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If you’re from the South Indian state of Kerala, you’ve probably grown up listening to the story of Kayamkulam Kochunni, the notorious highwayman of Kayamkulam (from the erstwhile Travancore state), who, in Robin Hood style, robbed the rich to give to the poor. This 19th century story is now brought to life on screen with a multi star cast, led by Kerala top actor Nivin Pauly. As the countdown begins, director Rosshan Andrews and script writer Sanjay talk about the making of the Rs450 million epic n an exclusive chat with Gulf News tabloid!.

The inspiration

For script writers Bobby-Sanjay (sons of noted Malayalam producer-actor Prem Prakash), their first introduction to Kochunni was through the pages of Amar Chitra Katha comics.

“Kochunni was our favourite in our childhood days,” said younger brother Sanjay. “When we read his story again in Aithihyamala (collection of folktales) in our teenage years, we found that we were still excited by the character. Since we started writing scripts for films, we had this longing to write Kochunni’s story.”

After completing work on School Bus, Roshan Andrews’ last film, they gave Andrews a copy of Kochunni’s Amar Chitra comic.

Andrews was immediately drawn to the story of the highway robber.

Challenge accepted

Director Andrews, who admires David Lean’s films, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago, was keen on directing a film of this magnitude someday. Turning a comic book story into a screenplay for a film is not easy, especially in the absence of a biography on Kochunni. A research team was appointed to source information on the infamous man.

After a friend mentioned about a temple dedicated to Kochunni in Kozhencherry (Kerala), Sanjay and Andrews visited the shrine. They were surprised to see Kochunni’s idol, who was Muslim, being revered in a Hindu temple. “We learnt more about Kochunni there,” said Sanjay. “It was interesting collecting information about him little by little. Reading between the lines and relying on our imagination, we gradually formed a sketch of Kochunni-more like fitting the pieces of a puzzle to get the final picture.”

Following discussions with Rosshan, Bobby and Sanjay arrived at a screenplay. Kayamkulam Kochunni is their sixth film with Rosshan, a journey that began with Notebook and includes the critically-acclaimed films Traffic, Mumbai Police and How Old Are You?

An extraordinary story of an ordinary man

Kayamkulam Kochunni is the story of an ordinary man,” added Andrews. “He was not born a thief. What then led to his transformation? What is it about this man that makes him a larger than life picture? I wanted to make his life story into a film.”

Rosshan’s visualised a vast canvas. While this two scriptwriters filled it up with a host of characters, they often had to rack up their brains over names for the supporting characters.

“That was one of the challenges. Today’s names of people won’t work for characters of the nineteenth century, smiled Sanjay. For the first time in his career, Andrews worked on the previsualistion and designed the action sequences himself before commencing shooting. Meticulous planning became his second name.

First choice

Pauly was their first and only choice to play the title role. Pauly was put through training in martial arts, horse riding and sword fighting. Calling him a director’s actor, Andrews said, “He is like clay I could mould him any way. Nivin is brilliant and capable of several emotions including humour. His performance is mind boggling. The supporting cast is interesting with Babu Antony (as Kochunni’s Kalari mentor), Tamil actress Priya Anand (Kochunni’s lover Janaki), Sunny Wayne, Kannada actress Priyanka Thimmesh (as Kochunni’s wife), Tamil actor MS Bhaskar, Manikandan R Achari (as Kochunni’s close friend Vava) and Sudheer Karamana, to mention a few.

A star cameo

Mohanlal, who worked with Andrews on three films, makes a cameo appearance in the film. He is Ithikara Pakki, another Robin Hood like thief of that era. Hailing from Ithikara, he was called a pakki (bird) for his physical agility.

“Ithikara Pakki fought for the downtrodden. He was Kochunni’s predecessor as well as his contemporary,” said Sanjay.

Technically sound

Shot in Mangalore, Kochi, Udupi, Kadava, Sri Lanka and Goa, Kayamkulam Kochunni follows the life of Kochunni from the age of seven, through his teenage years to an adult. “We have explored his love, his friendship, marriage and his transformation into a highway thief. Come and watch it like a child,” said Andrews. The technical team reads of the best in the industry. Sreekar Prasad is the editor, Gopi Sundar has scored music. Three DOPs Binod Pradhan, Nirav Shah and Sudheer Palsane have handled the camera. Produced by Sri Gokulam Movies, Kayamkulam Kochunni is ready to enthral viewers.

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Don’t miss it

Kayamkulam Kochunni releases in the UAE on October 11.