The film is touted to be a slow burner drama leading to an intense climax
A boy who grew up watching his father’s movies accomplishes his long-cherished dream of directing a film. This is what Vijay Menon has to say about his journey when his first movie, Njaan Ippo Entha Cheyya is ready to release soon on Saina Play. Vijay dedicates his film as a tribute to his father, the late P. Venu, a renowned director, who directed stars like Prem Nazir. Vijay has been in the advertising industry for 25 years and even runs his own branding and advertising agency. Before venturing into feature films, he had made short films like The Drive and Intezaar. In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Vijay got candid about his new film and the influence of his father's work on him.
Njaan Ippo Entha Cheyya is set against the COVID-19 pandemic backdrop, like your short film Intezaar. Is this film a takeoff from Intezaar or inspired by it?
Intezaar is about the effect of COVID-imposed lockdowns and curfews on our lives. Njaan Ippo Entha Cheyya is different because it is about the relationship dynamics between two individuals; COVID is only a backdrop in that sense. I wrote the story of the film back in 2020, but I had planned to make it a short film. Last year, I decided to make it into a feature film after my colleague, Smrithi Amarendran, showed interest in writing the screenplay for it.
The trailer for the film starts off at a slow pace but ends with some intense scenes that are shown in fast cuts. Is the film going to be a slow burner, like the trailer suggests?
The film is a dark comedy and takes time to build up to an intense situation. It was made this way because I wanted the film to reflect our lives during COVID times. We were going through a loop every day, and the speed of our lives lost its momentum. The COVID lockdown and curfew have a crucial role in the building-up of some scenes. The restrictions during that period make the situations in the film even more dramatic
What prompted you to release your debut film on an OTT platform? Also, what is your take on the ongoing clash between theatres and OTT?
Considering its style of making and narration, Njaan Ippo Entha Cheyya is an indie film. The film doesn’t demand a theatre experience and can be watched at home. I feel the style and pace of storytelling will work better for OTT audiences. Ultimately, we are telling stories through all media, whether it is serials, web series, or movies. There are films like 2018 and Oppenheimer that warrant a theatre experience for their visuals. OTT gives an opportunity to small-budget films that don’t have big stars or the support of big production houses. At the end of the day, filmmaking is also a business, and the producer should not face losses.
Your father worked in film, and you have been in the media for a long time. Considering this, do you feel that it took you too long to make your first feature film?
I have been interested in films since I was in first grade. The first film I watched was my father's when I was two years old, and I am told I watched it from the first scene to the last without moving or crying. So I think I have a natural affinity for films and have later developed a passion for them. But my mother was very clear that I should finish my studies and make a career. So I entered the advertising industry, which was booming at the time. But the passion for filmmaking remained intact. After my father passed away in 2011, I thought that I should do something to make sure that my passion did not die. So I started writing stories based on ideas that came to me from time to time. At last, here I am, ready to make my first feature film.
Was it a conscious decision to make your first film in Malayalam?
I am from Kerala, and my father was in the Malayalam industry. So I consider making a Malayalam feature film a tribute to my father. When I heard the thread of the film, I felt that this smart, dark comedy could only be understood by the Malayalam audience. Over the last 15 years, the Malayalam film industry has churned out some fantastic stories, which the audience has accepted. So I thought that the Malayalam audience, which appreciates good storytelling and has a taste for such films, would receive my film better than any others.
A look at your short films reveals that you chose to tell stories with the support of music. The trailer for Njaan Ippo Entha Cheyya barely has any dialogue and progresses through music. You have also roped in National Award-winning composers for this movie. You clearly seem to be a director who is very particular about the music in his films…
I have worked with (composer) Aravind Jaishankar several times. When making my first film, it was important for me to work with people who shared the same vibe as me. Music has been an important part of my life since childhood. The songs in my father’s films, especially Udhyogastha, were superhits. So I am perhaps influenced by the music that I have grown up listening to from my father’s films.
Deepa Thomas and debutant Abhimanyu actor Gautham are the lead actors in your film. Why did you pick them?
I have known Abhi's (Abhimanyu) father since we were classmates. Abhi began attending acting classes before the pandemic hit, so I had him in mind for a role if I wrote one that would suit him. I wanted to bring Deepa onboard after watching her performance in Home. I had a gut feeling that she could pull off the character in my film, and I wasn’t wrong. Deepa is the backbone of this film, and I think she is a fantastic actor. She has a long way to go.
Several Malayalam films choose English titles for a pan-Indian reach. This is not the case with your film. Were you not concerned about your film not reaching a wider audience?
Njaan ippo entha cheyya (What will I do now?) is a question that has been plaguing us even before COVID did. The title of the film is an eternal question for the new generation. I did not want to restrict the title to a particular period. Also, there is a point in the film when a character says “Njaan ippo entha cheyya”, and you really feel for the character.
Are you working on any other projects in Malayalam or other languages?
I have two scripts ready, which I need to pitch to a production house. Other than that, a new idea in Tamil has come up for which the scripting work is underway.
Njaan Ippo Entha Cheyya revolves around the lives of two individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic and how they go through a roller coaster of emotions. The film will be available to stream on Saina Play starting July 28.