Interview with Amal Neerad: “In terms of creativity, Malayalam films can match any industry”
In part 2 of his interview, the director of Bheeshma Parvam talks about quantifying films, making pan-Indian cinema and his vision of Mohanlal
What a sequel after the blockbuster Bheeshma Parvam? Director-producer Amal Neerad is in no rush.
“As far as projects are concerned, it can be a big movie, or a small movie, or even a web series. Talks are ongoing, but it’s too early to disclose details,” Amal says, in the second of a two-part interview with The Federal.
Read the first part of the interview here.
Why are you moving away from social media? You even skipped the promotional events of Bheeshma Parvam…
Let the product do the talking, that’s always been my thought. There’s no point in blowing your own trumpet, especially before a movie comes out. When it comes to the media, I’ve had some bitter experiences and you better be careful. And I don’t believe in posting my thoughts (political or otherwise) on social media, just for fun.
We live in a highly polarized time, where every word is dissected, whether political, social or even religious. How difficult is it to balance it when you’re writing the script/dialogues?
There must be some responsibility for sure. Yes, I understand that some of the cliched or stereotypical characters are problematic. However, I am against the idea that whatever the characters in the film speak represents the sensibilities or preferences of the filmmaker or writer; the two are entirely different. That’s why I put a specific warning in two of my films. When the liberal use of the N-word was criticized, Quentin Tarantino repeatedly said, “It’s all about what the respective characters say at particular times, not what he says.” And I believe that if everyone is politically correct (in everything they do or say) in a movie, then it’s a totally ‘boring’ movie.
You follow politics so closely, but again your films are not overtly political…
I have my doubts about movies that talk about politics like testimonial commercials. If you want to talk about politics in your films, you have to say it in a subtle way, without talking too much about it. Bheeshma Parvam is kind of a tribute to Kevin/Neenu. I couldn’t believe that such a horrible and shameful incident (an honor killing that shocked the state) could happen in such a progressive state like Kerala. It bothered me a lot and I kept thinking about it for several days. If you watch closely, you can see the nuances of this incident in the film. My other films also have political elements. Varathan (Fahadh/2018) is actually my reaction to one of the most shocking and talked about incidents in Kerala.
Critics say that you are openly inspired by Hollywood films…
It’s a return, or a tribute, to all the masters, not just of Hollywood, but of any cinema. In Bheeshma ParvamI gave credits, mahabharata for Godfather to Mani Ratnam to Ram Gopal Varma to Bharathan, all of whom were part of my childhood. Be it Godfather or any other cult classic, they had left a deep impression on me in many ways.
As a filmmaker, how do you see the advent of high-octane RRR or KGF? For example, making a movie like Bilalthe planned sequel to Big B, is that on your mind?
I’m not sure audiences choose to make such comparisons when watching a movie. A person watching Hridayam don’t expect a movie like Bheeshma Paravam. Each film has a different viewer, a different perception. Moreover, no one expects a KGF from Bheeshma Parvam. If you remember, my movie CIA (2017/Dulquer Salmaan) was released alongside Baahubali 2 and I had no problems.
From the public’s point of view, yes. As a creator, does it ever bother you that you fit that level of filmmaking?
I don’t think a movie can be quantified by how much it costs to produce or how much money it makes at the box office. Sometimes a movie made with a budget of Rs 30 lakh ends up grossing Rs 400 crore, while a movie made with Rs 400 crore might end in a groan. How to quantify a film? If so, it can be quantified by the stress, trials, tribulations and humiliations a filmmaker goes through when making a film. In short, it is this journey that can be measured. Or that fantastic process when you’re making the movie.
Are these “pan-Indian films” stifling small industries/films or even filmmakers?
It doesn’t have to be that way; we have to coexist. Look, regional (popular) cinema has had its difficulties. Bengali cinema has not always been able to resist the onslaught of Bollywood. So you always have to fight or rather coexist with films from other languages. Let’s not be terrified of the coinage of “pan-Indian films”. In 1984 we (Malayalam Cinema) did My dear Kuttichathan, India’s first 3D movie, and it’s become a national craze, more of a phenomenon. In Kolkata, where I studied, there were heated discussions about the technical aspects of the film, and remember – the film had Bollywood actor Dilip Tahil and a Telugu comedian among others in the cast. So, in this way, Jijo from our little Kochi heralded the pan-Indian trend. In a way, I welcome the advent of such films because it breaks a monopolistic system. It is time for regional films to break the barrier and mark their power.
I agree that it may not be easy for Malayalam cinema to match Telugu or Hindi in terms of production values or budget but we (any industry) can certainly match or even exceed them with our creativity.
You are one of the directors who could attempt a pan-Indian film (from Malayalam). Are you game?
Yes, I have plans, but it’s too early to talk about details. I want to make bigger films and at the same time smaller films, with fewer people and unknown faces/actors. Talks are also underway for a web series.
Your cinematography Trance (2020) was widely acclaimed. Will you restart the camera?
If the work in Trance was discussed and praised, then all credit goes to its director Anwar Rasheed. If friends (like Anwar) want me to make plans, I’m ready. Otherwise, no.
You spoke at length about Mammootty in the first part of the interview. Your thoughts on Mohanlal – and his favorite roles…
Again, phenomenal work, with few parallels. I continue to watch old Mohanlal films. In this way, the Malayalam industry is blessed with such talented actors, be it Mammootty or Mohanlal or any of our veteran actors/actresses. In fact, working with Nedumudi Venu and KPAC Lalitha (both recently deceased) at Bheeshma Parvam was an amazing experience and I doubt you can see an actor like Nedumudi Venu in world cinema itself. I remember Anwar Rasheed telling me the same thing about Thilakan during filming Hotel in Ustad.
Favorite roles of Lalettan? A lot a lot. If I really had to choose, it could be Thazhvaram, Vastuhara, Season and Namukku Parkkan Munthirithopukal.
Finally, please choose two recent movies that have impressed you.
Bacura (a big box office hit in Brazil and a winner at Cannes) and Portrait of a lady on fire.
Read also : Why Malayalam filmmaker Sathyan Anthikad isn’t rocked by RRR or KGF