Malayalam Interviews

‘I’ve Always Wanted To Write A Family Drama’: Screenwriter Syam Pushkaran On ‘Kumbalangi Nights’


Syam Pushkaran was introduced to Kumbalangi, a fishing village near Kochi, by a close friend, an actor-dancer named Saji. Syam often found himself staying over at his house by the backwaters; they would go fishing, watch the night skies…

The nights in Kumbalangi, he says, are especially beautiful.

Kumbalangi Nights is inspired from those memories.

Syam Pushkaran, the National Award-winning screenwriter, dons many roles in this film which is directed by debutant director Madhu C Narayanan. Apart from writing the script, he, along with his frequent collaborator actor-director Dileesh Pothan and actor Fahadh Faasil, has produced the film. As part of the film’s promotions, he has been uploading a series of videos on his YouTube channel, Bhavana Studios, that look like diary entries about the making of the film – a nod to Maheshinte Prathikaram that launched him to the top of Malayalam cinema.

“I have a habit of shooting videos on my phone casually. Several such videos that I’d shot on the sets of my previous films were in an old phone which I lost one day. I never cared to edit and publish those videos, but this time, I decided to do something. The videos might look amateur, but they give insights into the delightful process of making the film,” he says.

The decision to turn producer had been on the cards for quite a while, he says. “We were looking for the right film to launch our production banner (Working Class Hero). This time, everything fell into place. When we approached Fahadh for a character in the film, he expressed interest in being one of the co-producers. He did that because he really had faith in the project.”

Fahadh Faasil, fresh from two back-to-back blockbusters (Varathan and Njan Prakashan), plays a character role in the film which has four actors – Sreenath Bhasi, Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam and Ramesh Thilak – playing the protagonists. This is the third time Fahadh is collaborating with Syam and Dileesh Pothan whose Maheshinte… and Thondi Muthalum Driksakshiyum (where Dileesh was the director and Syam, a creative director) helped the actor turn a new leaf in his acting career which was, at that point, flailing.

“Unlike Maheshinte Prathikaram, this film isn’t based on any real life incident or person,” says Syam. “Naturally, it was a relatively difficult one to write. I conceived the story idea around four years ago, and shared it with Madhu who was then an assistant director working with Aashiq Abu. Later, when he decided to turn an independent filmmaker, we picked this story.”

Syam developed the story-thread over the years, and the final draft was completed in around six months. “I don’t have a definite style of working. I am very instinctive in that respect,” he admits. “I can never work in isolation. I prefer to have company or a collaborator; a director to guide me or to brainstorm with. I can’t write screenplays without a plan or a deadline. I take suggestions from everyone involved in the project. Music director, editor, cinematographer..,” he says. “I don’t begin with writing down the story, but enter into the screenplay directly. I write scenes one by one, and develop the plot on the go.”

He prefers the old-school way of writing it down on paper, rather than going the digital way. “Earlier, I used to write on sheets of white paper which I would later misplace somewhere. So I started using a proper notebook,” he laughs.

Kumbalangi Nights is a family drama about four brothers. “I have never attempted anything in this genre before. That’s my biggest excitement,” says Syam. Although the film is set in Kumbalangi, it has a story that is so universal, he says. “Maheshinte Prathikaram was inseparably tied to the space it was set in. We stayed in a village near Kattapana, studied the local slang and the nature of the village’s community to write the script. But here, we haven’t gone deep into the local culture. It is not that kind of a film.”

One of the female actors in the film is a US-based artiste, Jasmine, and another, Anna Ben, is the daughter of screenwriter Benny P Nayarambalam. A video teaser of a song from the film, ‘Cherathukal’, is a hit on social media. The slow melody that has traces of a lullaby, is composed by Sushin Syam and sung by Sithara Krishnakumar. “We know Sushin from a long time ago. I love the tracks he composed for Kismath (2017). He is a fabulous composer,” says Syam.

Kumbalangi Nights releases in theaters on February 7.

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