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Jis Joy on Asif Ali in Thalavan: ‘Not easy for him to convincingly play a cop, he doesn’t even joke in this film’ | Exclusive

Thalavan director Jis Joy talks about working with Asif Ali and Biju Menon in the investigative thriller, and his approach of making a film

Jis Joy on Asif Ali in Thalavan: ‘Not easy for him to convincingly play a cop, he doesn’t even joke in this film’ | Exclusive
Biju Menon and Asif Ali in a poster of Thalavan and (R) Jis Joy

Last Updated: 05.53 PM, Feb 13, 2024


It came as a surprise for many when Malayalam director Jis Joy had announced during the pandemic that he was working in Innale Vare, a thriller with Asif Ali . This was mostly because the filmmaker was considered the flagbearer of feel-good movies in Malayalam cinema with hits such Sunday Holiday and Vijay Superum Pournamiyum. Now, after Innale Vare, Jis has explored another genre with Thalavan, an investigative thriller.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Jis, who is finally set for the release of the movie almost eight months after its shoot has concluded, tells us about working with Asif Ali and Biju Menon, his approach of filmmaking and Thalavan, which is set to be a March 1 release.


From whatever you let out from the film’s promos, it seems like a crime drama revolving around the ego clashes between its leads.

The ego tussle is just a small element in the movie. A lot of people told me this, and I think it’s because the formula of movies such as Driving Licence and Ayyappanum Koshiyum is still fresh in the minds of the audience. But this movie is not entirely about that at all; that’s just a sub layer. This is a proper investigative thriller.

Thalavan is set for a release at a time when there are two other films with cops in the leads in theatres – Anweshippin Kandethum and Thundu, which also has Biju Menon. How does this film stand apart?

In usual investigative thrillers, it’s about a crime that happens and how the cops go about solving it. This movie has several other layers – including the politics between the cops and the hierarchy they have to deal with. This also shows the dynamics between the police personnel and their family. Even in terms of duration, it’s just 2 hours and 12 minutes.

For any story, when the scriptwriters narrate it to a filmmaker, we get a kick that prompts us to go ahead with it; this is often because of the climax of the movie. And then what we do is work in reverse, to increase the longevity of that thrilling element. That’s how I have approached my films – be it Sunday Holiday or Vijay Superum Pournamiyum. I have done the same for Thalavan. The only movie I probably didn’t take that approach for was Mohan Kumar Fans and that’s because it was made during a time when OTTs arrived and people’s viewing sensibilities changed.

Tell us about getting Asif Ali and Biju Menon as the leads. They have done a lot of movies together, but this genre seems to be something new for their pair.

Asif has played several different types of cops before . But because of his age as well as his experience, he fits into this character much better than his previous roles, I feel. And that’s tough to pull off especially because he has that boy-next-door image. For a lot of people, he is still the urban youth in movies such as Salt N’ Pepper and so, it takes him double the effort to convince the audience when he is wearing the police uniform. But he has managed to carry it off so well in Thalavan. His character doesn’t even joke once in the movie and he has to remain sombre throughout.

Biju Menon and Jis Joy during the shoot of Thalavan
Biju Menon and Jis Joy during the shoot of Thalavan

Biju Menon has played a lot of different cops as well, including in Anuraga Karikkin Vellam where he had essayed Asif’s father. Being the son of a cop himself, does that allow him to bring forth different shades of a police officer?

This is the first time I am working with him. He is extremely selective about the kind of films he takes up. We would think that he is lazy but that’s not the reason at all. He is shrewd when it comes to choosing his scripts. I haven’t seen anyone listen as intently as he does to scripts; he keeps asking for details during the narration. Because of his experience, working with him was a breeze. We just had to explain to him once and he would keep doing the scene till he thinks he has got it right.

Even recently, when he had come for a dubbing correction, which was only supposed to be a 15-minute job, he said let’s do it once more. So, he is someone who keeps trying to make things perfect.

It’s only after I got to know him more, I also understood how selective he is. He had even tried rejecting an award-winning movie, which I don’t want to name, several times before agreeing to be part of it. I asked him if that was the case, why did he agree to do Thalavan, and he said, ‘I liked the story and I am aware it’s not the typical format of your films.’

Jis Joy and Asif Ali
Jis Joy and Asif Ali

People usually associate you with feel-good movies and for the audience, because these are usually breezy romcoms or coming-of-age tales, they feel it’s an easy movie to make. In that sense, how would you rate working in Thalavan?

I have an ad-film background, where you have to complete everything in a single day. So, you have to plan to the very last detail during the pre-production. This ensures the limited time you get during the shoot goes seamlessly. So, even the placement of a needle is planned meticulously, in terms of when and where it appears. That’s the only way you can properly shoot an advertisement.

From my first film, that has helped me. Fortunately, I haven’t had to go to the sets filled with tension even for a single day in my career so far. I haven’t gone to a set without being fully prepared. Also, I have given total freedom to my cinematographer as well as my ADs to be open about their feedback and also criticise me. We decide to start shooting only after this process is completed during the pre-production.

This is also the reason I take time to do each of my films. It took four years after my debut film Bicycle Thieves, to start my next. There’s always a gap of at least 18 months between my movies. Obviously, I can’t be 100% perfect; but I try to do what is possible within my constraints as a filmmaker. We actually completed the shoot of Thalavan eight months ago, in June 2023. We have been fine-tuning it since then – to ensure that the final product is as good as can be.

Jis Joy, Biju Menon and Kottayam Nazeer on the sets of Thalavan
Jis Joy, Biju Menon and Kottayam Nazeer on the sets of Thalavan

When you are doing a thriller, especially revolving cops, there’s a perennial fear to release the movie as soon as possible because you don’t want someone else doing a similar film and yours becoming redundant. But since you have been holding on to Thalavan for eight months, we are guessing you are fairly confident about its content?

Yes, we are. Moreover, you can do this only if you have the support of a producer, who is willing to wait. My producers – Arun Narayan and Sijo Sebastian – told me that they will release the film only when I am fully satisfied with the product. When we were onto our third revision during the post-production, they said we can take a break and we flew to Dubai where we showed it to a group of our friends. So, we had fresh perspectives by the time we went back to the editing table again. Until last week, we were busy with that.

If you ask whether it’s a good practice, I would say that we need to take so much time only for investigative thrillers. For a movie like Vijay Superum Pournamiyum, there’s absolutely no need to take so much time. I released Bicycle Thieves in theatres on the 30th day after its shoot concluded. But for this film, I felt we needed to invest this much time.

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