The editor-filmmaker on Fahadh Faasil-starring Malayalam film ‘Malik’, releasing on Amazon Prime on July 15
Editor-filmmaker Mahesh Narayanan has mixed feelings about the release of his film Malik. While he is pleased that the much-anticipated movie is reaching the audience after a year-long wait, he is equally disappointed that it has to skip a theatre release. The big-budget movie, written, directed and edited by Mahesh with Fahadh Faasil in the lead, will release on Amazon Prime on July 15.
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Mahesh, who made a mark with his directorial debut, Take Off, and then his experimental OTT-project C U Soon, admits that they had no other go but to opt for a streaming platform. “Malik deserved a theatre release. But for the pandemic, it should have been released last year. Even when, there was pressure on the producer [Anto Joseph] to give it to an OTT platform; he didn’t budge and we were all set to bring it to theatres this year, on May 13, during Ramzan. But now, we don’t know when theatres will reopen. It would have been gross injustice on my part if I did not stand with my producer who invested in such a big project,” adds Mahesh.
However, Mahesh hopes that they get an opportunity to screen Malik in theatres. “It is not for revenue. We made it for the theatre experience and I want the audience to see that,” says Mahesh.
Story from the coastal terrain
Malik is set in a fishing village in Kerala during the period of 1965 to 2018. Although the trailer hints at a true incident involving two coastal villages that had its repercussions on the religious and political fabric of the State, Mahesh maintains that the film is a work of fiction. “However, people will have their own interpretations and some may even relate it to what is happening in Lakshadweep now,” he says.
Mahesh had the story with him for many years; it was supposed to be his first project with Fahadh. But it had to be put on hold because of the production cost.
- Nayattu and Aarkkariyam: Mahesh is the editor of both the films released on OTT. “I worked in Nayattu much before the lockdown and a digital release was not on our mind. However, it did well probably because there was a right blend of theatrical and digital experience. Aarkkariyam was shot during the pandemic, keeping the possibility of a digital release in mind.”
- On cinematographer Sanu John Varughese: “We worked together for the first time in an ad film made by VK Prakash and the bond became strong during the shoot of Vishwaroopam. We share a great rapport because we think on similar lines.”
- Equation with Fahadh: We are friends first. The director-actor relationship comes second only to that.
Fahadh plays Sulaiman, the ‘Malik’(master/owner) for the fisherfolk. A migrant, he is the one who keeps the community united in its fight for survival, be it against nature, the State or corporates. “However, Malik is not only about Sulaiman. The others also have their own character arc. Even though Fahadh’s physical transformation as his character ages from 21 to 58 was widely discussed, other actors also went through the same changes.” The cast has Nimisha Sajayan, Vinay Forrt, Joju George, Indrans, Salim Kumar, yesteryear actor Jalaja and several new faces.
Mahesh admits that it was not easy to flesh out the characters when he wrote the story. “Usually, in a multi-starrer film, some characters lose their importance at some point. I didn’t want that to happen in Malik and so writing was the most difficult part for me. I’ve deliberately brought in a Shakespearean template as the film explores a range of emotions such as love, revenge, betrayal… It has been treated as a commercial movie. I wasn’t sure if I could execute it. But once the project was rolled out, it became exciting at every step.”
Although the film was made over nearly eight months, shooting happened for less than 100 days or so. “The rest of the time was spent on preparing the set and for the characters to lose/gain weight,” he says. Malik was primarily shot on the set art director Santosh Raman and team put up on six acres at Kalamassery near Kochi. Scenes were also shot along the coastal belt from Kanyakumari to Munambam in Ernakulam, Lakshadweep and Abu Dhabi. Cinematography for the film is by Sanu John Varughese. Hollywood stunt director Lee Whittaker was roped in for the project.
Mahesh says the inspiration to take up such a massive project has been veteran director IV Sasi, a master of multi-starrers. “Malik is an attempt to emulate what the late veteran did in the company of scenarist T Damodaran. It is amazing how Sasi sir tied the plot and sub-plots together, giving importance to all the characters and their stories. I watched those movies multiple times to understand how he did it. Sasi sir once said that Damodaran master wrote the scenes in a huge book and he took the ones he wanted, later weaving them together. So, everything was well-planned and the shoot got over in 20 to 25 days,” he says.
Mahesh wonders whether he would be able to work on such a project any time soon. “If I sit down to write it now, the story would turn out in a different way. There were days when we had 1,500 people on the set. I don’t know if we can work with a huge crowd in the near future with the world still grappling with the pandemic,” he says.
Digital vs theatre
He opines that digital platforms will co-exist with theatres from now on. “However, the attention or appreciation that a content gets on digital media will always be short-lived when compared to the big screen because new content keeps coming out on the former. Also, digital viewing has a light, relaxed approach to it. You can watch a film at your leisure and pace.”
Also, personalised viewing can lead to close scrutiny of every work, which makes it challenging for a filmmaker. “Viewers can go back to a scene and closely examine every frame, which means a filmmaker has to be more careful as even a small mistake will go under the scanner,” he adds.
Mahesh’s upcoming project is Malayankunju, which he has written as well. He is also the cinematographer of the film starring Fahadh and Rajisha Vijayan. “Sanu was supposed to do it, but he had to take up a Telugu project. I decided to step in since we had to work with a limited crew due to the COVID-19 protocol. The only experience I have had as cinematographer was helping Sanu in Take Off and Malik, besides virtual cinematographer in C U Soon,” he says.