together with that guy in Bengaluru. But her parents found that out and made her join a college in Kothamangalam because her father got a transfer to Ernakulam. She doesn’t like Kothamangalam at all. For her, it’s a small place. Then she saw this guy, who would wear a mundu to college as part of his rebellion. He is a good singer and orator, and all of this became reasons for them to fall in love.

The age that they fall in love also plays a vital part. You change a lot between the ages of 17 and 21. When they fell in love, Vishal was a hero but when the story happens, he is nothing. His talents have faded out and everyone else has moved on. His batchmates have got jobs or are pursuing higher studies, but he still has a lot of backlogs to clear. So, he can’t even go home. Gayathri decided to not take up a job and instead opted for MTech. So, there’s a strong contrast between the two characters.

Sarjano Khalid and Priya Prakash Varrier in a still from 4 Years
Sarjano Khalid and Priya Prakash Varrier in a still from 4 Years

How much will 4 Years connect with today’s youth?

I have tried to place them in the current campus setting – 2022. I think the campus life now is extremely different from even a 2018 campus because the pandemic has brought about a huge change, positively and negatively. People are now more free and independent, and they are also more intimate. However, relationships don’t have too much depth. I have tried to capture that essence. Also, you cannot make a love story today without intimacy. So, that’s also part of the movie.

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