Malayalam director Maju: ‘Appan’ was inspired by the books I read


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Malayalam filmmaker Maju talks about his second directing project, Appan, a dark family drama about complex human relationships

Malayalam filmmaker Maju talks about his second directorial adventure, appana dark family drama about complex human relationships

In 2017, Maju quit his job as a travel consultant in Qatar and returned home to pursue his passion: cinema. Although he didn’t have a dream start with french viplavam (2018), the director hit the mark with his second film, appan.

A complex and impactful take on the human psyche, family and relationships, it’s about a toxic, itty, paraplegic patriarch. While the people he wronged – including his family – wait for him to die, Itty, ruthless and shameless, continues to be his despicable self.

Filmmaker Maju

Filmmaker Maju | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“The books I have read, especially those about migrating to the high ranges, have inspired the story. In their relentless attempt to find a livelihood and a home, some of them become bloodthirsty and barbaric. Itty is one of them, and we wanted to explore the extent to which such an individual could torture his own family and trample on social norms,” says Maju.

Splendid cast

As the cast received high praise, Maju says the characters of Itty and his wife Kuttiyamma were written with Alencier Ley Lopez and Pauly Valsan in mind. Sunny Wayne gave a strong performance as their unfortunate son, Njoonju. “Having worked with Sunny in french viplavam, I knew I could mold him to become Njoonju. We needed an experienced performer to play his wife, Rosie, and Ananya excelled at that. For Molly, Itty’s daughter, our reference was the roles played by Kalpana or Urvashi and Grace Antony brings the same flavor to her acting,” he explains. Sheela, the woman Itty brings home, is played by debutante Radhika Radhakrishnan, dancer, presenter and RJ, who was selected through an audition.

Alencier Ley Lopez in a photo by Appan

Alencier Ley Lopez in a photo by appan
| Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Even though all the characters have shades of gray, Maju made sure that no character is more cruel than Itty. “For example, Molly has her own agenda. Her greed causes her to turn a blind eye to Itty’s abuse of her mother. But we made sure Molly was greedy but not vicious like Itty,” says Maju. The director recalls that the artists were not comfortable with the profanity of the film.

All the female characters have their place in the story – Kuttiyamma, Rosie, Sheela, Molly and the two women who come to meet Itty. “It was a conscious decision to have strong female characters. In fact, most of the positive reviews were posted by women,” Maju adds.

Sunny Wayne in a photo by Appan

Sunny Wayne in a photo of appan
| Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

He makes a special mention of the artists who played Balan mash potatoes (Chilamban), Varghese (Anil K Sivaram) and Kuriako (Ashraf Mallissery). Chilamban played a role in Don Palathara 1956, Central Travancore, Anil played small roles in Ambili and Jallikatu and Ashraf acted in Kammattipaadam. “It was exciting to cast Ashraf as Kuriako, Itty’s nemesis, because audiences expected to see a well-built, tough, tough guy take on Itty. Instead, we cast a Weak and elderly Kuriako. It was a deliberate move because otherwise the viewer might have felt sympathy for Itty, which we didn’t want at any point,” he explains.

Focus on the dialogues

The dialogues are at the heart of the film as the characters’ pasts unfold through the narrative. “All the action is in and around Itty’s house. So it was important that the narrative be engaging, with regular twists and surprises and we had to make that happen through the dialogues,” he explains.

Maju co-wrote the script with Lijo Jose Pellissery’s co-screenwriter R Jayakumar. Jallikatu. “When I decided to get into film, I had no concentration. So I decided to see the process and I followed Lijo since I already knew him. I was there on the sets of Ea.Ma.Yau and Jallikatu where I met Jayakumar. At first I wanted to write screenplays, but eventually I decided to try directing as well,” he says. Maju is on her next project, which also has Jayakumar as a co-writer.

Talking about some open subplots in the film, Maju says they left it up to viewers to discuss and debate. “Some wanted to know about the conflict between Balan and Itty and if there was any mystery in Varghese’s death. Few of my friends wanted to know who killed the animal in Itty’s house. It was a deliberate decision to leave it as it is.

He makes a special mention to the producers [Josekutty Madathil and Ranjith Manambarakkat] to believe in the project. “I first discussed the story with [filmmaker-cinematographer] Rajeev Ravi and we even planned to do a low-budget movie. But suddenly he had to go back to his other commitments. That’s when Sunny put me in touch with our producers.

Even if he wanted to free appan in theaters, Maju wasn’t sure audiences would warm up to the subject. “Recently, a movie with a serious theme didn’t do well in theaters which I really liked. I didn’t want my producers to suffer losses. That’s why we decided to approach an OTT platform Even then, we weren’t sure we would pass because all OTT platforms have become strict about what content they approve,” he says.

Big fan of works by KG George, Dileesh Pothen, Rajeev Ravi and Zakariya, Maju hopes to get out french viplavam [on OTT]. “But we will have to rework some aspects before moving forward with the idea.”

appan is streaming on SonyLIV.

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