Mahesh Narayanan has been one of the torch bearers of change in Malayalam cinema and the entire world is in awe of his incredible craft at film making. He could rightly be called the master of modern technicality. From editing and cinematography to screenplay and direction, Mahesh has a flair for every aspect of film making. Even though his latest movie Malik was written and made for the big screen, Mahesh turned the tables to earn profits for the producer by successfully selling it to an online streaming giant.
Mahesh who has edited around 33 movies donned the director’s hat for the time in the critically acclaimed Take Off. Interestingly, his career as a foremost director in Malayalam cinema too had taken off with that. He entertained the audience with CU Soon which was filmed entirely on a mobile phone during the lockdown period. It was a movie that was tailor made for the Indian OTT scene. Meanwhile, Mahesh has been showered with praises from all corners ever since Malik got released on Amazon Prime. In a candid chat, Mahesh talks about Malik and reveals the reason why he had gone for a streaming platform despite making the movie for a big screen release.
Why did you opt for an OTT release for Malik?
We waited for around a year and a half for theatrical release. Even now, I can’t tell when we would be able to release it in the big screens. It is my responsibility too, to make the producer who had spent money safe. He would earn about Rs 22 crore through the OTT deal. However, the sound quality of the movie would be comprised when we go for an online release. Sound designer Vishnu was on the verge of tears when he learned about this decision. The tracks in this movie were prepared even by recording the faintest of sounds.
Do you think that new movies are not able to create the kind of reach that old films like Thoovanathumbikal and Sandesham had?
The kind of reach that digital media has created is beyond our perception. No matter whether the film is good or bad, a viral scene is just enough to make the whole movie a big thing. Arapatta Kettiya Gramathil was a box office dud; but it would have created ripples on the digital media had it been released today. Lots of movies that weren’t hits had become popular now on the digital media. Social media influences cinema in multiple ways. The discussions that happen there could even influence audience’s decision whether to watch a movie or not.
Do you mean film makers should take movies based on social media trends?
No, but we should have an idea about the trend. In Youtube, ‘privacy’ is what attracts most number of viewers. From a conversation that happens between parents and kids inside the house to everyday life, everything is shot and uploaded on the social media. Nudity too has lots of viewers. The viewer is interested to peep into others’ privacy. After that, what trends on social media is goodness. People would watch and share anything that has an element of goodness in it.
You have earlier said that theater viewing experience would change with the introduction of 5G?
Most people thought that 5G wouldn’t happen anytime soon. However, experiments have already begun in India. It would be on our finger tips within a year itself. Then, special set up for film distribution won’t be required. Digital screens that are as big as the theater screens would take the latter’s place. It would almost be like a huge TV. The experience of cinema viewing too would be changed. Malik which was shot on 4K format couldn’t have screened around Kerala in the same format. It would have to be changed into 2K format before releasing. When 5G comes, films could be released in any format.
Isn’t that a good thing? Why should one be wary of it?
Corporate companies have already taken over the theaters in all the major cities in the country. Chinese and Korean companies are bombarding the market with equipments that could download 5G. They might collectively take theaters on lease. In many places, theaters are already in the hands of corporate giants. They would get the power to decide whether a movie should be released in theater or on OTT. There is also a danger in it. The companies would wield the power to decide that a person’s movie shouldn’t be exhibited anywhere in the country.
The movies that were released during the lockdown period were mostly crime thrillers or had darker themes. What do you think about it?
During times like this, the priority would be to shoot within the four walls. So, crime would be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about movies that do not have any outdoor scenes. There are limitations to explore ideas during this time. Meanwhile, it is easier to expand the themes of crime. It is pretty easy to think about stories of people who get into trouble. All you need to do is to think of ways to get them out of those situations too. In fact, all of us have been trapped. The number of such movies would go down when the restrictions are lifted and everyone comes out.
Can you enjoy a movie being an OTT hit instead of a traditional theater blockbuster?
We thought everything would be over once we make a deal with a streaming platform. On the night that C U Soon got released, I and Fahadh sat down and thought about what to do next. However, people started calling us once it got released on the OTT. People in around 140 countries watched the movie at the same time. Audience began calling, even at night, without bothering whether we were sleeping. It was only then that we realized that movies in OTT too could become hits. But, the ‘hit’ and the excitement in theaters last for months while it would be over in just four or five days in OTT.
Is Malik a mass movie?
It is a mass movie that I know how to make. Malik has been made to be viewed in theaters. There were times when we couldn’t find enough artists. Some were brought from Tamil Nadu. Even though we had shot only for 92 days, reworking the sets to show different time periods were really time consuming. Besides, many actors had to be given time to slim down too. The place where we had built the set does not have sea. The sea was graphically included in the scenes. So, the actors had to speak as if they are standing in a place where there is strong winds and sound of the waves. It was quite a huge task checking whether everything was perfectly done.