Anaswara Rajan in 'Superstar Sharanya'
Anaswara Rajan in 'Super Sharanya' Image Credit: Supplied

Don’t judge the new Malayalam film ‘Super Sharanya’ by its title.

It may have the word ‘super’ on the tin, but it’s one of those cinematic marvels with no superstars and is driven by a clutch of unknown, inexperienced, but hugely talented actors. 

There’s no bankable Kerala hero with immense box-office clout in the league of Mohanlal, Mammootty or Prithviraj even doing a cameo or marching ahead with the story. However, director Girish AD — who made his debut with an extraordinary tale about ordinary high school students ‘Thaneer Mathan Dinangal’ — isn’t worried.

For him, a sturdy story with lovable characters is always the spine of any project. Incidentally, ‘Super Sharanya’ boasted a cast and crew all between the ages of 18 and 22.

“Even in my first film ‘Thaneer Mathan Dinangal’, there were no known faces barring Vineeth ettan [Vineeth Sreenivasan] in that film. It was a small-budget film with a big heart,” said Girish AD in an interview with Gulf News in Malayalam. Made in 2019 on a skimpy budget of Rs20 million, the thoroughly enjoyable high-school student dramedy starring Anaswara Rajan, Mathew Thomas, and Naslen K Gafoor, collected a whopping Dh500 million at the box-office, catapulting the entire team into instant celebrities among the Kerala youth. A bunch of high school kids navigating crushes, annoying teachers, and dealing with puberty made for an enjoyable fare.

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Vineeth Sreenivasan and Anaswara Rajan in 'Thaneer Mathan Dinangal' Image Credit: Supplied

Two years later, director Girish AD has swung back into action with his second feature ‘Super Sharanya’ and he hasn’t strayed far from the template of his first successful film.

Instead of a story set against a hormone-driven and emotional high school, ‘Super Sharanya’ takes you into an engineering college campus in Kerala and its group of female students.

The title role is played by Anaswara Rajan, who also featured in a prominent role in his debut blockbuster. She’s become a staple of sorts in Girish’s projects.

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Anaswara Rajan Image Credit: Supplied

“Sharanya is a shy and introverted girl. She’s emotional and doesn’t know how she would react in many situations. The movie charts her change in personality, the problems that she encounters at a crucial phase during her engineering college days and the changes in her personality and life. It’s a fun entertainer,” said Rajan in a separate interview.

Rajan strongly believes that the youngsters in Kerala and audiences with mature tastes will find her film appealing.

The actress, who has previously starred as Manju Warrier’s on-screen daughter in the hit film ‘Udhaharanam Sujatha’, also believes it’s one of those rare Malayalam films that’s told from the female perspective, but isn’t gender biased.

“When you go back to the campus films that have released earlier, you always have stories told from a male perspective. But a film where a female engineering student is the central character and how the story plays out from her female gaze is what makes this film different,” said Girish AD.

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Actor Naslen K Gafoor in 'Super Sharanya' Image Credit: Supplied

His leading lady, however, believes that the story being told from a female gaze doesn’t mean that the boys or men will be excluded from enjoying the film.

Both agree that the pandemic has put everyone in a sombre mood, and a healthy entertainer like ‘Super Sharanya’ — without nasty villains, or large conflicts like nuclear warfare — will be a welcome antidote. The film, which released in cinemas across Kerala last week, was met with mostly favourable reviews and was lauded for its charming characters. The movie shines a spotlight on ordinary folks, who lead relatively simple and staid lives, while joining the league of distinct Malayalam films that don’t derive its strength from bombastic plots and larger-than-life heroes.

During the pandemic, stirring Malayalam-language films such as Indran’s ‘Home’, a tale of a retired father fighting to remain relevant and technologically forward, and Fahadh Faasil’s dark thriller ‘Joji’ that presented a Malayali’s take on ‘Macbeth’, proved that there’s a robust audience for no-frills and no-fuss films. Actress Parvathy and Biju Menon’s lockdown tale ‘Aarkariyaam’ was another gripping film set mostly in a large home in Kerala with limited characters.

Parvathy in 'Aarkariyam'
Parvathy in 'Aarkariyam' Image Credit: Supplied

“A good story told in an entertaining manner is always the secret behind an engaging film. We are going to the basics,” said Girish AD.

The director reveals that the budget of his second feature – less than Rs50m – was marginally higher than his debut film, but shooting a film during a pandemic came with its own set of challenges.

“We had begun shooting and then the lockdown in Kerala started and there were so many restrictions in place. After our first schedule of filming, there was a break of five months. It was distressing and the shooting was incredibly tough … But we all banded together as a tribe and made this film happen,” said Girish AD. He’s a director known to have a pulse on what his young audiences want and desires.

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Anaswara Rajan with her 'Superstar Sharanya' team Image Credit: Supplied

Actress Rajan, whose film career is studded with a lean plank of five movies, is equally confident of her director’s strengths.

“Right now, everyone is in a mood to enjoy a light-hearted film that is fun and comic. This will film remind you of your own college, the fun episodes, and those twists in your college years … There’s a lot of nostalgia there,” said Rajan.

Anaswara Rajan
Anaswara Rajan Image Credit: Supplied

Rajan, 19, with a cherubic face and personality stumbled into acting for the love of it and has stayed back ever since. She completed her 12th standard and is now enjoying a gap year before she joins college for real. Her mother seems to be her publicist too and co-ordinates interviews. She isn’t surrounded by an army of talent managers or minders and prefers to keep things simple — just like her films.

“But I don’t like being called an outsider … The truth is that everybody is an outsider in the film industry and only merit counts. I like doing good films and I am here because I love what I am doing. I am no trained actor, but I did some mono-act and street theatre in school – does that count?,” said Rajan with a laugh.

But despite her lean stock of films, Rajan — who idolised Alia Bhatt in ‘Highway’ — has featured in a string of interesting films. Very soon, she will also be seen with Tamil actress Trisha.

Alia Bhatt (left) and director Imtiaz Ali on the sets of Highway. Image Credit: IANS

“My first film was with Manju chechi [Warrier] and it just happened to be a female-oriented film, but I don’t look at films through the lens of someone’s gender. I just want to be a part of good cinema and movies like ‘Super Sharanya’ tick that box. Boys, girls, women, and men across all ages will enjoy this film,” said Rajan.

Don’t miss it!

‘Super Sharanya’ is out in UAE cinemas from Friday