Filmmaker Jude Anthany Joseph is on cloud nine as his latest movie ‘2018’ has broken all records at the box office. Jude says that around twenty cinematographers had backed out of the project citing various reasons. Besides, the script was altered around twelve times in the last four years. He added that the makers had entered into an agreement with the OTT platform in order to make the producer financially safe. In an exclusive chat with the members of the journalism committee at the Thiruvananthapuram unit of Malayala Manorama, Jude opened up about the gangs in Malayalam cinema and the changes that have happened in the industry.
Rs 175 crore club
Jude says that he isn’t bothered whether ‘2018’ becomes the first or the last Malayalam movie to enter the Rs 175 crore club. He considers himself fortunate to have enjoyed such a spectacular success. “I had watched the movie with a critical aspect while the post production works were progressing. My aim was to find out mistakes and avoid them. I watched the movie, on the day before submitting the final out, with the mind of an ordinary viewer. After the show ended, I called producer Anto Joseph and said, ‘Chetta, don’t worry; it is a wonderful movie’”, Jude said.
When people backed out of the project
Jude had narrated the story of the movie to producer Anto Joseph in October '2018'. He roped in many prominent technicians and had announced the movie with their names. However, it was only later that the real team was formed. He spoke to around twenty cinematographers. Jude says that most of them backed out after listening to the production plan. “There was even a cinematographer who visited the location and then backed out saying that he wouldn’t be able to hold the camera as his hand required surgery. In the end, it was Akhil George who courageously took up the challenge. The movie that was perceived on a budget of Rs 12 crore rose to Rs 25 crore. Only the producer knows the actual budget of the film,” notes the filmmaker.
The story close to Malayalis hearts
“Two months before the filming began, Anto Joseph said that this was a story that Keralites knew well and that it was a risk to make such a movie. He was ready to make five separate films with the five leading men. He warned me that my career would be ruined if this film was a flop. I assured him that I would work hard since my life and career was at stake. I was sure that every Malayali could relate to this story,” said Jude.
The 'chief minister' controversy
Jude says that ‘2018’ was not a documentary but a real life depiction of how people had faced the biggest disaster that had happened in Kerala. He reasons that a wise chief minister would first think about the ways in which the administration could tackle such a grave situation instead of jumping head on. Jude explains that he had showed a good and able chief minister who doesn’t want the public to get worried and is extremely concerned about the people. “People are raising this criticism without seeing all these aspects,” he said.
Underestimated as a filmmaker
“Before ‘2018’, I had only directed small movies like 'Sara’s', 'Oru Muthassi Gadha' and 'Om Shanti Oshana'. A huge movie like ‘2018’ was directed by someone who wasn’t expected to make such a film. It is true that I was underestimated by everyone.
Being neutral doesn’t mean apolitical. You should have the right to openly point out the rights and wrongs in the society. If we pledge our allegiance to a particular political party, then you may not have the freedom to do that. You cannot call that apolitical attitude,” Jude explains.
Women centric movies
Jude is determined that he would make a movie only if the story can impress him as a viewer. However, he confesses that his assumptions may go wrong when the commercial aspects of the movie are considered. He decided to rope in Vineeth Sreenivasan in ‘Om Shanti Oshana’ when the producer complained that he wasn’t able to sell the film. Jude had added that character only later to add more production value to the film. He enjoyed a unique freedom while doing ‘Oru Muthassi Gadha’ as his first movie was a hit. Jude says that he could have done such a movie with two grandmothers in the lead roles only at that point in his career. But, he cast Vineeth in a crucial role thinking about the producer. Meanwhile, ‘Sara’s’ was made exclusively for the OTT. Jude says that they look for good content and nothing else. The filmmaker vows that he hadn’t deliberately made his movies woman centric as he sees both men and women as equals.
The protest by FEUOK
Jude reveals that ‘2018’ was rejected by two prominent OTT platforms before its release. Finally, the film was bought by Sony Liv. Jude says that he had secured the contract in the beginning itself in order to make the producer financially safe. Jude recalls how his ‘Oru Muthassi Gadha’ which was having a decent run at the theatres was abruptly replaced by the big budget movie ‘Pulimurugan’. Now, when ‘2018’ got released, the theatres owners had shut down the theatres for two days. But, even after the movie premiered on the OTT platform, ‘2018’ continues to draw crowd at the theatres.
“It’s been more than a month since ‘2018’ got released. I haven’t decided about my next movie. It would take some time for me to begin my next project. I am not a prolific filmmaker as I am able to live comfortably even without making back-to-back movies. I would begin doing films when my financial situation changes. I had watched more than forty movies before I took ‘2018’. In this movie, I have followed the method of how movies with an extremely emotional ending could move the audience. But, that doesn’t mean I have copied from other movies. I was focused more on the production value of those films,” notes Jude.
Space for honest people
“I am trying to prove that you can survive in the industry if you are honest. I only have problems when social media becomes abusive. No one has tried to physically assault me. The controversies that are created on social media are like bubbles. I made a mistake when I revealed, in an interview, how actor Antony Varghese had backed out of a movie after receiving Rs 10 lakh as advance. He had returned the money only after sending the makers a legal notice. However, I apologized as soon as I realized that my remarks about his sister wasn’t in good taste,” says Jude.
