Malayalam cinema can get where Iranian and Korean films are today, says Aattam director Anand Ekarshi

Malayalam cinema can get where Iranian and Korean films are today, says Aattam director Anand Ekarshi

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The Malayalam film industry has a long history of putting out high quality cinema on shoestring budgets. Aattam, which is now showing on OTT after winning critical acclaim in theatres, is yet another high calibre movie from the industry. (Also Read – Aadujeevitham The Goat Life box office collection day 1: Prithviraj Sukumaran film gets great opening, earns over 7 cr)

Anand Ekarshi's Aattam is streaming on Prime Video India
Anand Ekarshi’s Aattam is streaming on Prime Video India

Directed by Anand Ekarshi, who has nearly two decades of theatre experience, the suspense drama with deep psychological undertones has been receiving rave reviews. Excerpts from an interview with the director:

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How did the thought of doing Aattam emerge?

All of us in our theatre group, Lokadharmi, had gone on a one-day trip, during which actor Vinay Forrt suggested the possibility of doing a movie together. I was trying to script some other project at that time and felt guilty why I had not thought of a film featuring all of these highly capable actors at Lokadharmi. I dropped the other project and decided to script Aattam. I am glad I did.

How did you convince the producer? This was a project largely with unknown actors, apart from 2-3 of them, and you are relatively new to the movie industry too.

The hugely positive factor was the presence of a producer like Ajith Joy, who understood our needs. When I first approached him, I went prepared with a 10-minute pilot of the movie. As I was making a movie with largely newcomers, except for people like Vinay Forrt and Kalabhavan Shajohn, I had to show the producer what I was capable of. Once the producer agreed, he backed us throughout.

I was very clear that the production quality had to be good and the producer was ready to spend for it. For the rest of the things like accommodation of actors or any other requirements, we were ready to compromise.

The production budget of the movie was around 3 crore, plus the promotional expenses.

Aattam is heavy on psychology, drama and philosophy in nearly equal measure. How difficult was it to execute the script and dialogues?

It was tough. There were 13 characters who had their own perspectives which had to be presented in the movie. It was vital to have their character arcs consistent throughout. I would stick sketches of the characters on the wall while writing, to maintain the continuity of perspectives. The approach was all about exploring the characters, their motives and capture all the possibilities on screen. I did not want to make a statement on the subject. There was no intention of sitting on a high horse and preaching.

The movie centres around one particular incident that happens to the central female character. All other characters revolve around this central theme. There is a mob psychology at one end and then there are individual opinions, each different in its own right. The viewers have enjoyed this clash.

The movie has a lot to do with behavioural psychology. One one side, we have group dynamics at play and on the other end, there are individual opinions. How one behaves in a group situation is often different from when confronted individually. I found this very fascinating and tried to capture this on screen. Even the female central character (portrayed by Zarin Shihab) has shades of grey. She had initially come prepared to tell a lie, but then changes track later. So, there’s this constant struggle that each character deals with. The hypocrisy shows. In my experience, in a group situation people may not express themselves truly. It’s the individual who is more likely to seek justice.

The acting of all the actors involved have been top notch. How did you pull that off, considering many of them had never acted in movies before?

We had 35 days of intense rehearsals. Except 2-3 of them, the others had not acted in movies before, though they had years and years of theatre experience. So, the effort was to make them get used to ways of acting in front of a movie camera. But they picked up quickly and all of them did their roles quite brilliantly.

 

Now that Aattam is a success, what next?

There are 1-2 subjects in mind. I plan to start writing soon. There is a love story that I want to explore and in Malayalam cinema, we are not very comfortable dealing with physical relationships on screen. Only a handful of directors like Padmarajan and Bharatan have managed to do it well. We don’t even talk about those kinds of subjects. It’s still considered a taboo. So, I would like to explore such a theme.

The Malayalam movie industry has enjoyed a great run so far in 2024 with movies like Manjummel Boys, Brahmayugam, Premulu and Aattam doing so well.

There’s still plenty to come. It’s like an avalanche waiting to be unleashed. Internationally, Iranian and Turkish movies are world renowned. The Korean movies too are receiving global attention. Malayalam cinema can get there too.

Aattam is now streaming on Prime Video India.

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