Malayalam Interviews

Jeethu Joseph Interview: ‘Drishyam’ Has Come To Be A Blessing As Well As a Burden

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Jeethu Joseph claims to be unperturbed by the massive hype surrounding his latest film, Aadhi. Days before its release, he talks to us about his career, the aftermath of the stupendous success of Drishyam, and box-office numbers

Jeethu Joseph’s film career turned a decade old in 2017. The 45-year-old director has seen it all – hits, blockbusters, flops and average-grossers- in the last 10 years. He is a filmmaker to reckon with, someone who likes to make films out of his comfort zone, take risks and not play to the gallery. His oeuvre features films across genres – My Boss was an out-and-out comedy and Life Of Josutty was a slow-paced coming-of-age movie. But his heart seems to be in thrillers – Detective, Memories and Drishyam – set around incidents of crime.

Joseph’s next, Aadhi, launches Pranav Mohanlal, son of the superstar actor, in the lead. The project garnered enormous public attention as soon as it was announced in September 2016. The filming was utmost confidential, and the team never let out any stills or plot points. Reservations began a week ahead of the release date, January 26, and the star-progeny already has a number of fan associations in his name.

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“I can’t really say what Aadhi is all about. It’s a mix of genres. It is about a young man who dreams about making a career in music. He gets into a huge crisis at one point. The film doesn’t have a conventional romantic track. I don’t want anyone to go in expecting a string of plot ‘twists’ or action sequences,” says the director.

“I had a story thread that I had been trying to develop into a screenplay for a long time. It is about a hardcore athlete who has specialised in a training discipline called Parkour. It demands great stamina. I had plans to do it in Hindi or Tamil because I knew it would be an expensive project. But when Appu (Pranav) came into the picture, I realised this character suited him very well. He is naturally athletic,” Joseph explains.

Joseph says he is unaffected by the massive hype that surrounds the project because of Pranav’s presence. “It is like working with any new artiste. One advantage is that every one is curious about the film, so you don’t have to do much to promote the film. My only worry was if I would meet the expectations of Mohanlal and his team. But, I’m relieved because he watched it and was rather happy about the movie.”

He continues: “Some sections of the audience will love it, others might not. It’s normal. There are people who prefer Memories to Drishyam, and vice versa. That’s not in my hands.”

Has Aadhi has been narrowed down to just a star-kid vehicle? Joseph vehemently disagrees. “It is not just a star and his fans that determine a film’s fate. I don’t claim the entire credit for any of my films. It belongs to the whole team. Mohanlal, Prithviraj, cinematographer Sujith Vasudev and everyone involved helped take the film to another level.”

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He mentions Drishyam several times in our conversation. Unsurprising, for it is the film that changed his career arc and, to an extent, brought Malayalam cinema back to the national spotlight. The film was remade in four Indian languages, and it won acclaim everywhere for the novelty in its narrative, and intelligent plot points.

Thanks to Drishyam, Joseph is now a familiar name in Bollywood circles. “Ever since the success of Drishyam, I have been getting numerous offers from Bollywood. At one point, I met actress Deepika Padukone and came close to striking a deal with her. That project didn’t work out due to many reasons. In fact, my next project might be a small, humorous Hindi film, an official remake of a foreign film,” he says.

Joseph calls Drishyam a blessing as well as a burden that he is unable to get rid of. “It set a very high standard, and all my subsequent films were mercilessly compared to it. And, it did affect my projects. I wanted to break that mould, and made Life Of Josutty, a mellow film that had elements of fantasy. In one of the pre-release interviews, I said I was prepared to face a giant flop, and that’s what happened. People came in expecting a suspense thriller like Drishyam, and were disappointed. But till date, I get messages from another section of the audience, especially from those settled abroad, that they loved the movie, and were able to relate to it.”

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Jeethu Joseph likes to keep himself updated about new technologies that aid filmmaking. “I keep trying to learn new developments in the field of graphics, cinematography and other technical departments. The advent of VFX has changed the face of cinema. But, a seamless graphics sequence takes a lot of money and effort. I have to strike a balance between budget restrictions and my aspirations. Aadhi has some VFX shots that the script necessitated,” he says.

Life Of Josutty had several VFX portions that were worked on for over a year. “Call it my bad luck. During the making, a short circuit corrupted whatever we had worked on, and we had to go ahead with inferior quality work, done in a haste,” he says.

Joseph claims to be an average writer. “That said, it is the writing part of films that I enjoy the most,” he adds. “But these days, I hardly get the time to sit down peacefully and write a script. There are a lot of distractions. I travel a lot on work; meetings and discussions on various projects take up my time,” he says. “If you have a great script, you can make it big in the industry smoothly. Screenwriters are always in demand. Everyone – actors, directors, and producers – are constantly looking for good scripts that have become rare to find,” he says.

Joseph doesn’t like to stick to one genre. He wants to experiment, without falling into an image trap. But, conditions apply. “This industry is a source of livelihood for many. One of my priorities is to make sure that the producer doesn’t incur a loss. When a film breaks even at the box-office, I am relieved. I don’t worry about remaining millions and crores it might go on to make. That’s not a big deal,” he says.

“I know a majority in the film industry consider box-office success as the most important thing. But, there are films that didn’t win big commercially, yet earned a lot of love. Guppy, for instance, wasn’t a commercial success. But what a beautiful film it is! Similarly, not all the films that end up making good money at the box-office are necessarily good films.”

Every time a superstar film is released, the fans go into a frenzy, comparing box-office figures that are, sometimes, made up for the sake of winning a social media argument. Jeethu Joseph says he is not social media savvy, and isn’t bothered about fan fights. “What good does this mud-slinging do to anyone?” he asks. “Sometimes, the fans even manage to destroy a good film.”

At this stage of his career, Joseph hardly faces any difficulty in finding producers, or even actors. However, there is something that bothers him about the attitude of the actors. “I have issues with the way some of our actors respond when I approach them with a script. I want them to be frank, and tell me to my face if they aren’t interested. Instead, they evade calls and, sometimes, don’t even read the screenplay that I send. That’s not how artistes should behave.”

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The Jeethu Joseph interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

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