The reason he changed his name
Jude’s real name is Sijo Joseph. A ardent believer, Jude had once prayed at the St. Jude Church in Angamaly for a personal matter. He vowed that he would spread the Saint’s name everywhere if his prayers were answered. He says that the easiest way to keep his promise was to change his name to Jude. He modified the Antony in his name to Anthany as the latter has a nice ring to it. Jude notes that it was only later that many of his friends had learned that he had changed his name. When ‘Om Shanti Oshana’ was released, one of his friends, after reading his interview in a newspaper, called him and said that the director looked exactly like him.
Not an experiment
“I contacted Midhun Manuel Thomas when I was writing Mammootty’s biography. We discussed six stories sitting at the Aluva Palace. However, we didn’t really like any of them. Meanwhile, producer Sandra Thomas agreed to bankroll Midhun’s movie. He was really happy and took me to a bar at Kaloor to celebrate. He then narrated a story to me and said that hadn’t found a director to direct the movie. He asked me whether I could direct the movie. I immediately agreed as I was a bit tipsy. I called Nivin and narrated the story. Even though Nivin said ‘no’, I lied to Midhun that he had agreed. I also told him that Sandra had invited to meet me the next day. I had planned to tell Sandra that I was backing out. However, she was on board and gave me Rs 15,000 as advance. After that, I decided to do the film. I met Nivin and convinced that I was ready to take up the responsibility of the movie. That is how ‘Om Shanti Oshana’ was made. I came to know about Akhil P Dharmajan from an article that was featured in the Vanitha magazine. I brought Akhil onboard when the writer who agreed to write ‘2018’ had quit. I had to rely on a new writer as the experienced ones denied me a script. It was only G R Indugopan who gave me a story and a completed screenplay,” explains the filmmaker.
The'gangs' in Mollywood
Jude says that veteran filmmaker Fazil had called him after watching ‘2018’. “Fazil sir told me that 2018 was the best Malayalam movie that had hit the theatres until then. I then asked him, ‘What about 'Manichitrathaazhu’?’ He just laughed!
He was curious to know whose decision was it to show the lead actor’s death in the climax. When I said that I had taken all the decisions, he appreciated me saying that it was an excellent decision.
Many veteran directors had called me after watching the movie. The filmmakers of my generation, after watching a good movie, would just say it was 'watchable’. But, the older generation of filmmakers would speak non-stop about the films that they enjoy. I am curious to know how Aashiq Abu and Dileep Pothen make movies. I am interested in knowing about Shyam Pushkaran’s writing process. However, none of it has happened. If ‘2018’ was directed by a filmmaker who belonged to a particular gang, the movie would have garnered international attention due to excellent PR work,” notes Jude.
“Even though Mammootty had initially agreed to turn his autobiography into a movie, he withdrew his support. He might have been skeptical as it was conceived as a fiction. I told three stories to Mohanlal; but, nothing worked out. I would, however, keep narrating stories to him until it happens. I wouldn’t allow anyone to remake ‘2018’. It is alright to release dubbed versions. I have offers to do movies in other languages. But, I am confused whether I would lose whatever I have here if I go elsewhere,” Jude wonders.
The controversial 'bald' statement by Mammootty
Jude is of the opinion that whatever a person speaks in a movie portrays his character or disposition. The filmmaker wonders whether it is right to say that every character in a movie should be politically correct. He confesses that he is often reluctant to write some scenes fearing backlash on the social media. However, he is of the opinion that it is a good thing to avoid body shaming and hurtful dialogues, to a certain extent.
“People misunderstood Mammootty’s comment when he said that I was intelligent, though I have very less hair. An unnecessary ruckus was created. Just imagine how sad Mammootty may have been after it blew up. I was, in fact, planning to do a hair implant after this movie. However, if I do it now, people would say that I did the hair implant as I was hurt by Mammootty’s comments,” Jude says.
From motivation video to feature film
Jude stays near Athani in Aluva. When the deluge happened, he believed that his house wouldn’t get flooded as there isn’t any river close by. He was at the Chitranjali Studio in Thiruvananthapuram, at that time. However, things began changing within a few days after he returned. His elder brother’s house got submerged in the flood waters. By next morning, water had entered the backyard of his house. He immediately moved his aged parents to a nearby hotel. By the time he returned, the water had entered his house. He recalls how the water had risen to his chest level at Athani junction. His car got damaged. He also lost his phone in the deluge. The family had moved to his sister’s house in Manjapra, without any communication with the rest of the world. Jude says that there was no way to know what was happening outside due to power outages. He notes that he couldn’t even let his dear ones know that he was alive.
“I was shocked when I returned to my house after the water subsided. The house was filled with thick silt and mud. I was so depressed as there was nothing left. It was then that an organization called Bodhini contacted me and asked me to do a motivation video to create awareness among the flood victims. At that point, I was the one who needed such a motivation. But, I readily agreed to do that. While referring news paper reports and media reports, I understood that things were graver than I had thought. I read countless stories of how people had survived the disaster with hope and courage. Such small anecdotes that I had found from the news were adopted for the movie. It is true that I couldn’t include everyone who was involved, like the fire force, police and KSEB, in the movie,” Jude says.