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Exclusive! Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval: Kanakam Kamini Kalaham’s humour evolved during its shoot

The Android Kunjappan Ver. 5.25 director talks to us about the Nivin Pauly and Grace Antony comedy, his next movie Nna, Thaan Case Kodu with Kunchacko Boban and more

Sanjith Sidhardhan
Sep 08, 2021
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Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval

In just his first movie Android Kunjappan Ver. 5.25, director Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval defied a lot of notions, making a sci-fi movie in Malayalam, setting it in against a rural backdrop, telling a moving rooted-to-reality story between a father, son and a robot and all while giving it a feel-good spin appealing to a wider audience. The teaser of the Kerala State Award-winning filmmaker’s next, Kanakam Kamini Kalaham, promises there’s even more exciting stuff from his zany mind coming up.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Ratheesh talks to us about the quirkiness of Kanakam Kamini Kalaham, which has Nivin Pauly and Grace Antony in the lead, his upcoming films including Kunchacko Boban’s Nna, Thaan Case Kodu and Alien Aliyan and his style of filmmaking.

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Android Kunjappan Ver. 5.25 poster

One thing that does stand out from Android Kunjappan or from the teaser of Kanakam Kamini Kalaham is how your style of filmmaking gives a feel-good spin to a serious topic and that’s exciting for a lot of viewers.

Some of my friends blame me for looking at serious subjects in a light manner and hence losing the gravity of those topics. But that’s my way of telling stories. I think that comes from how I am personally. I try and see the fun side of serious incidents. And I face flak for that often, but that’s my style of filmmaking and I can’t escape from that. Be it the films I have done or the ones I have written, I have taken a serious subject and tried to present it from my point of view, which is through sarcasm and humour. I enjoy that process. Even while shooting the movie, we laugh and do it. 

What’s the status of your second directorial, Kanakam Kamini Kalaham?

The film’s cleared by the CBFC with a U certificate. It will probably release this month, mostly on an OTT platform. Theatrical release was our initial plan. It’s a comedy and we weren’t sure how well humour would work on an online platform. That’s why we were waiting. But with the reopening of theatres being pushed indefinitely, we are looking at an OTT release. We are yet to confirm the streaming platform.

The entire movie was shot in a hotel in Kochi.

Yes, we shot at Abad Atrium in Kochi and we needed a hotel like that, where we could see the lobby or reception from any floor. We had searched for a lot of hotels but found that design only there. It was also shot during the pandemic and because the actors and technicians were based in Kochi, it suited our needs.

How was it working with Nivin in the film?

He also produced the movie, and he’s a fantastic producer. It’s difficult to get a producer like that for your second film. I didn’t have to think about the film’s cost or concerned areas. As an actor, he isn’t someone who comes and acts; he tries to understand the core of the story, eliminate all his doubts and confusion and then deliver his performance. It was also easy working with him.

Even during the post production of the movie, there was a lot of give and take, even during the editing process. I didn’t think of it as a producer’s interference, but more as his positive involvement. Also, because it’s the pandemic, everyone has time to look into each aspect.

From its teaser, the film seems to have a quirky concept.

The teaser isn’t related to the movie’s story but it encapsulates the mood of the film. Kanakam Kamini Kalaham is an extremely quirky film and I am also a bit concerned about the quirkiness quotient because I don’t know if people will accept it. But, whoever has worked in the movie and has watched it too are really happy. When I showed it to some of my friends outside the team, like Sanu John Varghese, they were delighted with the film and making-wise, they said it’s above Android Kunjappan. I was glad to hear that feedback from a cameraman like Sanu.

The humour in the film is over-the-top, but that wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. During the scripting, it was written as a realistic film as the story is inspired from an incident that happened in my life. But that changed when we reached the hotel and planned the costume and art design of the movie. So, the entire mood and space evolved and the quirkiness got elevated once the production design came into play. As I also have a background in that, I could execute it easily. For instance, you would find influences of Wes Anderson’s movies in many places in the film. But this thought wasn’t there during the scripting stage or discussions with Nivin. It just happened unknowingly during the process of filmmaking. From the spot boy to a star like Nivin was staying at the same hotel and all of us enjoyed the process of making this film. It’s a boon that happened due to the pandemic.

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Is it based on a group of serial actors in a hotel?

No, after that 20th minute of the film, the story takes place over a day in a hotel. It’s about a couple who gets stuck in a hotel due to an issue. And the hotel is something we can’t imagine because it’s that crazy. If it was a horror story, you would say it’s a haunted hotel, but here the couple, who have their issues, gets to a place that has even bigger problems and a backstory. The rest of the story evolves in the hotel. However, viewers wouldn’t feel claustrophobic because through its approach and humour, we have tried to break that and we think we have succeeded.

Your next movie with Kunchacko Boban is named Nna, Thaan Case Kodu. The title itself is so relatable. What’s it about?

If you look at it, it’s a phrase that everyone would have used at least once in their lives. When you are in the middle of a spat, you would say, “Nna, thaan poyi case kodu (If so, go file a legal case).” The way we say it might change with each district but ultimately it’s about that ‘I don’t care’ attitude. That’s also why I zeroed in on that title.

Nna, Thaan Case Kodu is based on a social issue. The crux of the film is Kunchacko Boban’s character taking a small issue to the court and trying to defend his case. The movie is a courtroom drama, in which 80% of the film happens inside a court. When people think about courts, they usually have an image of a judge, advocates and the surroundings through the films they have watched. But with this movie, we are trying to break that. It’s a realistic film; though it will have its quirks, it will be balanced with the realistic elements. The film won’t have those long speeches. We have tried to stick to court formats and to make the general audience understand them better, we might have to explain them. At the same time, it’s not a movie made to show court proceedings, and yet the viewer would feel like they are inside a courtroom.

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Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval

Is it liberating for filmmakers to do movies in a restricted setting, owing to the pandemic? In the sense, there are limited variables that you have to control.

Although 80% of Nna, Thaan Case Kodu is happening in a courtroom, it is actually not a film made on a small canvas. The rest of the 20% is big. The film has scenes like a swearing-in ceremony, political party meeting and a temple festival. The film wasn’t scripted to be shot keeping in mind the pandemic restrictions. It was written during the first lockdown, when all of us hoped that everything would return to normal after 6-7 months. Even in the court scenes, we need 100 people on the sets. If you go to a judicial first class magistrate court, you would find so many people there. We need that in our movie too. So, the film can go on floors effectively only when the government relaxes the restrictions.

Kanakam Kamini Kalaham, meanwhile, was written to shoot amid the pandemic restrictions. To an extent, it’s challenging to shoot a movie in just one setting or to come up with content that can be shot keeping all that in mind. But I enjoyed writing Kanakam Kamini Kalaham. See, both circumstances make us think in two different ways. A situation without pandemic gives us more freedom to think about stories and also decide the scale of the project, but pandemic is restrictive. Even though Nna, Thaan Case Kodu is planned for a time after the pandemic, we will be shooting it when that fear still exists. I think filmmakers too will now slowly get used to this situation just like people doing other jobs, and start thinking of big and small projects within the circumstances.

What can you tell us about the Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25’s sequel, Alien Aliyan, that is also in the pipeline?

We will be shooting it only after some time. It requires extensive pre-production. It has two major characters compared to just the robot in Android Kunjappan. So, it has a lot of VFX and costume work that needs to be done. Though the film is small, it requires a lot of work before it can go on floors. Only if we do that work, it will remain a ‘limited budget’ movie. It would probably only go on floors at the end of 2022. Before that, I will be scripting a movie for my associate.

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