Filmmaker Ranjith Sankar is all on cloud nine after the success of his latest entertainer 'Njan Marykkutty.' Jayasurya's transsexual character was well-received and opened novel realms of social acceptance, education and livelihood for the transgender community in Kerala.
While the director tags himself along all the success celebrations of this June 2018 release, he is also busy with the pre-production works of his next, 'Pretham 2,' a much-awaited sequel of his own 2016 blockbuster movie. Prior to getting busy with the production schedules of 'Pretham 2', Ranjith Sankar opens up to Onmanorama regarding the movie, his favourite subjects, friendships..
About Pretham 2...
'Pretham 2' will be a Christmas release. Its shoot is planned for September. It is a simple entertainer with lot of fun, suspense, mentalism and horror. You can expect a new story but the genre remains the same. I have taken only the character of John Don Bosco from 'Pretham 1'. The movie is about yet another episode in Bosco's life where he solves a curious case.
Are you fond of making sequels?
After 'Punyalan Private Limited', this is the second time I am directing a sequel of my own movie . I don't mind creating more parts of the same movie if I have an exciting story in front of me. Story is my purpose of making a movie. I like the story of 'Pretham 2' more than that of 'Pretham 1'. When you create a sequel to your own movie, you are actually exploring newer means to better an artwork you have already done. Though the efforts in making a sequel would be equal to that of making a fresh movie, you'll constantly compare it with its prequel and select better tools to narrate the tale. They include technical aspects like sound, technicians, lighting, location and graphics.
Second thing is that you can redefine your target audience. There is a reason why I made 'Pretham 1'. After making 'Varsham' (2014) and 'Su su Sudhi Vathmeekam' (2015) I became desperate to do a fun-filled youth movie. I don't want to be identified as someone who makes only serious movies. The challenge I put before myself when I ventured out into 'Pretham' initially, was to cater to an audience aged between 15 and 20. Fortunately, it worked. Pretham is the my biggest commercial success till date.
The biggest trap in making a sequel to your own movie is that you easily tend to carry the baggage of your previous movie. There will be an irresistible urge to reuse the artists, technology, location and sound effects of the prequel. I guess I have successfully survived that tendency in the case of 'Pretham'.
What draws you to a particular character?
Right from the character Sathyanathan of my first movie 'Passenger' to '...Marykkutty', my latest, every character I bring on screen are real. They are people who live in our society along with us. I pick my characters from people whom I meet in my day-to-day life. I try to relate a character with someone I saw in my real life so that I can easily imagine his/her behaviour and patterns of response. I think this approach keeps me grounded to reality.
In the case of 'Pretham', it is hard to make Bosco look real. He is a mentalist who calls himself a 'psychic'. I talked to a lot of mentalists like Aathi before crafting the character of Bosco. Aathi helped me a lot with micro-expressions and other minute nuances of mentalism. Bosco is different for his search of the unknown. John's concept of afterlife is my contribution to that character. He believes that there is neither a previous life, nor an afterlife apart from the one you live at present. You continue to practise your usual life even after the loss of your mortal body. Spirits keep on making attempts to interact with you through signals. That is the basic concept of 'Pretham' series.
Have you ever had spooky experiences in real life?
Last day I checked in to a famous hotel in Thiruvananthapuram for a brief overnight stay. One of my friends warned me about the presence of a spirit in that hotel. That thought remained in me and I ended up feeling the presence of an unseen person besides me, all through the night. You might find it funny, but human mind creates it all.
Similarly during the shoot schedules of 'Pretham 1', some crew members started circulating a fake story about the presence of a spirit in the resort where we stayed. I dismissed the allegation in the initial stage itself because I knew things would turn serious if you encourage such gossips. I wanted to enjoy shooting that movie. I wanted nothing more than my script – not even an additional publicity in the name of a dead person.
Your friendship with mentalist Aathi...
I met Aathi first during the success celebrations of 'Punyalan Agarbathis'. He had performed a show on the occasion. That was the first time I realised that there is a stream of abstract sciences called Mentalism and that there are people who take it up as a profession. I had the seed of 'Pretham' deep in my mind back then. But as I was gearing up for the scripting and pre-production of 'Varsham,' I kept my curiosity aside and concentrated on my work.
Even in my initial meetings with Aathi for the sake of 'Pretham', he hesitated to reveal the secrets of his profession. I started getting confused and lost mid-way. I told him that he has to reveal his secrets because I couldn't write my story if I fail to understand the subject fully.
Slowly, there evolved a rapport between both of us. He explained the different aspects of human brain such as the creative side that is positioned on the right side and an analytical side that is on the left side. He taught me how to analyse micro-expressions and distinguish between creation and recalling. Aathi was present at the locations of 'Pretham'. Discussions with him have helped me develop characters for other movies as well.
'Pretham 2' is your sixth movie with Jayasurya. What hooks you most about Jayasurya?
Both of us take efforts to experiment and grow together, independently. We met first in 2013. We have been sharing a very intimate friendship ever since. The best thing I have seen in Jayasurya all through these five years is his evolution as an actor. I am happy that I could contribute to it. I remember having told him repeatedly to reduce the effort he puts. Had he obeyed me, we wouldn't have had the excellent actor we have today. A good actor is always a good human being which is true to in the case of Jayasurya.
People tend to think that a filmmaker proceeds with a sequel when he doesn't have a fresh story to tell. Same is the case with cooperating with the same actor for more than one time. They easily tag the director and actor together. I believe there is nothing wrong in creating as many sequels of the same movie if you have good stories. After all a director wouldn't spare his time creating a sequel if he is sure about its box-office failure. Similarly, Jayasurya has always given me a fresh performance in each movie we did together. It doesn't mean that I confine my scripts to Jayasurya. I have worked with Mammootty and Kunchacko Boban. Jayasurya was actually interested in performing Raman's character in 'Ramante Edanthottam', but I discouraged him as I thought Boban would fit the character better.
Why didn't you show the lead character's struggles or even the community life of transsexuals in 'Njan Marykutty'?
One thing that I kept in my mind while making 'Njan Marykutty' was that I wanted it to be engaging and not preachy. The struggles Marykutty went through before her surgery could be made into an independent movie. It would be an informative docu-fiction for people who hold academic interests in the topic. I am crystal clear about my target audience. I want people to come to theatres and watch my movie. Had I addressed the personal struggles of Marykutty in the movie, it would have been a tough nut to crack as a commercial movie.
Secondly, I believe significant social changes are brought about by individuals, not communities. If Marykutty had the support of similar people, they could have organised a march or a strike but would not have brought a transformation to this society. History tell us that people with crazy ideas were often branded as mentally unsound, but ultimately they proved their causes and heralded social transformation. 'Njan Marykutty' is the story of Marykutty's fight and to win it, she has to fight all alone.
'Njan Marykutty' has impacted the society. It was made to portray transpersons in the right way. I recently attended a fashion show by transgenders. People applauded the models who walked the ramp. Public would not have responded so if 'Njan Marykutty' was not released. A boy in my son's class wears nail-polish. My son was very scared of him. He couldn't accept his classmate's strange mannerisms. After he watched 'Njan Marykkutty', he was drained of all prejudices and started to view that boy as a normal individual.
How do you look at gender discourses?
I know female directors who get paid more than me and there are female actors who earn more than the male actors. Industry is strictly based on commercial standards. If you have a market value this year, you will have a good pay; that might not be the case next year. There is nothing to complain about it. It is strictly based on your talent and your performance.