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Kannur Squad director Roby Varghese Raj on why he scripted the Tikri village scene in the Mammootty-starrer

Kannur Squad filmmaker Roby Varghese Raj talks about the use of fire in the Mammootty-starrer, the Tikri village scene and why he wanted the ‘mass’ scenes

Kannur Squad director Roby Varghese Raj on why he scripted the Tikri village scene in the Mammootty-starrer
Roby Varghese Raj and a still from Kannur Squad

Last Updated: 02.21 PM, Nov 16, 2023


Amid all the noise about the massive success of Mammootty’s Kannur Squad , which has already become the megastar’s highest grossing movie ever, its debutant director Roby Varghese Raj has remained calm and composed. This, even as his brother actor Rony David Raj, who had co-scripted the movie with Muhammed Shafi, said that it was a huge moment for them, given that the family had to shift base after their father had to face huge financial losses after his production Mahayanam, which incidentally also starred Mammootty, tanked at the box office in 1989.

With Kannur Squad set to release on Disney+ Hotstar on November 17, Roby, in an exclusive interview with OTTplay, talks about his apprehensions before making the movie, how he decided to approach it visually and why those ‘mass’ sequences featuring Mammootty were always part of the plan.


Kannur Squad is now set to release on OTT. But it’s already become one of the biggest hits in Malayalam this year and as a debutant filmmaker, that should please you?

I am obviously happy, because a big team had worked on this for the past four years. We were able to work together and execute this project the way we want; but everything is about the result and it clicked. There were scenes in the film for which we wanted to know what the audience reaction would be in theatres. We had waited for those in shows we had attended across Kerala. And when it was celebrated all over, it was a good feeling.

As you mentioned, the movie was four years in the making. And your brother and co-scriptwriter Rony David Raj said that every time a film about cops would release during this period, all of you would be tense if it covered the elements of Kannur Squad.

Yes, if you look at the movies that were compared to Kannur Squad, their one-liners were pretty much the same. This is not a new story. It’s something we have all seen, not just in Malayalam films but in world cinema. It’s about cops chasing a group of criminals; that’s essentially the one-line for Kannur Squad. So, our challenge during the scripting was how to make it different. For that we had to weave parallel storylines and multiple sequences had to work; we had tried our best to keep the tension in the events intact for as much time as possible.

Also, the movies that were compared to Kannur Squad were Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru and Kuttavum Shikshayum. Both these films had young protagonists, but the leading man in Kannur Squad is over 70 years of age – Mammukka. That was a task because we had to respect his age and experience, and also ensure that nothing untoward happened. We were able to do that while making this movie.

Kannur Squad, as a movie, was grounded, but every now and then, Mammootty’s character George Martin had those ‘mass’ scenes. Were there discussions between the creators to tone it down because it didn’t match with the entire style of the film or was this always the plan?

This was always the plan. A lot of the audience also said that the film, which was progressing in a realistic manner, suddenly takes a ‘mass’ movie’s route. Kannur Squad is not a realistic film; the first half would probably fall in that category.

But in the latter half, when the cops enter the village, we looked at how people at the lower strata of society would react and how we can also win over the audience with those scenes. We have tried to flesh those out. The reason is that when we have put in so much effort to make the movie, we have to also make sure it works with the audience. For that, we deliberately blended those ‘mass’ sequences and we are happy that the audience also liked it.

Mammootty in a still from Kannur Squad
Mammootty in a still from Kannur Squad

Some of the frames in the movie – especially Mammootty’s character’s second intro as well as those in the village where the team is trapped (both of which had used fire as an element) – accentuated those ‘mass’ scenes, combined with the music and performance, of course. How much did your experience as a cinematographer help during the shoot of these visually-appealing sequences?

I am glad that I started my career as a DOP, because I could think about these scenes from a visual perspective. If I had started out as director, I probably might not have been aware of the lensing or lighting as much.

I wrote the entire Tikri village sequence. So, I wanted to make sure the scene where they are trapped and have fire torches thrust at them, should also come across as visually brilliant. I took a lot of days to get it right. I know that we have watched all of these moments before, about how people who are trapped in a closed space come out. But the thought process was how we could shoot it differently.

Talking about fire, I think it’s an appealing element for every DOP – frame and lighting wise, and that’s why I have tried to blend that as much as possible. I also love shooting at night, but everyone has to cooperate for that (laughs).

The casting of the villains in Kannur Squad also deserves a special mention – from Arjun Radhakrishnan to Manohar Pandey, who played Pawan. Did it take a lot of time to find the right people?

We had taken a lot of references. I went to Mumbai, almost two weeks before the shoot, to tie up with an agency. We sought the help of casting director Parag Mehta and picked these actors in a span of just three days. Even the person who played Pawan’s wife in the film, she was cast because there was something about her hair. The actors were all ready to give auditions and time to discuss their roles, and that made my job easier.

Also, Manohar was probably the only relative newcomer in the cast. The others, who played Hathoda and Bambiya, have worked in other films. The actor who played the latter has done Priyanka Chopra’s The White Tiger too.

Roby Varghese Raj and Mammootty during the shoot of Kannur Squad
Roby Varghese Raj and Mammootty during the shoot of Kannur Squad

Only a few cinematographers who have transitioned to directors have gone back to being a DOP. What’s your next plan after the success of Kannur Squad?

I am listening to scripts – both as a DOP and a director. So, whichever excites me, I will do that first.

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