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Exclusive! Hridayam director Vineeth: Cast Pranav Mohanlal and others based on their real-life personalities

The filmmaker talks about his upcoming film starring Pranav Mohanlal, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Darshana Rajendran

  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 09.54 AM, Jan 19, 2022

Exclusive! Hridayam director Vineeth: Cast Pranav Mohanlal and others based on their real-life personalities
Vineeth Sreenivasan

A wait of almost five years since the idea of Hridayam first struck him will come to an end for Vineeth Sreenivasan when the movie releases in theatres across Kerala on January 21. Even though the pandemic has kept the team on tenterhooks, be it during its start-stop shoot schedule or even now as it is gearing up for release, the filmmaker still regards making the film, the most fun he has had since Thattathin Marayathu.

OTTplay caught up with the multi-talented actor-director ahead of the film’s audio launch in Kochi to know about the making of the much-anticipated movie, starring Pranav Mohanlal, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Darshana Rajendran.

Hridayam has a lot of incidents based on your life as well as your friends. But when was the first time that the thought occurred to you that you could make a movie out of all these experiences?

I think it was in 2017 when I got the germ of an idea. The first thing that came to my mind was a question – ‘By forgetting the people we met, the path that we have travelled and the experiences we had, could we start our life afresh?’ This is not possible because the decisions that we take as well as our perspectives are all shaped by our past. There could be people, experiences and incidents that have influenced us. It’s the past that has created the person who is forging ahead. So, I was thinking how it would be if we could do a film on a person who kept revisiting his past and that’s how Hridayam’s idea was born.

Does it have a lot of autobiographical elements?

Not at all. I have drawn from my experiences from my college days to a phase where I felt my life was sorted. The various experiences of people around me too have influenced me in evolving Hridayam’s story. Not all incidents are based on my life, there are some that happened to my friends and those around me.

From the first visuals of the song and teaser, could we define the film as a coming-of-age campus tale?

Actually, the campus portions are only one half of the film. The latter half is the character’s life after campus. It’s like two chapters. Hridayam is more of a coming-of-age drama.

The cast of Hridayam is in itself a USP. How did you finalise Pranav, Kalyani and Darshana for the respective roles?

I narrated the story to all three of them in 2019. I had watched Irumbu Thirai then and was impressed by Darshana’s performance in it. She might have had just one scene in the film to perform as an artiste, but I could immediately feel that spark while watching that sequence.

In Appu’s (Pranav) case, I wanted someone with his charisma; someone who has that twinkle in his eye. More than the roles he has played, I thought his real-life personality that I got to see in his videos was interesting. I thought it would be great if he could lend that to the character I had in mind. When I watched Aadhi, there were scenes that first-time actors would have hiccups; but when you leave those aside, there were sequences where the actor is comfortable and those are what gives you an idea of what they are capable of.

I told Kalyani this story when she was doing Telugu movies. I had watched one of her songs before that and I thought she had this vibrant personality of someone who had that aura. That’s also what we wanted with her character Nithya in Hridayam.

So, how much of Pranav is there in his character Arun Neelakandan?

What I have tried with his movie is to cast actors based on their real-life personalities and use that for their characters. This was the case for Appu, Kalyani, Darshana or all the other actors who are part of Hridayam. I tried to understand their personality and bring those traits into their roles, rather than retrofitting them into the character moulds. This has often worked well for me while collaborating with actors.

In a way, you are saying you let the actors improvise and contribute to their characters?

By improvising, not in terms of dialogues because we had the entire script ready and content-wise, we didn’t make much changes. But when they feel inspired by the characters and connect with them emotionally, the performances themselves become natural. That lends authenticity and a certain amount of beauty too.

It’s also the first time that you have created such an elaborate soundscape for your directorial. How essential was it to have 15 songs in this movie?

It was like doing two movies – one was Hridayam and the other was its music. I have never seen music as an auxiliary to a movie. So, we have treated the songs of Hridayam in that seriousness, and that process itself is interesting. Just like a movie develops, every song evolves. When singers render the track, when we record using the live instruments, when we mix it and master it, all of these people bring in their details that contribute to the evolution. It’s a delightful process where you see the magic happen.

With Hridayam, you are also bringing a lot of retro elements back such as the audio cassettes and also it must have been nostalgic for you to revisit your memories for the movie. Does the story have a time period?

The movie’s story spans from 2006 to the time before the COVID-19 pandemic. We haven’t specified the time period per se but through the props, costumes, people’s attitude and minute details, we have tried to show the years passing.

All of your directorials – be it Malarvadi Arts Club in 2010 or Jacobinte Swargarajyam in 2016 – have all been different. But this film is probably your most challenging, in terms of the budget as well as the scope. How much did it test you as a filmmaker?

Every film has a tone. For instance, Thira required a dark style of treatment and Jacobinte Swargarajyam warranted toned-down visuals. For Hridayam, the two halves have been treated differently. We have tried to bring this through the visuals, shot conception and even the beats of the actor’s performances. A campus is a vibrant space, where there is an adrenaline rush for everything. But life after campus is slower and so, there has to be a change in the cinematography and the pacing of the actors; the challenge is that at the same time all of this has to be interesting.

Discounting Thira, all your other directorials have mostly been movies that appealed to the larger masses. Could we see you experiment with a different genre again soon?

I will, but not too soon. I have a few films in my mind that I want to experiment with. But before that, I want to do a few sweet movies. At this age when my children are growing up, I don’t want to do a dark film. Whatever movie you do, it creeps into your life also. When I did Thira, and you read about these things, it consumes a bit of you. That’s why I want to do happy movies right now.

This is probably a question that you get asked before the release of your directorials – when are you planning to make a film with Mollywood superstars?

I really hope that it happens and I have been wanting to do it too. I am not being diplomatic here, but I like and admire both Mammootty uncle and Mohanlal uncle as actors and I want to work with both of them. Hopefully, I can write something exciting in the future.