Jayasurya starrer Vellam which tells the story of Murali, an alcohol addict, is all set to hit the big screen on 22 January. The theaters in Kerala have reopened after ten months of pandemic induced break by releasing Vijay-starrer Master. Vellam is one of the most anticipated films as it would be the first Malayalam movie to be released in theaters after the lockdown is lifted. Meanwhile, movie lovers are curious to watch Vallam as it reunites actor Jayasurya and director Prajesh Sen after the critically acclaimed movie Captain. In a candid interview to Manorama Online, Prajesh speaks about Vellam and shares his hopes for the new year.
Is Vellam based on a true story?
Vellam is not a biopic, but is based on a true story. We have actually told the story of lots of people through the tale of Murali who hails from Kannur. You would see Murali at all the places, be it at a bus stand, a lane or in an ordinary tea stall in Kerala. So, the protagonist is someone who is really familiar to Keralites.
Why did you choose Jayasurya to play the lead role?
Jayasurya is a close friend of mine. Besides, I had gained a unique energy from Captain. You could make Jayasurya do anything. He would fly if we ask him to jump. I would call him the epitome of dedication. He would never ask, ‘Should I really do that?’ whenever we ask him to do something. He is always willing and ever ready to do whatever he is asked. For instance, there is a scene in which he comes home drunk at night. He is supposed to be seen in shabby clothes in that scene. But, his costume looked clean and nice. So, I told that the clothes should be made shabby. Usually, the costumes would be handed over to someone to make it look dirty. But I saw Jayasurya rolling on the floor to make his body and clothes look as if he is really drunk. That is his level of dedication. He is an artist who can be moulded and is willing for that. That is why I like him a lot. The consideration that he shows to a newcomer like me is incredible.
How did you develop this story?
After Captain, while I was writing another movie, I met man who had accompanied my friend Shamsu, at a restaurant. After talking to him for a while, I thought he was good. I met him a couple of times at various other places too. Once, I met this man at a hotel in Dubai when I was visiting with Nambi sir (Nambi Narayanan). There, he told us his story and I was amazed by it. I told him that there was a thread for a movie in his story. I called Jayasurya and spoke about the character. I told him that it was the story of an alcoholic that hasn’t been told by anyone yet.
Jayasurya replied that lots of movies have come out about alcohol addicts. I convinced him that it was different and there was something unique that hasn’t been discussed by anyone yet. He then said that we could give it a shot. So, we spoke to the producers. They gave us the word that we could do it if we are confident. Initially, I just had one character in mind. Gradually, I began observing the alcohol addicts that we see around us. I adopted the mannerisms of the alcohol addicts that we usually see in our streets, towns or in the tea shops. I linked many instances and thus Murali became the representative of all the drunkards in Kerala.
Why did you choose Vellam as the movie’s title?
After the narration, we thought a lot about possible titles for the movie. In the hamlets, there is a local saying that ‘avan oru vellam adi party aanu’ (he is an alcohol addict). That is how we chose Vellam as the title. The full title of the movie is Vellam, the Essential Drink. After seeing the title, many asked whether the movie was about the floods as those were the ‘waters’ that created so much misery in Kerala. But, we didn’t reveal much about the movie. People understood the real theme of the movie only after the trailer was launched.
Wasn’t the movie supposed to be released in April 2020?
Yes, it was supposed to be released during Vishu last year. However, it got stalled due to the pandemic. There was an option to release it on the OTT. But, this movie has been shot in the sync sound. It would be effective only if the movie is watched in the theaters. Besides, this is the story of a common man. It has to be released in the theaters for the common people to watch it.
There are people who still don’t have any idea about OTT. I and Jayasurya have wished for this movie to reach the common man. When we told this to our producers, they too agreed. We were able to hold this movie until now only because of their relentless support. Many have been asking us whether we had no plans to release the movie. We could always release it in the OTT after releasing in the theaters.
Do you think the audience would reach the theaters, especially when the pandemic is at its peak?
I wish that everyone watches this movie in the theater. But, health is the most important thing. Everyone should follow all the safety protocols. Our life is of paramount importance. Happiness comes only after that. We have been saying it even in our promotional events. Audience should reach the theaters by strictly following the pandemic protocols.
Besides, admissions are allowed only in 50% of the theater’s seating capacity. We should take care of ourselves. There shouldn’t be crowding in the theaters. After the Covid-19 began spreading, everything was locked down. All kinds of businesses got stalled. Everyone suffered a lot. Despite all the other sectors getting back to normalcy, artists haven’t been able to return to work. It is yet to restart. Those who have made art their means of living have now begun to get hopeful. It indeed gives hope that the theaters are opening after being shut down for around ten months. I wish that it would bring a ray of hope for those who work in the cinema industry.
What do you have to say about sync sound?
I have tried sync sound in my movie for the first time. I had recently worked in a movie called Rocketry: The Nambi Effect based on the life of Nambi Narayanan. The movie in which Madhavan stars in the lead role would be simultaneously released in English, Hindi and Tamil. I had worked as an assistant director in that movie. It was in that movie that I had worked after Captain. We had shot in six countries. It was a great experience working with the crew of that movie. It was more like a work shop for me. I learned more about sync sound while working in it. Besides, I could also learn a lot of other technical nuances. Moreover, I met a lot of talented technicians. I got the benefits of it while we were filming Vellam.
It was those experiences which gave me the courage to try sync sound. All the artists learned their dialogues by heart. I cannot forget the hard work put in by artists like Samyukta Menon. The real voice of the actors would be heard in the theaters; and it would be a mesmerizing feeling. Everyone had cooperated very well. We didn’t have to force anyone. I have no qualms in doing multiple takes. My aim was to make the movie as perfect as possible. It indeed was a strenuous job. I am confident that I could achieve 95% of what I had wished.
What do you think about the overwhelming responses to Master?
I am hopeful after Master receiving such overwhelming responses. The release of Master has given a renewed hope for the cinema industry. I think Malayali audience has been eagerly waiting for the theaters to reopen. It indeed gives me happiness that the audience has received the movie well. Vellam is a movie that ought to be watched by everyone. I wish that people watch it in the theaters. I request everyone to go to the theaters, by strictly following the safety protocols, to watch Vellam and make it a grand success.
What are your new projects?
The Secret of Woman in which Niranjana plays the lead role is my next. It was shot during the lockdown period with just a small number of crew members. We have wrapped up the filming of that movie. We have only announced the character of Niranjana; the rest of the cast would be revealed later. The movie isn’t ready to be released as there are some works to be completed. I wish to release that movie too in the theaters. Meanwhile, the discussion of another project is underway. The filming of it is likely to begin in February. I will reveal more details about it later.