Director Anjali Menon, who changed the landscape of Malayalam films with her seminal hit Bangalore Days in 2014, returns with Koode.
But her latest film, starring Prithviraj, Parvathy and Nazriya Nazim out now in the UAE, isn’t anything like Bangalore Days, claims the award-winning director.
“Bangalore Days was about dreams, aspirations, ambitions, big city etc. Koode is about finding one’s way. It’s about the journey in one’s minds, it is about unspoken angst, home, family ... It is a more real space,” said Menon in an interview with tabloid!
Koode chronicles the life of Joshua (Prithviraj) who has been working in Dubai since the age of 15. He gets a call to return home and the film explores his journey to re-connect with his family in Kerala.
Menon, who grew up in Dubai, takes a shot at showcasing immigrant experiences in this slice-of-life film. She has just one request: “Close your eyes and open your minds”.
Bangalore Days (2014) was a monumental blockbuster that scooped several awards that year. Are you weighed down by the expectations on your next film ‘Koode’?
For me every film is an independent film and I treat every film as mine as my first film. I am not thinking about what happened before it.
Why was there such a long gap between ‘Bangalore Days’ and ‘Koode’?
In 2011, I had a baby and a week after my son’s birth I started to work. When he was around three months I had started on the post-production of Manjaadikuru. After that film and Ustaad Hotel, I jumped into making Bangalore Days. My son was two then.
After Bangalore Days, I felt I wanted to stop work and spend time with my child. I really wanted to be there during the first five years of his childhood. If I worked, I knew I was going to miss out on his childhood and I wasn’t ready to do that. After he became five, I began thinking about another project. For me, my son is my absolute priority and comes before cinema or film.
What should we know about ‘Koode’?
I would love the audience to close their eyes and open their minds when they come into watch Koode. It’s nothing like Bangalore Days. There is a great deal of introspection in Koode and a different level of sensitivity. It has different moods. Koode is an emotional film.
Prithviraj was telling us about your unique way of directing him and that you gave him his lines in English which he had to translate into Malayalam …
Prithviraj was given a full bound script in English and he’s someone with a photographic memory. Once he reads the script, he just doesn’t forget the dialogues, but I didn’t want that kind of a performance nor did I want him to go into that space.
There is a great deal of introspection in ‘Koode’ and a different level of sensitivity. It has different moods.”
- ANJALI MENON | Filmmaker
He is someone who doesn’t come to a rehearsal camp. He knows his lines in a snap. Therefore, I gave him the script in English as I wanted his higher degree of involvement in the creation of this character. He joined us just before his segment began. He wasn’t able to join us earlier for the interaction either. Our interaction was phone-based. In order to make his character his own, I did that.
He would go into a scene with scenes from the script in English and then he would say the dialogues in Malayalam. The ball was in his court. And there were some scenes where I would show the Malayalam script, even if he had already formulated how he would say something in his mind. All this was to make the character, Joshua, his own. I believe a character is born between a writer, director and an actor.
What’s your process of directing like?
I am a writer as well so I feel the need to share whatever I know of a character with my cast. It’s a process where they begin by asking me questions like — ‘what’s he or she like, what does he do’. But at some point, without even realising it my actors would have made a connection with their characters, and that’s when I begin asking them questions.
It means my actors have engaged enough with their character and it has begun becoming their own. The transfer has happened. Every film of mine has rehearsal camps that last seven or eight days. It is an icebreaker session and I got my crew involved as well. New actors like the artiste who played Prithvi at a younger age was facing the camera for the first time. The camp helped them be far more comfortable.
You seem to have struck a casting coup with ‘Koode’ as it marks the return of Nazriya Nazim to the big screen along with A-listers such as Prithviraj and Parvathy, who are huge box office draws. Do you consider the bankability of actors before casting them?
Good actors bring in a certain value because people trust them and expect them to give a certain standard of performance. But here the casting has been done because the characters demanded them and required actors like them. It was not about casting stars. At the end of the day, they have to do justice to the character.
I engage with my actors first and I see if they are emotionally available to do these roles and that is important. It is crucial that they emotionally connect to the characters.
‘Koode’ was partly filmed in the UAE, a country that you grew up in.
The scenes set here are important. We shot in Sharjah and Joshua plays a person who works there. We show him in his work environment. The workers that you see in that scene are real workers. Their faces tell the story. Those faces reflect their immigrant experiences and we have shown that it’s not an easy life. Many homes in Kerala are surviving because of the Gulf money these men send home and they return to India only after four or five years. Joshua is a person like that.
In ‘Koode’, we are trying to show a different kind of man — a real man. Men are being mispresented in our films.”
- ANJALI MENON | Filmmaker
‘Koode’ is Joshua’s story. But how important are women’s voices in a film?
Women’s voices are important, but why is everyone only discussing about women’s roles and why are we not discussing how men are portrayed in our films?
It is high time we look at portrayal of all genders and the way our men are portrayed in films are equally important. Unfortunately, we have so much of cinema that normalises unacceptable behaviour from men and that requires our attention. In Koode, we are trying to show a different kind of man — a real man. There is a saying that we rarely see the kind of men we see on the big screen in real life and we rarely see women on the big screen as strong as the ones in real life.
There is a huge disconnect. My work is to try to find balance at both. Men are being mispresented in our films. Men have emotions and men cry too. Men have issues with communication. How often do you see it in our films though? How often do you see a man struggling to communicate or reach out? You hardly do. My attempt is that. My attempt is to create a more balanced gender portrayal.
Do you think our films have the power to alter minds and perceptions?
Cinema holds a lot of power. So when some people see a Bollywood hero smack the bottom of an actress in a public space, they assume that it is acceptable behaviour. How we portray those things is very important. Their stardom is being emulated.
If people change hairstyles based on their favourite hero, why wouldn’t they emulate their behaviour too? It’s important to show sensible men and women. We need to show fathers engaging with the children. We have to show the real world. I feel the need to show that rather than making them larger-than-life.
It’s believed that Parvathy’s recent film ‘My Story’ was unofficially boycotted when she spoke against misogyny in Malalayam films. Do you fear that ‘Koode’, in which she plays a role, will be adversely affected too?
Audiences always make a choice on whether to watch a film or not. We cannot blame any other circumstance.
Don’t Miss It!
Koode is out in the UAE now.
Did you know?
Director Anjali Menon and actor Prithviraj shot Koode’s crucial scenes in an oil refinery?
“They were here in Sharjah for just two days. Apart from the heat, everything went smoothly,” said local line producer Mini Sarma of Seven Media, who facilitated the shoot.