In an exclusive conversation with OTTplay, writer-director Pawan Kumar talks about what went into the intricate design of the Dhoomam poster.
As always, filmmaker Pawan Kumar has managed to stimulate a conversation around his film through an alluring poster. Over the years, one has learnt that poster design is an important feature of Pawan's filmmaking and each film or show he has directed so far has boasted intricate and equally intriguing digital artwork. There's an interesting juxtaposition and interplay of elements each time - the use of the torch and a film reel in Lucia, the overlay of characters in the U Turn, or the essence of the infinity symbol (∞) in the case of Kudi Yedamaithe - which manage to somehow communicate the subtextual and the cryptic, also helping him avoid the extensive use of text.
"The idea is to not use text in an explicit manner but rather use imagery, colours and other aspects to create a poster that represents the tone of your film," he says, while discussing the first poster of his upcoming film Dhoomam. Dhoomam stars Fahadh Faasil, Aparna Balamurali, Roshan Mathew, Vineeth and others and the film can be touted as a racy, fast-paced suspense thriller that owns a very specific mood to its name and is set against a defined backdrop - and evidently, the first-look poster carefully carries each of these elements with the title text, of course, alluding to the central topic of tobacco and cigarette smoking.
"There's a bunch of things that you observe at first glance but it takes a few seconds extra than usual or even multiple viewings to fully comprehend the poster. And people are already making interesting observations: Why is Fahadh Faasil's mouth plastered in the poster? Is he being "silenced" or has he been forbidden from smoking? And there's a bag that he opens - does that mean he has unearthed some secret? Or, maybe, chanced up on some money?" says Pawan.
Is the central idea to conceal the story of the film in one design? "Well, the idea is to loosely portray the story but not in its entirety," he says, speaking about the trail-of-breadcrumbs kind of approach to conceiving the poster. And thanks to the element-rich design that one finds themselves looking at every nook and corner to spot a hint or two and forming their own interpretations of the film. For instance, there's also a really expensive-looking car with a man holding a gun ambushing it - does this signify some kind of lobbying or bureaucracy? Could Fahadh's character be leading a 'man v/s evil organization' kind of battle?
But the most striking and obvious feature is the fact that the faces are skewed to a 90-degree angle, which prompts the viewer to either tilt their own heads or at the least, their mobile devices. At the surface level, Pawan reckons, this helps him and the team in developing user engagement and standing apart from the rest. But what the same design also does is it accentuates the mood or the tone of the film and tells us that things are not as they seem for the characters whose lives, quite apparently, are turned upside down in the story.
"I have been working with poster designer Adarsh Mohandas for a very long time, since Lucia, in fact, and he has been aware of this project right from the beginning. The first poster was designed in 2014 when the film was titled C10H14N2 and of course, the story has evolved quite a bit since then. The characters have shaped better, their significance in the story is a lot more than before and Adarsh gets the essence of it all really well. In fact, my briefing is very little and he normally arrives at the perfect design on the third attempt. There's a lot happening in the poster but it's also very subtle - the first hook is, of course, Fahadh's face and his eyes and once you move on from that, you realize that Aparna's face is actually upside down. Thankfully, digital posters allow you to zoom in and study every detail for as long as you want. Posters of late, I feel, are quite cluttered and there's too much content out there for the audience. So, we are in a way glad that we landed on this design because it evokes curiosity," he adds.
And if you pay more attention, each of the posters of Pawan Kumar's work features the entire central cast of that particular project who give away hints about what the film would be like. "I have never made a 'single person' film so far which is essentially about the hero. Each character in my films has their own strengths and they are extremely important to the story - their storylines, too, don't take a backseat but complement the main arc. Even though Dhoomam is about Fahadh's character, everyone around him is equally important," says Pawan, who is now keenly looking forward to sharing more posters from the film.
A Hombale Films production, Dhoomam marks Pawan Kumar's Malayalam debut and the team is eyeing a June 2023 release for the film. There will be dubbed versions of the film in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil and one awaits the first trailer/teaser to learn more about this enterprising project. More updates to follow.