'Hridayam' was the perfect relaunch for Merryland banner: Producer Visakh Subramaniam

Visakh Subramaniam
Visakh Subramaniam (2L) with Hridayam crew.

‘Hridayam’ has given a new lease of life to Merryland Studios. It seems ironic that another film with a slightly similar name, ‘Hridayathinte Nirangal’ was their last film when they shut shop in 1979. The Vineeth Sreenivasan directed ‘Hridayam’ headlining Pranav Mohanlal and Kalyani Priyadarshan was produced by one of the iconic production houses in Malayalam cinema, Merryland cinemas.

It is Visakh Subramaniam, the grandson of producer, director P Subramaniam who was the owner of Merryland who has revived their iconic production house. Visakh was sure that Merryland’s comeback film should uphold the prestige of their production banner, which has seen the rise of several stalwarts in Malayalam cinema. He knew he had a reputation to live up to and looks like this move is paying huge dividends as ‘Hridayam’ is successfully running all over the world. Visakh Subramaniam shares his experience working in 'Hridayam', Pranav Mohanlal, and his future plans.

Merryland is back

I am ecstatic to see the banner Merryland on the screen once again. For us, Merryland holds so much eminence as it was a studio started by my grandfather. We wanted to bring back the banner through a successful project. This is a banner that has brought home several state and national awards. I didn’t want to bring embarrassment to such a prestigious name. Though ‘Love Action Drama’ is my first film, I hadn’t used the Merryland banner.

Visakh Subramaniam Interview 3
Visakh Subramaniam Interview 3

Along with Aju Varghese and Dhyan Sreenivasan, we started a banner called ‘Fantastic Films’ and produced that film. That film helped me to understand the nuances of film production and it got us profits. The success of that film gained our confidence. Whenever I went to the sets of ‘Love Action Drama’ everyone wanted to know when Merryland will be back. Mostly people who worked with my grandfather.

A voice inside kept telling me that Merryland’s comeback will be through a Vineeth Sreenivasan film. It was soon after ‘Jacobinte Swargarajyam’ that I told this wish to Vineeth. After ‘Aadhi’ (2018) I told Vineeth if he is ever planning a project with Pranav, he should let me know. My grandfather and Pranav’s grandfather were great friends, and we are all on great terms to this day.

I had already made up my mind that Merryland’s comeback film should be through that partnership. Like they say if we wish for something badly, the universe conspires to make it happen—it happened in my case too. In 2018, Vineeth called me and told me to come to Chennai, as he had something in mind. I also took Aju to meet Vineeth. He told me this thread and said, he had Pranav in mind but will wait till the script is finished to inform Pranav. I was overjoyed.

In December 2019, we announced ‘Hridayam’ with Pranav Mohanlal. We started the shoot in January 2020. But the unexpected pandemic and lockdown put a lid on our plans. We had to wait till 2021 to finish the shooting. We had made ‘Hridayam’ for theatres and we did get huge OTT offers. I will of course get profits from this deal but there are so many people who worked behind this film. Besides I am also a theatre owner.

A lot of factors went behind our final decision to make it a direct theatre release. I had faith in this film, I wanted to make sure Merryland’s comeback film should be through theatres and there was the matter of theatre owners financial crisis to be taken into consideration. I am happy we made this decision. I remember declaring that it will be a theatre release on the day they announced an unexpected lockdown on Sundays. We weren’t even thinking of the profits then. We didn’t want the Kerala theatres to shut down. For the last three weeks, there is only ‘Hridayam’ in theatres. It is still running in packed houses. It was after seeing the financial mess of theatre owners that I decided to release it in theatres. OTT release will be after 2 or 3 weeks.

A support that was crucial

‘Hridayam’ wasn’t an easy film to shoot. It required a lot of locations and actors. And we weren’t sure that theatres would be opening anytime soon. If not for Vineeth and Pranav’s cooperation this film wouldn’t have been made so smoothly. They stood with me throughout this journey.

