Soumya Sadanandan is popular among the Malayali audience as a television anchor and an RJ. After working as assistant and associate director in more than 11 feature films, Soumya directed a documentary titled 'Chembai: My discovery of a legend,' which won a best jury award at national film festival 2017. Later, her short-film 'Rabbit Hole' also won several awards at the Eastern Global Short Film Festival, 2018. The young filmmaker is now getting ready for the release of her directorial debut in feature film-making.
'Mangalyam Thanthunanena,' a family entertainer shot in the the rural outskirts of Thodupuzha, has Kunchacho Boban and Nimisha Sajayan in lead roles. Soumya opens up to Onmanorama regarding her debutante commercial flick.
Why did you choose to do a feature film now?
Doing a feature film is definitely a massive effort. I have told a documentary before. I have told a short film as well. When I say 'I told..' I mean putting the story-telling factor ahead of all other aspects of film-making. My narrative about Chembai required a documentary format to convey its message at its best. At the same time, I chose a short-film format for 'Rabbit Hole.' This narrative, which is mainstream, family-oriented, entertaining and commercial, needs to be told as a feature film. Hence a feature film this time.
How is 'Mangalyam Thanthunanena' different from the many family satires?
Many people asked me this question when I announced my project. Let me repeat what I told all of them: 'Mangalyam Thanthunanena' is not any different from the family entertainers Malayalam audience are accustomed to. It is the same old wine packed in a new bottle. I look forward to attract new-gen audience with the attractive wrapper I have covered it in. Once you pour it into a glass and taste it, you realise 'Oh I have tasted this before. I know this and it is beautiful. Where was this all these years?!'
Why did you cast Kunchacko Boban and Nimisha Sajayan in lead roles?
We want actors whom people like to watch in a family as the protagonists. The traits of my protagonist Roy – be it the physical features, be it his mannerisms, or his way of conduct – resembled perfectly well with Kunchacko's. He was excited when I first narrated him the story. What attracted him in the story was that there are no gimmicks in it. It is too real for an average Malayali. We are all familiar with Roy. We have a cousin or a neighbour or a friend like him. It has to be Chackochan because that is how our family audience see him.
On the other hand, I faced real dilemma in casting the female lead. We were all puzzled about choosing the best female actor to play the role of Clara. That was the time when the very first song from 'Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum' released. I was taken aback by the ingenuity in Nimisha's expressions. The same thought passed through my mind once again: 'Haven't I seen her somewhere in my neighbourhood?!' I didn't spare a second thought in casting her as Clara.
About the story-line of 'Mangalyam Thanthunanena'
It is comparatively easy for the scriptwriters and directors to bring out a complicated story with too much of twists, action and sub-stories. We have got just one point to establish in this movie and it has a straightforward plot. It was quite a challenging task for me and scriptwriter Tony Madathil to brighten up the screenplay.
I find plain scripts the most challenging. Even my documentary on Chembai was based on a single aspect of the versatile personality he was. His humanitarian side, which was distinct from his music, his personal and academic lives, was extracted and narrated in a simple format in that documentary. It worked. The same thing happened with 'Rabbit Hole', my short film. I wanted to discuss the serious mental health issue called depression and I put it forth in a simple narrative. Over a course of time, I discovered that narrating simple stories in the most conveying format is my kind of story-telling. Same is the case with 'Mangalyam Thanthunanena'.
How did you choose the other technicians and artists?
Tony Madathil, the scriptwriter was always there in the scene. It was both of us who passionately worked together to make this movie happen. For long four years, we wandered meeting directors, technicians and artists. He knows the struggles behind this project – the umpteen number of 'nos' we have encountered.
I worked with Christy Sebastian, our editor, during the post-production works of my short-film 'Rabbit Hole'. He is a boy with a vision. He has a level of clarity about story-telling. Rather than turning up at the end of shoot-schedule, grabbing all the visuals available and choosing the best from them, he accompanied my crew all along the pre-production and shoot-schedules, distinguished between the original and artificial takes and formulated his own strategy in editing. That is the kind of technicians I would love to work with.
Late poet Girish Puthenchery's second son Dinanath Puthenchery has penned four songs for this movie. Fifth song is written by Irshad, a lyricist based at Aluva. These poets are literally young champs. The kind of poetry that comes out of them in this young age overwhelms me. Choreographer Arvind Krishna is Kunchacko Boban's acquaintance. Both of them worked together in 'Kuttanadan Marppappa' before and Chackochan had a good rapport with him.
About your academic background...
I am a 90s' kid. I grew up watching the movies of Fazil, Sathyan Anthikkad, Bharathan, Padmarajan, Kamal et al. One just couldn't resist becoming fans of their movies. That is the quality of cinematic literature you are exposed to. I am influenced by the filmmakers of that age.
By 2000, I finished my tenth standard and like most of the youngsters during that time, I had to choose between medical school and engineering. I chose engineering. I admit that I am no good an engineer. Post my Btech, I worked as an engineer in Bangalore for four years and made some money so that I can follow my passion later on.
In 2011, I joined the team behind the movie 'Cinema Company' and started my journey with cinema.
About your family...
Both my parents are government employees. My father hails from Pathanamthitta and my mother, from Kollam. I did my studies in Thriuvananthapuram. My elder brother passed away almost three years ago. I am sure he would have been very excited about the release of my first movie. My parents are growing old and they are deeply concerned about my future as I am not being the typical daughter every parents wish to have (laughs.) However they are also expecting 'Mangalyam....' to be a big hit.
About the increasing number of female directors in Malayalam cinema
All these years, it was only men who had opportunities to venture out into the artistic realms like cinema. While it is true that Malayalam cinema had been a male-dominated field, those men are all of our forerunners. They influenced people like us. They paved way for all of our dreams to come true. So when I do a movie, I would give importance to the originality of story-line rather than drawing a gender-proportion out of it.
Still, I have a feeling that female directors are experts in detailing. They give importance to every minute aspect of story, frame setting and camera because they are emotionally bound to their project than men are. Certain aspects of a movie which could easily be ignored or missed will find a special place in the movies directed by female filmmakers. Quite like how a mother gets hurt the most in a family, a female filmmaker's movie will be both objectively and subjectively comprehensive.