Everyone might have heard the story of Rip Van Winkle, a villager who dozes off at the mountains and wakes up 20 years later as an old man. When he heard the story as a little boy, Shyam Narayanan T.K. had no idea that years later, he would make a short film on time travel and that it would be the talk of the cyber town. Shyam’s Makaram 20, 1194, released on YouTube a few days ago, has garnered over 1.3K likes and has initiated a vibrant discussion on social media platforms, for its theme and the numerous Easter eggs scattered all over the film, which is hardly 11 minutes long. (An Easter egg, in a film, is the hidden message or secret reference that comes as a surprise in the narrative).
What begins as the attempt of a Namboodiri couple to tame their six-year-old naughty nephew in 1948 cuts across ages and travel back and forth to 2019 , again 1948 and then 1910, weaving in historical events like the literary rise of Malayalam writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair, assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, birth of actor Innocent, and leaving behind a trail to hunt for the Easter eggs.
“A bigtime fan of time-travel fiction such as HG Wells’ The Time Machine, Richard Curtis’ film About Time, I was always keen to explore the possibilities of the concept in Indian cinema. The base idea of the short film came from the thought ‘Spirits are time-travelers from the past’. The initial plan was to place the story in a Central Travancore Christian family, but the locations available made the narrative fit to a Namboodiri Illam,” says Shyam, a software professional who has been passionate about films since childhood, and has now made a grand debut with Makaram 20, 1194.
Finding actor Vineeth Vasudevan and debutante Anushree Madhavan to play the lead was easier for Shyam compared to the efforts that went behind recreating a long-lost era. “I met Vineeth on Facebook and Anusree is a colleague of a friend who suggested her for the role. The rest of the cast include my family friend Narayanan Namboothiri, my cousin’s son Tharun Parameswaran and my mom Geetha. Recreating the past was challenging and fun. We designed a 1948 calendar, a couple of old magazine covers and got hold of a copy of a newspaper. Neenu Payyanakkal, costumer and make-up artist, too did a great job with the looks,” says Shyam, who took on board his close friends Chinthu Jose and M.T. Vineeth Bhaskar as co-director and cinematographer respectively for Makaram 20, 1194.
He has included quirky spoiler alerts in certain frames, letting the audience rake their brains. Asked if it wasn’t too many Easter eggs for a short film, he says that placing references blended well into the narrative and it was happy sight to find viewers digging in and discovering all those.
“The idea was partly inspired by David Fincher’s Fight Club. The concept being time-travel, it is relatively easy to place references to the future if the story is set in the past. I did some research and connected the dates, and surprisingly they fell into the period when the story is set. I also placed a reference to Dark, a time-travel themed web series, and a dream project of a friend,” says the native of Sreekrishnapuram in Palakkad.
My inspiration, Shyam says, comes from the works of Anurag Kashyap, David Lynch, M. Mukundan, Kamal Haasan, Tommy Wirkola, Harmony Korine and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. His love for films grew as he joined the Facebook group Cinema Paradiso Club, where he found director Bilahari, with whom he associated for penning screenplays. A subtitler, Shyam is the man behind the subtitles of the popular series and singles made by Team Karikku, and a few feature films, documentaries and short films. “My dream is to make good films that stay at the hearts of the audience,” he concludes.