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Lena: Once I got into scriptwriting, I realised that is the real thrill of filmmaking

The actress talks to OTTplay about co-writing her first script for the movie Olam, which has Arjun Ashokan and Harisree Ashokan in the lead

Sanjith Sidhardhan
Jul 16, 2021
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Lena | Pic credit: Akhil PO

In a career spanning 23 years and over 110 films, what has kept Malayalam actress Lena relevant is her effort to keep reinventing herself. Her latest film Olam will also mark her debut as a scriptwriter. In a quick chat with OTTplay, Lena talks to us about discovering the highs of writing, casting Arjun Ashokan and dad Harisree Ashokan together in the film and more.

What prompted this turn to scriptwriting?

I am someone who has a lot of content within me being an avid reader. I first spoke about wanting to get behind the camera six years ago. But during the lockdown, I took a lot of courses in filmmaking and attended a few workshops. I also worked in this English film called Footprints on Water and its director Nathalia Syam was an inspiration and a mentor. This inspired me to start writing.

VS Abhilash and Lena

By the middle of 2020, I started writing the script for a movie I wanted to direct. After I completed its second draft, VS Abhilash contacted me with a thread for a movie he wanted me to act in. He hadn’t fully developed the idea and I started asking a lot of questions about it. Soon he said that I might have a lot to contribute to it and because I had got into scriptwriting, I informed him that I don’t mind co-writing it with him. That’s how we started writing it, but that script is complex and it took us around a year to complete. Also, because of the lockdown in 2020, we thought we wouldn’t be able to shoot it immediately. However, by then we realised we sync well and we worked on another script, which is Olam. It’s a simple, cute little story.

When you write for the first time, there is always this tendency to go overboard and have a lot of ideas come into the mix. How did you go about it?

Actually, it wasn’t difficult for me because I had done the course and I am into my 115th film. The experience of having read more than a thousand scripts in my life and having worked with great writers and directors helped. So, one knows what makes a great script and learning it technically is a big deal. You can’t think that just because you have read so many scripts, you can write one. It’s a technical art. Once I got into it, I realised that this is the real thrill of filmmaking – starting from a tiny idea or theme and watching it grow into a full-fledged movie. Also, it grows through you and that was such a high. You lose sleep for a lot of nights because when you lie down, the ideas start pouring in and you have to get up and either write it down or record it. It was a very new situation for me. I wouldn’t want to lose that high again.


What can you tell us about Olam, which is directed by VS Abhilash?

It’s an out-and-out entertainer. It’s a light-hearted movie. The pre-production work has already started. Arjun Ashokan plays the protagonist. He is very excited about the film because it will explore a different side of him. His father Harisree Ashokan chettan will play his dad in the movie. When a father and son are playing the same roles, something is bound to happen. Noby Marcose will be seen in a different look. He has reinvented himself during the lockdown. Binu Pappu, who is a brilliant actor, is also part of the film in a great role. Suresh Chandra Menon also plays a flamboyant role. I am also acting in the movie. This is the core cast.

The casting just happened quickly. As we were writing, we contacted the people that came to our minds and all of them agreed as soon as they heard the idea. I am loving the process that’s happening behind the screen. We start filming from Chingam 1. The film is produced by Noufal Punnathil with Unni Malayil being the executive producer. We also have a great technical team.

Nimisha and Lena during the shoot of Footprints on Water

Last year, you had gone to the UK to shoot for Footprints on Water and then got stuck there due to the lockdown in the country. But it must have helped bond with everyone in the cast and crew including Nimisha Sajayan and Adil Hussain.

Definitely. I believe the adversities in our lives are blessings in disguise and there’s something to take home from every experience – however pleasant or unpleasant at the time. Also, when theatres reopened, all my films that were pending including Sajan Bakery Since 1962 and Black Coffee released. So, there are no backlogs. It will be a fresh start. I have Article 21 coming up in which I play a rag picker. It’s one of the most challenging roles I have played in my career so far.

You were also part of Mammootty’s Bheeshma Parvam this year. How was it shooting with director Amal Neerad and team?

We still have a few more portions left. Once the permission is granted by the government, the first priority would be to complete the film. I have a few more days of shoot left and these have me in important scenes. It’s always a great thrill to work in such big budget films. I love the secrecy that they maintain throughout the movie. The whole team keeps the audience waiting. I think that’s what cinema is all about. We will also be finalising the cast of the second script that I have co-written with VS Abhilash soon. It’s a big project. 

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