Malayalam cinema has changed tremendously post-Passenger: Ranjith Sankar in ‘Balcony Baatein’
He had the audience floored with his debut film ‘Passenger’ that dared to walk an untrodden path. He had later gone on to direct ‘Arjunan Sakshi’ which had another pertinent social statement to make. Here is Balcony Beats in an engaging conversation with young director Ranjith Sankar, where he talks about his new film ‘Molly Aunty Rocks’, the new generation wave and how he thinks cinema has changed post-Passenger.
BB: Your third film ‘Molly Aunty Rocks’ will be out, come the 14th of September. Quite a different title indeed! Tell us what ‘MAR’ is all about.
Ranjith Sankar: The film, as the title itself suggests, is about Molly Aunty, a middle aged woman who works with a bank. She has been away from homeland for a while and has been living with her husband abroad. On receiving an ultimatum from the bank that she might lose her job if she doesn’t rejoin service soon, Molly returns to Kerala and gets posted in a village.
Molly is a raw woman, who exhibits very real and natural emotions. She is cheerful, angry and jealous like almost every other person out there. However, she is also a person who likes to live her life as she deems right. She goes out jogging in the mornings dressed comfortably in a three quarter trousers and tees, unmindful of the fact that her work out routine has managed to gain quite a few spectators in her vicinity. When Pranav Roy, a haughty IRS official walks into Molly’s hitherto contented life, issues crop up by the dozen in her world. This is where ‘MAR’ takes an interesting turn.
BB: What genre would ‘MAR’ fall into?
Ranjith Sankar: Right from the title, ‘MAR’ would be a light-hearted movie; it’s a simple satire. You might be well aware that the term ‘rocks’ is a usage that is not so common. It is not used by everyone even in real, and there are very few people in the film itself who realize what it truly signifies. It’s use in the title hence is satirical, and probably the only character in the film who understands the term in its right sense is Pranav.
BB: From the looks of it, ‘MAR’ presents a scenario that is drastically different from your earlier films. How much is ‘MAR’ a conscious attempt on your part to create a different kind of a film?
Ranjith Sankar: I’d say there is definitely an attempt to think different. But you need to remember that when you decide to make a film, what looks right at the moment feels right as well. You might be wrong or you might be right, but what you need most is a belief in your convictions. ‘MAR’ has been crafted as a commercial film, which we hope would be liked by the audience and which would be well-received. But do note that there has been no attempt on our part to force commercial elements into the film. The story and the characters in it have a commercial appeal of their own. We have made a film that we truly believe in, and we need to wait till the film is released to see if we have been right. And it’s exactly this uncertainty that makes film making very special.
BB: ‘MAR’ indeed has a rocking combo of actors, and Revathi, we hear, is quite a selective actor. Here is a film that has her in the title role, and how was it that you managed to convince her to do ‘MAR’?
Ranjith Sankar: I had planned another film before ‘MAR’ that had a very crucial role in it, which I wanted Revathi to play. Though she liked the story that I told her, she politely declined the offer, since she had decided that she would only do roles that tremendously excite her. She had even refused many an offer from Bollywood for the same reason. In the course of the conversation that I was having with her, she talked about the dearth of meaningful roles in our films for actresses of her age. She was the right person to talk about it, I realized, since she has been through this experience herself. Revathi has always been quite vocal about voicing her concerns on social issues or expressing her view points, and she wondered aloud as to why films like ‘Erin Brockovich’ never get to be made in Malayalam. While middle aged actresses like Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep get to experiment with a variety of roles in Hollywood, their Indian counterparts are forced to make do with meek mother roles.
Molly Aunty is a mother too, but what makes her different is that the film does not focus on her being a mother. It moves beyond her immediate surroundings and throws light on her individuality; her life as she sees it, for a change. I was told about this character by a colleague of mine, and Molly Aunty happens to be his aunt in real. She lives in Cochin. One of the most striking anecdotes about Molly Aunty that struck me is the one in which she goes to the post office having parked her car outside. Having lived for quite a long while in the US, Molly Aunty forgets to put on the hand brakes. She runs after the car when she sees it speediing down the road, opens the door and jumps in, fracturing her leg in the process. This was one of the first visuals that came to my mind when I sat down to sketch down her character. I have thrown in the characteristics of several other women like Molly Aunty in her portrayal ever since, and have tried to keep her as real as possible.
