The Allu Ramendran filmmaker has released two short films that were conceived and shot during the two pandemic lockdowns in Kerala
While the majority of the film industries have come to a standstill due to the pandemic lockdowns, there are certain filmmakers who are turning the adversity to their advantage. Allu Ramendran filmmaker Bilahari is one among them. Last year, he released a short film Thudarum, which had State Award winner Swasika Vijay in the lead, and won appreciation for telling a story about women who are trapped in their marriages.
His recent follow-up to this, Thudarum 2 – Bhayam, has the filmmaker taking on a relevant theme of dowry harassment but in a lighter tone. Bilahari, who is also awaiting the release of his upcoming film Kudukku 2015, talks to OTTplay about his lockdown experiments and why it’s important to get digital content out now.
Your second short film Thudarum 2 assumes a lot of significance right now, especially with attention now on dowry harassments. Was that also the reason for the sequel of Thudarum?
Scriptwriter Shyam Narayanan first pitched me the theme of the first short film during last year’s lockdown, when outdoor shoots weren’t permitted. I thought it was something we could pull off in such a scenario. I am basically a feminist and I get hooked by stories that are told from a woman’s perspective. So, that’s when I heard the story and pitched it to Swasika and she came onboard. After the first short film Thudarum was released, we could see that the search results for Thudarum 2 had gone up. The two characters in Thudarum are more like Tom and Jerry, but the man (Rammohan) is a chauvinist and the woman (Swasika) is restrained because of the pressure from their homes. There are women who go through harassment because they aren’t able to go home. We wanted to place Vidya in their place and show the audience what she goes through.
Usually while presenting such a subject, the man’s character is shown as a chauvinist but here, the focus was on presenting him with humour while showing how even the small, overlooked things reek of patriarchy. Was it deliberate?
Especially in the second part, we didn’t want his character to be as loud as the first one. We thought stereotyping these men as loud and garish characters wasn’t the best way to communicate what we were trying to say to the audience. Even the subtle things that men do – such as give women ‘permission’ or say that ‘I am doing your job to help you out’ while they are cooking – all these mirror patriarchy, even if they do it lovingly. We wanted people to get irritated by these. I think The Great Indian Kitchen was very nuanced in how they showed these.
In terms of the second part which is titled Thudarum 2 – Bhayam and was touted to be a horror comedy, it was also a way to say that the real horror is the life that is being led by a woman in a patriarchal household.
Yes, you could say that. The subtext Bhayam could be that the husband is what strikes the fear in the wife or it could also be interpreted as something else. Because we had revealed Vidya and her husband’s characters in the first part, if we had tried to bring in horror elements, it would place the characters and the setting in a not-so-realistic situation and then it becomes hard to convince. We didn’t want that. Even when we bring these characters in the next episode, we wanted it to be closer to reality.
One element that was recurring in both short films was how Vidya’s family asks her to stay in the marriage despite her not wanting to.
A lot of comments on the YouTube page was about how Vidya was driving the car that her family had given her husband as dowry. Similarly, there are so many other appliances in the house. He has in the past harassed her in the name of dowry. When we give these contexts, it also establishes what she is enduring. If we had said this from a politically-correct front, Vidya has to just end the marriage and go home; end of story. But we wanted to show why she couldn’t do that. Her sister did and now her family sees her as a burden. That’s why they ask Vidya to hold on, in spite of going through so much.
How long does it take you to conceptualise and shoot these short films?
It takes about two days. The location is Rammohan’s house. So, when Shyam sends me the script based on a thread that I had in mind, I only have to improvise it to factor in the various spaces in the house. We shoot the very next day. This also keeps us busy especially during the lockdown when work has dried up. The advantage is that if you start a project during the lockdown, you would be able to work on it further in the next lockdown; so, work will continue seamlessly.
You have now ventured into digital platforms as well. How important is it now for a filmmaker to also come up with digital content in the age of OTTs?
Apart from the films of big stars, you have to make the audience want to watch other movies. How you sell a film is an important aspect right now and you have to see marketing as an art too. You can’t be disappointed that people haven’t watched your work; you have got to market it to make people want to see it. Mediums like YouTube have a huge influence on the audience. Even OTTs ultimately look at the reach of our content and filmmakers have to step up their game for that.
What’s the status of your feature film, Kudukku 2025, which is set in the future?
A lot of people said that they felt it revolved around time travel after seeing the poster. It doesn’t. It’s set in 2025 and shows how the concept of privacy changes in the future. If we had set the film’s plot in the contemporary era, it would have been unrealistic, but a few years from now, it would all start to make sense. The plan is to bring it to the audience within the next two months.