Decoding a scene: Nature's interventions in Jayaraj's Bhayanakam, Ottal


Chance, a stroke of luck, or divine intervention, call it by any name but aspirants, novice, and masters of movie industry vow by its effect on their work or career alike. While Decoding a Scene from his critically acclaimed movies Bhayanakam and Ottal, veteran director Jayaraj pointed out how such interventions helped him craft some astonishing scenes. He, however, believes that one has to be receptive and skilled to mould this raw material as a fitting component in one's craft.

“I have been surprised several times in my filmmaking career. Before beginning a movie, we would have a detailed plan in place. And at times, above all our planning, a cinema takes shape with contributions, which happen unknowingly. Many times, I wonder how those contributions happened,” Jayaraj said.

While making the 2018 Malayalam movie Bhayanakam, a period drama set in the backdrop of World War II, he saw nature lending a hand to help him depict the devastating wars. Bhayanakam was an adaptation of two chapters that tell the story of a disabled World War I veteran taking charge as a postman in Kuttanad from legendary Malayalam author Takazhy Sivasankara Pillai's epic novel 'Kayar'.

The biggest challenge for Jayaraj while making this movie was to show the frightening effects of the war without showing the war.

"We decided to use rain as a metaphor to convey the emotions attached to war without actually showing it. I wanted to symbolically display the tensions of war with rain's fury," said Jayaraj.

It was an impossible task for the crew as the time they chose for the shooting was not a rainy season and artificially creating roaring winds, cloudy skies, and the turbulent river was impossible on a wide canvas like Kuttanad.

"I believed that we will be able to shoot as planned in the script. And one day when we turned up at the location to take some regular shots we were bestowed with rain. We cancelled the planned scenes and decided to shoot the rain sequence,” Jayaraj added.

Jayaraj stepped back giving Nature a free hand to direct the scene on his behalf. The rain clouds rolled in from one end of a vast paddy field, flocks of black an white birds could be seen flying away in the opposite direction looking similar to exodus of people before the war, and then like how a war sets off, the rain barged in carrying thunder, lightning, and gale. As the day progressed the rain gathered momentum just like the war. It lashed the paddy fields and backwaters. Jayaraj and team were also lucky enough to capture a bolt of lightning striking the ground.

“We got on a boat along with a camera. The frame was a sight to behold. We kept on capturing every element of rain. All the expressions of rain you see in Bhayanakam materialised by sheer luck,” he added.

Jayaraj had a similar experience during the shooting of his national and international award-winning movie Ottal released in 2014. “One of the pivotal scenes in the movie was Valiyappachayi and Kuttapayi setting up a hut by the paddy field. M. J. Radhakrishnan was my cinematographer for the film. He love to start shooting early. On the scheduled day when we reached the location, the hut was not completed and I was furious as things didn't go according to the plan," said Jayaraj.

But rescheduling the shoot to the next day was a blessing in disguise for Jayaraj and team.

"When we went to shoot there the next day, on the paddy field behind the hut a large group of white storks had mustered. I decided to include that in the scene. We can neither plan or visualize something of that sort," said the director.

Another occasion when Jayaraj received the divine intervention was while doing the scene in which Valiyappachayi plucks water lilies for Kuttapayi from the paddy field.

Ashanth K Sha Ottal
A still from the movie 'Ottal'

"When I visualised the scene there were only one or two water lilies. While looking for the location, we came across a vast paddy field covered with water lilies. I am still perplexed as to how I got such setups for those shots! "

Even now when Ottal is showcased in national or international film festivals filmmakers and movie buffs ask Jayaraj how he planned those shots as it is humanly impossible to execute such shots. 

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