How 'Helen' reached Bollywood as 'Mili' | Interview with Mathukutty Xavier

When Mathukutty decided to quit his job as a graphic designer to enter filmdom, he faced the biggest opposition from his father Xavier. Xavier's job had been to make advertising slides at the theatres. But as the cinema too took the digital route, Xavier lost his job. And hence, he was staunchly against his son's move to enter the cine field. But his father’s concerns could not deter Mathukutty from pursuing his passion for cinema.

Mathukutty Xavier finally realised his dream and directed Helen, a survival thriller. Mathukutty had learned when to say 'action', 'cut' and 'pack-up' while standing behind the director and monitor at the film sets, and his film went on to win the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Feature. This young Keralite even got the opportunity to remake his very first film in Bollywood. With surprise twists and fortunate moments, the life of Mathukutty Xavier is in itself a thriller.

Bouquets and brickbats of school years 

Mathukutty faced financial crunch after quitting his well-paying job, and he decided to edit wedding teasers at his friend's studio. There is also an interesting anecdote on how he learned editing.

“I had acted in a short film in my plus-one year. I had done the editing as well. Back then, the videos on YouTube were just 5-minute long. I learned editing by watching these videos. That movie was first shown to plus-two students, who responded with catcalls and jeers. But was applauded by LP class students. That applause influenced by cinematic journey later on,” Mathukutty recounted. He learned animation and graphic designing from the St Joseph's College of Communication at Changanassery. Even when he was a student of graphic designing, he learned about cinema from the classes for multi-media students.

Vineeth Sreenivasan’s question 

“I was staying at my mother's house at Thodupuzha after resigning from my job. I met Alfred Kurian Joseph at the St Sebastian's Church at Purapuzha. During our conversation, the topic of cinema came up. I told him a story I had in mind. He wrote up a scene based on a portion of the story I had narrated and gave it to me the next day. From then on, he has been my partner,” Mathukutty said.

Both Mathukutty and Alfred decided that a woman should play the central character, if they were to make a movie. When they randomly typed 'girl trapped in' on Google, they got the result ‘girl trapped in freezer’. At first, they did not find the answer for why the girl did not hear the sound of the freezer’s door slamming shut. They later arrived at a justification that amid the noise of objects falling, the girl may not have heard the sound.

"When I went to narrate the story of 'Helen' to actor-director Vineeth Sreenivasan, I never thought that he would turn up as the producer of the film. I usually read out the completed scripts to him and he tells me about the corrections to make. Just like that, I went to him with ‘Helen's script as well. As soon as he heard the story, he asked – ‘Let me produce this?’ That was the first turning point," Mathukutty recounted.

Boney Kapoor called, Janhvi became ‘Mili’ 

“My parents and sister Sandra were all with me for the first show of 'Helen'. My father does not express his thoughts much, while my sister Sandra criticises a lot. The only person who does not criticise is my mother. Less than 10 people turned up for the first show. However, my mother just smiled. But by evening, it was a full house,” he added.

“The production rights of 'Helen' were sold in Tamil and Hindi. Though I was invited to direct the Tamil movie, I was not able to imbibe the changes they needed. Then I got the call from Bollywood but I refused twice. Then I got a call for the third time - it was from Boney Kapoor sir. He asked if I was ready to make the move with his daughter Janhvi as the heroine. That's how 'Helen' reached Bollywood as 'Mili',” Mathukutty explained.

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