Between 2020 January to 2022 January, Vineeth didn’t write a script or do another film. Pranav also didn’t do another film. They had even told me that they will take their salaries only after the release of the film. That gave me a lot of confidence. They said we are all with you in this.

Pranav’s family was also there with me as moral support. It was Suchitra chechi who kept us all together. She always had a piece of sage advice during a crisis. And that support was there till the end of the film. The Sunday lockdown was announced a few hours before the release of ‘Hridayam.’ Suchitra chechi told us— “Don’t worry. Go ahead. I am with you.” If not for their support, it would have been difficult for me to release the film in theatres.

A family film

Suchitra chechi isn’t someone who listens to scripts. But during the script reading session of ‘Hridayam’, we asked her if she can sit with us. So we (Appu, Suchitra chechi, Vineeth) all sat together to listen to the script. She seemed to have enjoyed the script. Right from the beginning, she was confident about the project. I remember while shooting in Chennai, she would often help in getting the locations that were initially difficult to procure. It was due to her that we managed to obtain permission to use many locations. During the lockdown, she would often call and give us a pep talk. She stood by us like the rock of Gibraltar.

Visakh Subramaniam Interview 6
Visakh Subramaniam Interview 6

We were welcomed with open arms

We were confident about the audience acceptance when we released ‘Hridayam’ in theatres. When we saw the overwhelming response to ‘Hridayam’ in theatres we knew we had made the right decision. Even the last show was houseful when the theatres were shut down in Thiruvananthapuram. Theatres owners from Kochi, Malabar, and Chennai called to thank. “We were wondering how to pay our loans this month. Thankfully ‘Hridayam’ saved us.”

We were sad to see theatres being shut down in Thiruvanthapuram. The fact that I couldn’t screen my banner film in my hometown and that we couldn’t celebrate the film’s success here was a major letdown. It is heartening to see the love Thiruvananthapuram people had for Merryland and our family is also waiting to see Merryland’s successful comeback film in theatres. In fact, my first film, ‘Love Action Drama’ was a huge hit in Thiruvanthapuram. You have no idea the number of phone calls I got from Thiruvananthapuram. There were those who saw the FDFS and called me and I was there in the theatre at that time. Once again, I am happy to watch people crowding for the first-day first show. Their love is overwhelming.

I didn’t really look at the gains and losses

I am not planning to disclose the film’s collection reports. Between Vineeth and myself we had decided not to sell the film in those lines. But one thing I can say, we got a lot of profits. I got more than I expected. Despite the three-week lockdown, we didn’t really incur any losses.

OTT Release soon

There will be an OTT release for ‘Hridayam.’ But we haven’t really decided the date. ‘Hridayam’s satellite rights went to Asianet and OTT rights to Hotstar. The film won't leave the theatres soon. During Valentine's day week, the film will be there in theatres. Even after the OTT release, it won't be removed from the theatre. This is a film you should see in the theatre. If you want to watch the overall beauty of the film, you need to see it in a theatre. Make sure you don’t miss out on the visual experience of the film.

Experience of working with Vineeth Sreenivasan and Dhyan Sreenivasan

Vineeth and Dhyan are my comfort zone. We are a partnership that will be together during good times and bad times. When Dhyan made ‘Love Action Drama’, Aju, me, and Dhyan started a production house called ‘Fantastic films’ and we produced the film under that banner. We distributed Vineeth’s production, ‘Helen.’ So many people have asked me why I only collaborate with friends.

It is when we are in a crisis that we realise the value of such collaborations with friends. ‘Hridayam’ took 2 years to release. It’s only because Vineeth knows me so well that I was able to handle this situation. We don’t interfere in each other’s work and that helps. We are both equipped to handle our respective jobs competently. And we are both aware of that. That’s why we have been together, and our associations have been successful so far.