The idea of this film has been lying dormant for a long while in my mind, and when I told Revathi about it, she was quite thrilled. Efforts were soon on to make Molly Aunty reach out to the audience, in as entertaining a manner as possible. And now when I look back at it, I could confidently say that Molly Aunty is one of the best performances from Revathy, and would make a great addition to her highly remarkable filmography.
Ranjith Sankar: Prithvi is a very good friend of mine. I believe that he would agree to be a part of my film if I request him to, without even asking me about the story. But of course, ‘MAR’ offers Prithvi the role of Pranav Roy – the egotistic and powerful young man who is the perfect foil to Molly Aunty’s plans. Frankly, I simply cannot visualize any other actor as Pranav. Prithvi was convinced about the genuineness of ‘MAR’, which made him get involved in the production and distribution of the film as well.
BB: Music has not always been a strong point in your films, be it ‘Passenger’ or ‘Arjunan Sakshi’. We heard that a new music director- Anand Madhusoodanan – is making his debut through ‘MAR’. How important is music in ‘MAR’?
Ranjith Sankar: Yes, Anand is a talented young music director, and we have three tracks in the film – Molly Anthem, Molly Cool and Molly Locked. Just as in the case of my previous films, no songs in the film have been forced into the narrative. While Molly Anthem is all about Molly Aunty and the kind of person that she is, Molly Cool would dwell on the peaceful life that Molly Aunty has been living before Pranav breaks in. Molly Locked would have Molly Aunty caught in a corner, (no) thanks to Pranav’s ploys. The songs aid in carrying the story forward, as they had done in my previous films as well. When it comes to re-recording, ‘MAR’ in a sense, is a very difficult film and it requires a lot of maturity on the part of the re-recording mixer. The re-recording of the film has been done by Anand as well, and I should say he has done a brilliant job.
BB: How socially relevant a film is ‘MAR’? Would it be making apparent social statements as your previous films did?
Ranjith Sankar: What you should remember is that your basic view of films seldom undergoes any change. Cinema has emerged to be one of the most powerful media over the years, and I think each film maker has a distinct idea as to how to utilize it to the maximum. ‘MAR’ too has a social issue that it would like to discuss, and the very thought from which the entire film builds up is one that all of us need to be concerned about.
BB: There are many people who suggest that it was ‘Passenger’ that started off the new generation wave that has been rocking Malayalam cinema of late. When you look back, how much do you think cinema has changed post-Passenger?
Ranjith Sankar: Cinema has changed, no doubt, tremendously. I realized it all the more when I was at the studio to do the post-production work of ‘MAR’. I remember being at the very same studio years back for the re-recording of ‘Passenger’ with Sathyan Anthikkad in the next suite and Kamal in another. Back then, I was the only fresher around. This time I saw a bunch of youngsters there, all fresh, and their freshness resonating all around, right from the costumes that they wore to their footwear that lay outside. The new generation wave as you call it, is here for sure.
I do feel however that mere imitation leads a film maker nowhere. I also don’t believe that a new generation film is one that should tell the story of an extra-marital relationship or which should have an urban landscape as its backdrop. ‘MAR’ for me is a film that is ‘new’ in all respects, and just because the story happens in a village and its actors happen to be veterans, it simply cannot be categorized as an old generation film.
Cinema is always in need of fresh faces and fresh thoughts. You see, ‘Passenger’ was well received, because people could sense the novelty that it offered. But this originality that you associate with ‘Passenger’ is a thing of the past already, and it would be futile for me to live in its glory forever. As a film maker I need to look forward and move on. I need to have a firm conviction in my thought process. For instance, I would never be able to conceive a film that concerns itself with sex and promiscuity, because it’s not a film that I personally believe in. And if I force myself to create such a film just because I think they might end up being successful, the results would be disastrous.
