I told Lal sir to be brazen: B Unnikrishnan interview

B Unnikrishnan-Mohanlal
'This is the first time I am directing an out-and-out mass entertainer,' says B Unnikrishnan who directed the movie 'Neyyattinkara Gopante Aaraattu' starring Mohanlal.

The film is a celebration of Mohanlal the superstar, arguably the most saleable actor in Kerala. The super hit combination of Udayakrishna and B Unnikrishnan and Mohanlal has come together again to conjure the Mohanlal magic. B Unnikrishnan talks to Manorama online about his latest film and Mohanlal.

Aarattu’ is sold as a celebratory film?

This is the first time I am directing an out-and-out mass entertainer. And as promised this will be one such film. It helps that I have an experienced writer like Udayakrishna who is known for scripting such mass entertaining films. I told him I wanted a complete mass entertaining package, and he wrote the script keeping that in mind. Mohanlal also gave his nod for such a film after a long time. We shot the film during the peak Covid time. We had to take RTPCR tests for over 1000 artists who had to be part of several scenes and create a bio bubble for them. Then our confidence was that this was a film meant for the 70 mm and not OTT. That’s why we waited so long for the film’s release. Now that the situation is a lot better, we decided to release the film. We hope the film will provide much happiness and entertainment for those who were struggling during these tough times.

How did you get the thread for the film?

We have been planning a film for Mohanlal for the longest time. When we realised that the first film, we had planned wouldn’t be feasible as we had to shoot at various locations, we dropped the idea. That’s when Lal sir told us to think of a complete entertainer that can be extensively shot in Kerala. That’s when Udayan came up with Neyyattinkara Gopan and how we expanded the thread and came to ‘Aarattu.’ There are four actions sequences, four songs, dance. Lal sir is someone who has successfully pulled off several mass entertainers. We have borrowed the template from there. I think people will be disappointed if there won’t be such references. Along with that, we wanted to bring some freshness to the story. We have tried to bring that in ‘Aarattu.’

We haven’t seen such an energetic Mohanlal in any of your films before. How did that transformation happen?

It was a delight to watch his transformation as Neyyattinkara Gopan. In my earlier films, he has always played a character going through a lot of trauma and pain. He has never been such a happy character before in my films. He loosened up for the role and approached it happily without any inhibitions. That was the brief I had for him—to go all out, be uninhibited. At one point he told me— “You want to be shameless on screen? So be it.”

Why did you give ‘Lucifer’ dialogues to Neyyattinkara Gopan?

Not just ‘Lucifer’, we have included dialogues from several other films in ‘Aarattu.’ It is done deliberately and that will be clear once you watch the film.

How did you bring AR Rahman to ‘Aarattu.’?

That was difficult. But it was crucial for our story. Actor Rahman was a common friend and reached out to Rahman through him. He organised a virtual meet with AR Rahman. That’s how he came to the film and his portions were shot in Chennai.

Was it difficult to rope a villain for ‘Aarattu’?

The villain is always crucial in a mass masala film. Mohanlal’s hero needs a villain who is as formidable as him. That’s how we approached Garuda Ram. Also, the film had characters who came from various places. We were also targeting an audience outside Kerala therefore we had to craft the film that way. I think that has happened in ‘Aarattu.’

There are over 40 characters in ‘Aarattu’, how was the experience of shooting with so many actors?

Johny Antony used to say that for ‘Aarattu’ he has at least taken 14 RTPCR tests. It’s been a while since a film has come featuring 47 main characters. And they have all done a lot of RTPCR tests. Some actors would stay at the location till the end of the shoot to avoid getting Covid. I am also grateful to Nedumudi Venu who agreed to act in the film despite his ill health and Covid situation. He was enthusiastic as he wanted to spend time with Mohanlal. He was there for 6-7 days and would regale us with old stories. Gopi Ashan also agreed to be part of a song with Mohanlal and Nedumudi Venu. After reaching home, Venu chettan texted me saying he enjoyed the shooting days. He passed away after finishing the dubbing and it was such a shock for us. Also Kottayam Pradeep. Heartbreaking.

The idea of including rap with theme music has been widely loved by the audience. How did that come?

I was adamant that theme music should include rap. We created an idea for theme music and discussed it with Rahul Raj. He did a great job. It was Rahul who told me about rapper Fejo. I was already familiar with Fejo’s rap. We had a lot of discussions. I think Rahul has done an amazing job with music and BGM. Right from the beginning, he would ask me exactly what I had in mind and worked accordingly. He definitely gave a product beyond my expectations. I am hopeful that people will love it.

Recently there was a lot of criticism over Mohanlal’s alpha male characters. Is ‘Aarattu’ a reply to that?

Criticism will be there, but we are saying that this is a humble film. A film made solely for entertainment. However much you try to criticise the film, the film doesn’t claim anything more than what it is--a mass entertainer. We are not making any tall claims with ‘Aarattu.’

Next project?

I am planning my next project with Udayakrishna. That will also be a mass film and I have Mammootty in mind. You will be updated about this project. I need to be sure about this project first.  

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