The film went beyond the budget

Even without Covid, ‘Hridayam’ required a large budget. Besides some 12 wedding scenes, there are so many locations and actors required for this film. These wedding scenes might just last a few seconds on screen, but we had to invest in the costumes, guests, 12 locations, and decorations and that naturally cost money.

Covid also resulted in an excessive budget. We had to make sure they did their RTPCR tests and take their vaccine shots resulting in excess budget. We haven’t compromised anywhere, be it in budget or quality. That effort can be seen in the film. It is only because of Vineeth that we were able to contain the budget to this much at least.

Visakh Subramaniam Interview 4
Visakh Subramaniam Interview 4

We didn’t make ‘Hridayam’ for the profits. It was our dream project. We wanted to make sure ‘Hridayam’ was as memorable an experience as a ‘Dil Chahta Hain,’ ‘Bangalore Days’, or ‘Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara.’ But this experience can only be savoured in a theatre. I still remember some of my memorable theatre experiences. Those days before online booking when we would stand in a queue to get tickets and the euphoria of watching FDFS. Vineeth and I wanted to make sure people experienced that same euphoria for ‘Hridayam.’ We wanted ‘Hridayam’ to be a memorable experience for everyone.

Merryland family is happy

My family was anxious to see what kind of film I was planning for the Merryland banner. Since my first film was a success, they had some faith in me. But then we can only predict a film's fate after watching the crowd for FDFS. We were confident about the film’s success. Though we had a choice between OTT and theatre, it was our confidence in the film that made us release it in theatres. So right now I can hold my head high in front of my family.

Now my father is getting more phone calls than me. Your son’s film is good, it was great to watch the Merryland banner on screen are some of the comments my father and my uncles are receiving. My parents are happy to have made a good film under this iconic banner.

I am grateful to Vineeth. I have seen his hard work in the last two years and also the results. I stood with him like a friend. It’s thanks to him that the Merryland banner is back in form. Through this film, we have introduced a lot of new talents and of course, a musician like Hisham was able to showcase his talent. If this film was a memorable film for a lot of people involved in the project like cameraman Viswa, Ashwin and Divya it’s all thanks to Vineeth. All the credit for ‘Hridayam’ should go to Vineeth.

Pranav’s career-best

I have been friends with Pranav since childhood. We are able to understand an actors' talent by seeing him act. But when Pranav was acting our crew members were astonished that he had so much talent in him. That’s why we wanted to bring this film to the theatres. It is said that Pranav is a reluctant actor but then he has never acted in a film with disinterest. He has done all four films with 100% dedication.

If the shoot is at 6:30 am, he will be on the set at 6 am. He would make sure to invite all his fellow actors to his caravan and make them comfortable. Pranav deserves the success of this film. More than an actor he is a great human being. We are happy with his success.

Kalyani’s mischief

That’s an interesting incident. While we were shooting at Munnar, Vineeth insisted on a small crew. Women had some excess baggage. Kalyani said she can manage as long as someone helped her carry some of her luggage. But when we got down at the Munnar bus stand, she started ordering us around like how Revathy did in ‘Kilukkam.’

Though everyone reached their destination, we were still struggling with our bags. When I think of that incident, I think of Joju’s predicament in ‘Kilukkam’— “Whatever made me think of this plan?” Our friendship started from there. Priyan uncle and my father are great friends. Now Kalyani calls me for any sort of doubts. More than a film, ‘Hridayam’ was a family get-together. We were sad when the shooting got over.

Visakh Subramaniam Interview 7
Visakh Subramaniam Interview 7

New Projects

We are planning to do two or three films for ‘Fantastic Banner.’ When it comes to the Merryland banner, we will think carefully before deciding. A lot of people are approaching us to do a film under the banner. I have told Vineeth that the same team should do one more film together. If we get a good script, we will once again do a film under the Merryland banner. Right now we are awaiting the release of ‘Prakashan Parakatte’ under Fantastic Banner written by Dhyan Sreenivasan. 

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