Wanted to cast none but Manju Warrier, says 'Ayisha’ director

The film was shot mostly in Ras al-Khaimah. Photos: Instagram | @aamir_pallikal

Manju Warrier’s sensitive portrayal of Nilambur Ayisha, Kerala’s first Muslim theatre artist, is receiving a lot of praise. Even before its release, the film had generated a lot of discussions on social media, especially after people mercilessly trolled Manju Warrier’s dance moves and costumes in a song.

‘Ayisha’ director Aamir Pallikal opens up about the film, the reception and why they thought Manju Warrier was the perfect choice to portray the role.

What made you choose Manju Warrier for this role?

We needed someone who had both charisma and star value to carry a character like ‘Ayisha’, especially since it was a high-budget movie. And I don’t think there is any other actress in Mollywood who fits that bill but Manju chechi. She was our only option. The scriptwriter Ashif Kakkodi and I had initially approached her for another script but that did not work out and we decided to move ahead with ‘Ayisha’.

Critics have pointed out that ‘Ayisha’ only focused on one aspect of Nilambur Ayisha’s life…

The veteran actress needs no introduction in Kerala. All are familiar with her commitment to communist ideology and the risk she took while foraying into theatre. The actress has spoken about these different aspects of her life on various stages. However, many don’t know about her life as a gaddama (house help) in Saudi Arabia. She spent 20 years of her life there, mostly because she bonded well with the Arab family she was working for. Had pursued her passion and stayed back in Kerala, she would have been another KPAC Lalitha or reached the heights attained by Kaviyoor Ponnamma. We wanted to portray that part of her life where she chose humanity over her career.

The film is distinct as over 70 per cent of the cast are Arabs

Yes, the movie required a huge Arab cast since the story revolved around Ayisha’s life in Saudi Arabia. We shot the film in Ras al Khaimah in the UAE. At least 2,000 Arabs auditioned for the role. The experience was really good.

How did Prabhu Deva get involved with the project?

It was Manju chechi’s dream to bring Prabhu Deva on board. She not only suggested it but also took great efforts to bring him in to choreograph the steps for the song ‘Kannilu Kannilu’.

But that song and Manju’s dance steps became subject to a lot of trolls

Yes, in a way we expected it. Manju chechi, herself, would forward the trolls to us and we would have a hearty laugh together. There is nothing wrong with being trolled. In a way, it only helped our film. Also, those who watched the song in the film will surely realise why we opted to take such creative liberty with the dance.

What did Nilambur Ayisha say after watching the film?

She was only too happy to see this aspect of her life being portrayed in a film. She even remarked that the movie will be her legacy.

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