Coming back to your question, I made ‘Passenger’ at a time when there were few people who were willing to hear out my story. The film was the fruitful culmination of a struggle that lasted for six long years. Today, the industry has opened up to youngsters like never before, and I hope this receptiveness is nourished even further through the creation of plenty of good films.
BB: We have been hearing about the new generation wave sounding the death knell on star supremacy. Would future cinema flourish without star support?
Ranjith Sankar: I think the very suggestion is absurd. Cinema needs stars to survive and flourish and it has been the case all over the world. We see that even the new generation films cast stars who have been successful as actors. Let’s face it; what matters is success, and rarely does the world follow failures. Stars will remain forever, their relevance would never be lost and there would be no cinema without stars. I will never be able to think of ‘Passenger’ without the stars – Sreenivasan, Jagathy and Dileep. Would you be able to imagine ‘Traffic’ without Rahman or the other stars in it? How would ‘Salt ‘n Pepper’ look like, without Lal and Swetha Menon?
Sometimes I even wonder about the need of this discussion. Because in the Malayalam film industry, the scenario is such that all the stars without exception would lend an ear to a creative director or a sensible script writer, when approached with a new story or idea. They are willing to listen to you, and if interested ready to make compromises even, so why should one even bother about the star supremacy that we are talking about? We should also not forget that a majority of the audience still head for the theatres to see their favorite stars in action!
BB: You said you are not equally comfortable making all kinds of films. What kind of stories impress and inspire you as a film maker?
Ranjith Sankar: First and foremost, I need to have a subject that interests me a lot; something which I feel is immensely significant and about which I have something very valid to say. The way in which I transfer that idea on to the screen would depend on a lot of things, starting off with the specific psychological state that I find myself in, at the moment. The initial thought is probably the most important, and everything else follows naturally from this very first thought.
BB: I read somewhere recently that ‘making a movie is like going to war’. There are so many things to be done and things get pretty much hectic; we hear of never ending schedules and films getting postponed endlessly. How do you manage to overcome all these and finish off your film right on time?
Ranjith Sankar: The film maker’s conviction, as I said before, is what matters most. We start off with a vision of sorts, and irrespective of its prospects, we need to be real convinced about the film that we are trying to make. All traces of ambiguity need to be wiped out, and everything laid out plain and clear. Your next task would be to convince the people whom you want to work with, and I make it a point to collaborate with actors and technicians who are able and willing to craft this dream of a film together as a team. Once you have chosen them, trusting them is equally important. With ‘MAR’, I am launching my own production house, Dreams ‘n Beyond, and I should say it isn’t that difficult for me to manage things. It’s when you decide on a star first and then start hunting around for a story that would fit the star, that things get messy. For me, it’s the other way round. I have a very clear picture of the film that I plan to make, and it’s then that I decide on the stars who would fit the bill.
Ranjith Sankar: More than being a software engineer, I think the sense of discipline that is very much a part of the IT industry has had an influence. While working as an engineer, you get to interact with clients in the UK or the US. You might work with individuals in Hyderabad or Mumbai when you work on a project. Getting up in the mornings, having a shave, taking a bath, dressing up well, reaching office on time and being there till the end of office hours – there is a whole lot of discipline in my life. I often draw up analogies between a film and a software project, and I had presented a paper on the creative processes that are involved in both these professions in a software seminar as well.
BB: ‘Mayflower’ was a beautiful title that had caught our fancy, and we didn’t hear much of it later. What has happened to the project?
Ranjith Sankar: Nothing in fact has happened to ‘Mayflower’. I still listen to the beautiful songs of the film when I drive around. It’s a project that I am very excited about, and I feel the film has a very relevant subject that holds great significance in today’s times.
BB: Thank you so much, Ranjith! It was such a great pleasure talking to you.
Ranjith Sankar: Thank you!
Tags: Molly Aunty Rocks, Prithviraj, Ranjith Sankar, Revathi