If you look at West, some of the greatest films ever made — and biggest money-spinners — are sequels, but closer home, the very idea evokes derision or qualms. In Malayalam, some of the sequels, arguably, are stupendous efforts, but critics and viewers are still in no mood to forgive. For most, the theory is simple: Original is tops, and you can’t outclass the begetter.
That’s why the surprise announcement of a sequel to Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam, the 2013 blockbuster starring Mohanlal, elicited many furrowed brows.
Of course, there was considerable buzz too, given the impact the original had all across the country, or even beyond.
For Jeethu, it has been an idea that lingered for more than five years. Confined to his home during the lockdown, Jeethu dusted off his old draft and what followed were days of intense writing and rewriting, notwithstanding the stiff opposition by his two daughters, and wife.
Forget the world, even Jeethu’s family was against peeking into the life of Georgekutty, the protagonist in Drishyam, and his family. Finally, in a month or so, Jeethu wrapped up the script and asked his own family to have a look. Eyes lit up, animated conversations cropped over dinner and Jeethu realized the first hurdle in a long race has been crossed.
“It’s a small film, a family drama,” cautions Jeethu, allaying possibilities about a series of twists and turns.
The project also possibly heralds the arrival of low-budget films, even with big stars, in a post-Covid-19 world where small is BIG.
They say when you run out of ideas, you come up with a sequel. Some are excited, but not everybody is happy with the announcement.
Frankly, I am surprised by some of the reactions to the news, though I must concede I expected such mixed reactions. Let me make it clear that I can’t write a sequel for such an overpowering film like 'Drishyam' in such a short span. It has been brewing in my mind for a long time, say four-five years, and my initial decision was not to go ahead. I almost dropped the plan though the idea always lingered. But everywhere I went, people almost pestered me about the possibility of a sequel. One or two top production houses in Mumbai too asked me about it. Soon after Drishyam, Mohanlal and Antony Perumbavoor too had expressed their wish to take the story and the project forward. During long journeys, my mind kept going back to the family of George Kutty. Slowly, I started writing down my thoughts, leading to a rough draft. Again, I discussed this with Mohanlal, who gave me an instant go-ahead. Even Antony was excited, but I was not yet confident about its feasibility or making the project public. We were busy shooting Ram. Answering the first part of the question, I am already working on three projects, including Hindi and Tamil.
Then Covid-19 changed all the plans.
Yeah, suddenly everybody had been forced to stay at home and there was so much time for all of us to do what we really enjoy without having to bother about many other things. After the first week of lockdown, with nothing else to do, I thought of reviving my old draft and started writing the scene order first and then the total script in entirety. It was only then I was convinced. It was sent to Mohanlal and everything else happened quickly then onwards.
So the film would not have happened had there not been any lockdown?
It would have certainly, later. Maybe, after Ram or Barroz, Mohanlal’s directorial debut.
Though the process so far looks so relatively smooth, it certainly won’t be easy to rise up to the expectations. Are not you taking a huge, and maybe unnecessary, risk?
Every film is a risk that way. As I have already discussed, it’s a decision taken considering all the pros and cons. To begin with, even my own family members were against the whole idea right from the beginning. Many of my close friends too fiercely opposed the plan initially, but when I discussed with them and showed them the draft, their mindset changed. My family too sensed the possibility of a “good family drama” which deserves to be told. After having seen the final script, they are all totally convinced. Talking about risk, every film is a risk and as Lalettan himself said earlier, nobody knows the magic formula for a film’s success. Some win, some lose. I am confident that this will be a good family film.
The catchword here is “good family film”. Are you hinting that it won’t be a thriller like Drishyam and viewers must keep their expectations low.
Before or after I made Drishyam, I never claimed it as a thriller. For me, it is still a small film that captures the tale of two families caught in a vortex of emotions, interwoven with a crime plot. As a film-maker, I approached the film as a family drama and even now I would like to see it as the same. The thriller tag has been thrust upon it, whether I like it or not. Even for the sequel now, I honestly think it’s a good family story. Technically speaking, Memories is the only thriller I have made so far.
How do you see the concept of sequels as a whole? Generally, people seem to be averse to the whole idea though some of the sequels in Malayalam have done really well.
It’s always interesting to watch our favourite characters returning to entertain us. There is no harm in trying out a sequel unless you do it just for the sake of it. We have the classic examples of our cult characters like Dasan and Vijayan of Nadodikattu before us and even the CBI series.
That’s more of franchise, than say a sequel per se.
It all depends on how you look at it. Kireedam, considered one of the finest films ever made in Malayalam, had a sequel in Chenkol by the same writer-director combo. If you ask me, both are terrific films though the general perception is that the latter is a forced, “dumbed down” version of Kireedam. I also agree Chenkol is not being put on the same pedestal as Kireedam. It’s all about perceptions.
Talking about Drishyam, the last scene was a masterstroke, but even without that, do you think the film would have worked? If that particular sequence was not there, the sequel’s potential could have been even higher?
In hindsight, that’s an interesting premise. To be frank, that scene stood as the biggest stumbling block in my process to make the sequel, eventually shutting out every such possibility of a second part. Personally, I believe the film would have worked even without that scene, but it would never have had the impact it had. That ‘kick’ or ‘adrenaline rush’ took Drishyam to another level, beyond any doubt. You all may not believe, that scene was not there in the first draft of my script.
So how did Drishyam end in the first draft?
The body was buried at the exact spot where both the families meet in the climax, that was my initial plan. But when I tried to connect the dots logically, I was not convinced at all. I worked and reworked multiple plans, and finally went for a reverse overhaul and that’s when I introduced the police station angle in the beginning itself to make it more realistic. That aced it.
So technically, the second part now starts from where you have left in the first series. Or are we going to see something totally different?
Should we get into the nuances of the film? Watch it in theatres.
Or OTT platforms? Since it’s going to be a small, low-budget family film, particularly because of COVID 19-induced restrictions, it can even look for direct online release.
It’s a small film comparatively, but I don’t think it will be still feasible for an OTT release. I really don’t know how the math will work out in the next few months, but you can never plan the future, especially in post-Covid-19 situation. As a director, my job is to make the film the way I want it to be, and the rest is up to the producer. Let us see what’s cooking.