Malayalam director, editor and scriptwriter Mahesh Narayanan won the award for Best Story for his film Malik at the inaugural OTTplay Awards held in Mumbai
Last Updated: 07.01 AM, Sep 15, 2022
Malayalam director Mahesh Narayanan has been known for pushing the envelope with his experimental content and also donning several hats – from that of an editor, scriptwriter, director and lately a cinematographer. One of his biggest achievements, however, has to be his film C U Soon, which brought the focus to Malayalam cinema during the pandemic – something that movies such as Drishyam, Joji and the later releases ensured remained throughout.
However, just before the pandemic, the filmmaker as well as his “partner-in-crime” Fahadh Faasil were gearing up for the release of their biggest movie yet – Malik. The film, which was made on a huge budget exceeding Rs 20 crore, however, hit a roadblock with the lockdowns. But what worked in the favour of the makers was that both Mahesh Narayanan and Fahadh became established names across the country by the time the lockdowns were eased and theatres had begun to function again, albeit with limited occupancy. This helped Malik bag a plum deal from Amazon Prime Video as a direct-to-release on the platform.
For Mahesh, the film’s content had to be told – as it was important and relevant. A further delay would have done the film no justice, considering that Lakshadweep was simmering in protest over new rules imposed by its lawmakers. The movie, which adheres to his common thread of migrants, was a saga that encompassed the life of its protagonist from the age of 20 to 57, who stood up for his people against the authoritative forces, and most importantly told the “hard-hitting” story that showcased the plights of those who reside in the coastal areas of the country.
This was also the prime reason the film struck a chord with the jury of the inaugural OTTplay Awards, who had honoured Mahesh Narayanan’s Malik for the Best Story award.
“The comparison that I wanted to make in Malik was with our borders. Like the Indo-Pakistani and the Indo-Chinese border, coastal areas are also a border. The people in these regions also have a story to tell and I don’t know if we are addressing that,” said the Malayalam filmmaker in an earlier interview with us. “When I went to Chennai (to attend film school) and visited the coastal areas there with my friends, though the language and culture were different, the ideology was the same, in terms of how religion becomes a part of their lives, how the economy is shunning them and how they are treated by other people. These are issues that we witnessed and whatever happens in these communities – be it the revolts, genocide, displacement or defection – have to be discussed. We have to understand why it’s happening and who benefits from this.”
Over the years, Mahesh has always chosen human-interest stories for his films. After graduating from MGR Government Film and Television Training Institute, Mahesh began his career in movies as an editor. In fact, he was elemental as part of the new-gen cinema that kicked off in Malayalam films in 2011 with movies such as Beautiful and Traffic. He was also the editor of films such as Kamal Haasan’s Viswaroopam, Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Mumbai Police and Ennu Ninte Moideen. He debuted as a screenwriter in 2015 with Rajesh Pillai’s Mili, which starred Amala Paula and Nivin Pauly in the lead.
His directorial debut was the big budget Take Off, which starred Parvathy Thiruvothu, Kunchacko Boban and Fahadh Faasil. The film is inspired by the real-life rescue of Indian nurses who were stranded in Iraq during the country’s civil war in 2014. While Bollywood too tried its hand with a rather ‘mass’ take on the subject with Salman Khan’s Tiger 2, there’s no surprise on whose film was the more acclaimed one. Mahesh followed this up with his most ambitious project till date Malik, which has inspirations from films made by IV Sasi, Francis Ford Coppola and Costa-Gavras.
“A filmmaker whom I admire is Costa-Gavras, who has done political movies like Z and Missing. His films discuss the politics between people and emotions. During every phase, a filmmaker will have a particular inclination. I want to make hard-hitting films and that’s probably why my films sort of have a documentary style in the past few years,” he said, adding that he has tried to change that with Malik.
The director, who also helmed the screen-based thriller C U Soon, also told us soon after his award win that the digital avenue of release for films and series have opened up new doors of opportunities for filmmakers to tell their stories. However, he said that the onus is now on OTT services to ensure that both theatrical and OTT projects coexist.
Recently, Mahesh scripted and cranked the camera for Fahadh’s survival thriller Malayankunju, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The director’s latest film Ariyippu, which has Kunchacko Boban in the lead, recently became the first Malayalam film to be selected for the competition section at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland after Shaji N Karun’s Piravi in 1989. The movie, which revolves around a Kerala couple who work in a glove factory in Noida, has also been selected at the Busan International Film Festival.
The director’s upcoming projects include a segment titled Sherlock, which has Fahadh again, in the upcoming Netflix anthology based on MT Vasudevan Nair’s stories. The filmmaker is also working on the medical thriller Phantom Hospital, which is written by investigative journalist Josy Joseph and Akash Mohimen.