Malayalam cinema industry has always warmed up to debutant film makers and writers who prove their mettle in their first movie itself. Latest movie Cold Case starring Prithviraj in the lead role too is directed by a newcomer. The film that was released on the streaming giant Amazon Prime is helmed by Tanu Balak. Though this is his first outing as a director, Tanu is no stranger to the cinema industry.
Tanu has directed hundreds of advertisements and had wielded camera for many Malayalam movies too. The film maker says he wished to direct a movie only when he wouldn’t be able to resist an amazing screenplay. In a candid interview with Onamanoram, Tanu Balak opens up about Cold Case and his future plans too.
What took you so long to turn into direction?
I have wielded the camera for super hit movies like Train and Of The People. Meanwhile, I mostly did advertisements for television. It is only now that a good screenplay came my way. The script of the movie is penned by Sreenath V Nath. When I showed it to ace cinematographer Jomon T John, he too liked it. It was he who spoke to Prithviraj about this story. Anto Joseph, Sameer and Jomon agreed to jointly bankroll the movie. That is how this movie took shape. I decided to turn to direction when I got a screenplay which I really liked and wished to direct.
The movie has been garnering great reviews. What do you feel?
Everyone feel happiness when they hear great comments about their works. The audience in around 250 countries can watch the movie at the same time since it had an OTT release. Besides, the movie got amazing visibility on the first day itself. Lots of people are calling to congratulate and express their opinion about the film. I am really excited about it. This movie was shot amid the Covid pandemonium. When a movie is released on OTT, huge number of people would watch it on the first day itself and say their comments. It indeed is one of the most amazing advantages of having an OTT release.
Why did you blend the horror and thriller genres in the screenplay?
People are always interested in watching thriller movies. Such movies would instantly attract attention. The initial thread of the movie only had a horror track. It was only later that it got transformed into an investigative thriller. In the plot, two types of investigations happen in a parallel manner. We are not commenting whether any faith or beliefs are right or wrong. Each person can decide based on their own beliefs and conviction.
On one side, an investigation based on scientific facts takes place. It has a full proof approach where faith has no place. In case, I experience paranormal activities as shown in the movie, I would probably die of heart attack. One would experience paranormal activities based on what he/she thinks and believes. One’s imagination can be stretched to any extend. Prithviraj’s character handles the case based on scientific proof until the end of the movie. We had done really good homework before making this movie.
How was your experience filming during the pandemic times?
Everything was well planned as the pandemic restrictions were still on. The crew members had stayed at a single location, without going home or breaching the bubble. On some days, we had to film wearing PPT kits. The indoor scenes were shot first. We had planned to shoot the outdoor scenes and the shots that involve crowds in the end. I must say that there were difficulties. Some of the locations were abruptly turned into containment zones. So, we had to look for new locations. Fortunately, no one in the crew had tested positive while shooting. Everyone was careful and we shot the movie by strictly following the pandemic protocols.
Was Cold Case exclusively shot for OTT?
No, Cold Case isn’t a movie that was shot for OTT. We wanted to have a theater release. This is a movie that has great significance for sound effects. As it is a horror thriller, the sound effects would work only if the movie is enjoyed on big screen. But, no one expected a second wave of Covid 19, right? We decided to go for an OTT release as we realized that it wasn’t possible to release the movie in theaters, in the present situation. OTT too has its own advantages.
Was it difficult to find producers during the pandemic times?
We didn’t face such difficulties as Cold Case is a movie with amazing star value. The project was on as soon as Prithviraj liked the script. There is a scope for business when a big star like him comes on board. Besides, lots of newcomers too have worked in this project. I am proud that a handful of newcomers, including me, have been part of the movie. Producers Anto Joseph, Jomon and Shameer were very supportive.
The story takes place during the Covid times. However, no precautions have been shown in the scenes.
The character uses masks and gloves in the scenes that take place in Varanasi. However, the rest of the plot has been shown as happening during the post Covid times. “This is a work of fiction that takes place in a mask free world that has survived the dreaded pandemic”, is shown before the movie begins. While shooting, we had hoped that we could release the movie when the pandemic subsides and every one walks freely without wearing masks. Unfortunately, we still haven’t been able to survive the pandemic. Besides, this is a movie and a star like Prithviraj cannot be shown as wearing mask in the scenes.
The casting was spot on. How did you manage it?
Aditi Balan’s debut movie Aruvi was noticed in Tamil Nadu and here as well. She has the personality and mannerisms of a journalist. Aditi did a brilliant job playing her character perfectly. Meanwhile, the new artists were cast after screen tests and auditions. So, there is freshness in the casting.
Prithviraj had clear ideas about the movie as soon as he read the script. It was impressive seeing him mouth long dialogues in a single stretch. I have often wondered how he could effortlessly by heart such lengthy dialogues. He is not just an amazing actor but a talented director too. I didn’t have to explain the scenes too much to him. Moreover, that character hasn’t been given any unrealistic superhuman like qualities. The character is designed to perfectly suit the screenplay. Besides, his personal life isn’t shown in the movie. Sathyajith is a brilliant police officer.
Meanwhile, the female lead Medha’s personal life has been shown, just to explain why she is living alone. But, her husband isn’t shown in the movie. We haven’t included any unnecessary character in the film.
The movie ends on an uncertain note. Can we expect a sequel?
I cannot say whether there would be a sequel to Cold Case. It is true that some questions have been left unanswered. It was done deliberately. The movie ends as if the story continues. However, I don’t contemplate a second part as of now. It would happen if it is meant to happen.
What do you have to say about Sreenath as a screenwriter?
Screenwriter Sreenath V Nath is my brother in law. This is mine and his first movie. Both of us live in the same house. So, we discussed a lot while the script was being written. The scientific angle of the movie has been written after doing good research in the forensic and other departments. Lots of data was collected from many places. Both of us had gone together to a few places and offices to collect information. He is the one who penned the script. Meanwhile, I, being the director was able to ask many questions and clarify my doubts. His screenplay was perfect and complete. We didn’t have to rework it.
Did the expenses shoot unexpectedly owing to the pandemic?
No, the expenses didn’t shoot much. It is true that we had faced minor difficulties. We had traveled to Varanasi with a very small group. Travel restrictions were there due to the pandemic. Besides, we were expecting such difficulties. However, we were able to wrap up the filming within the stipulated time itself.
What are your plans for future?
I do not wish to do another movie as soon as my first movie is released. I would commit a film only if I like the script. I had waited for so long only because I was looking for a good script. I am listening to many stories and narrations. But, I would take it up only if I like the theme and the story. I am really happy that my debut movie just got released. Those who have watched the movie is calling me and saying great comments. Now, my main job is speaking to them. Besides, I take rest and sleep a lot. I would request everyone to watch Cold Case and let me know your opinions.