Veteran filmmaker Lal Jose is thrilled for the forthcoming release of 'Meow', his third movie that was shot in Dubai. Lal Jose would have lived in Dubai as an expatriate had there not been some interesting twists in his life’s screenplay. Even though the director doesn’t believe that the Emirate is his lucky location, some incidents that had happened in his life are as dramatic and exciting as some of his movies. His movie 'Diamond Necklace' became only the second movie and the first Malayalam film to be shot at the mighty Burj Khalifa.
In 1988 Lal Jose was awaiting a visa so that he could catch a plane to Dubai, the land of the dreamers. He had even studied colour processing in Chennai as the person who offered him the visa ran a photo printing business in Dubai. He planned to work there after his three-day weekly shifts. However, fate had other plans for him. He failed to understand the unique chemistry of colours at the Das Colourlab in Chennai. But, he managed to secure the job of a receptionist as he spoke Hindi fairly well, all thanks to his mother who was a Hindi teacher and his school and college days when he opted Hindi as his second language. Lal Jose shared an apartment with singer Dinesh (who sang ‘Dum Dum Dum’ song in Vaishali) at Thilakan street.
This area is a hub of musicians and lyricists who work in movies. Lal Jose soon took up the role of explaining the situation of the songs to the lyricists. Baby (Sreesankar) who was impressed with Lal Jose introduced him to noted composer Rajamani. It was Rajamani who introduced Lal Jose to Kamal during the recording of Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal. Kamal made him his assistant in his next movie Pradeshika Varthakal. It didn’t take too long for Lal Jose to realise that cinema was his field. After that, there was no looking back for Lal Jose who is still touted as one of the most bankable filmmakers of Malayalam cinema. 'Meow' is his third movie that was filmed in Dubai after the critically and commercially successful Arabikatha (2006) and Diamond Necklace (2011). Even though the crew had planned a schedule of 60 days, they could wrap it up in 50 days.
Lal Jose and his crew were in Dubai, scouting for locations to shoot his movie Arabikatha. He was recognised by some Keralites and they came to meet him. Lal Jose who was busy enjoying the conversation didn’t realise that his colleagues left him behind thinking that he was in the other car. However, his habit of carrying the card of the hotel where he stays whenever he was in a foreign land came to his rescue.
Lal Jose hired a taxi and showed the card to the driver. The filmmaker was surprised when the driver, in fluent Malayalam, asked him whether he was a serial actor. Lal then introduced himself and asked the driver about Dubai. The driver, who had reached Dubai forty years ago in a dhow, then described Dubai in the most mesmerizing way. He said that Dubai was the creation of a magician in the heart of the desert with a flick of his wand. Lal Jose was amazed when the driver explained that he felt at home in the magical city of Dubai. He then said that he often felt he was at his home in Kerala when he goes to sleep and wakes up in Dubai. The warmth of Dubai is such that the driver imagines his wife to wake him up with a cup of tea in her hand, just like in his own home.
Meanwhile, Lal Jose who was impressed by the extremely visual narration of the city couldn’t help share this incident with Dr. Iqbal Kuttipuram who wrote the script of the movie. He added it in the movie, which then became the most memorable dialogue in it. Lal Jose too feels the same about the magical city of Dubai. The filmmaker hopes that he would meet that driver again one day.
The guardian angels of Dubai
Even though the two movies that were shot here had become blockbusters, Lal Jose doesn’t call Dubai his lucky location as he doesn’t believe in good or bad fortunes. But, he surely has faith in the grace of God who lets everything happen smoothly for him. He says that God had always sent guardian angels to make things easier whenever he came to Dubai for the filming of his movies.
“The story of 'Meow' spans in 16 years. It takes place in a quaint Arabian countryside that is surrounded by mountains. Fujairah was locked in as the primary location. However, things didn’t go as planned and the disappointed crew decided to return. We then met Ibrahim, an Emirati, who told us that we could return via Ras Al Khaimah. To my surprise, I saw the grand mountain ranges that I had picturised in my mind. Similarly, we also found the villas and the super market, just as we had planned,” recalls Lal Jose.
While filming Diamond Necklace, Lal Jose’s guardian angel came as Nadeer who worked at the Dubai ruler’s palace. It was because of him that Diamond Necklace became the first Malayalam movie to be shot at Burj Khalifa. Nadeer helped the crew gain access to the Burj Khalifa. A few scenes were shot at the flat of Nadeer’s relative in the tallest building in the world. The special friendship that began in Dubai didn’t end there. Nadeer is now one of the partners of Lal Jose’s production house LJ Films.
Those who came to the sets of Arabikatha asking for small roles ended up being a significant part of the crew. They were expert drivers while Lal Jose’s crew members didn’t drive. Even though they didn’t get roles in the movie they were happy to drive around the filmmaker and the crew members.
The shot that made him cry
“It was at Dubai that I had shot the scene which made my eyes well up. In Diamond Necklace there is a shot when Samvritha’s wig gets knocked off her head while dancing with Fahadh’s character at a party. Her character was a cancer patient who had lost her hair after the radiation therapy. I was emotionally overwhelmed when I saw Samvritha’s look on her face when the wig flew off. My eyes teared up when I remembered my friends who had lost hair as part of cancer treatment,” says Lal Jose.
While filming 'Meow' Lal Jose was on cloud nine as he had been receiving great reviews about the Tamil movie Gypsy in which he had played the lead role. Interestingly, he had also dubbed for this movie. Gypsy that was released in Kerala in January this year was directed by National award winner Raj Murugan. Lal Jose promises that 'Meow' starring Soubin Shahir and Mamta Mohandas in the lead roles to be an enjoyable watch. Moreover, he hopes to return to the wonderland of Dubai to film more movies.