S Hareesh isn’t a cinephile. “I hardly watch movies, let alone keep an eye on what’s the latest in the film industry”, says the writer. Incidentally, one of the most-awaited Malayalam releases this year, Jallikattu, directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, is a screen adaptation of his short story Maoist.
Hareesh, the winner of Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2018 is back in his residence in Kottayam after attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where the world premiere of Jallikattu, the film adaptation of his short story Maoist, took place on September 8. The film will also be screened at Busan International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival.
“The response at Toronto was great,” says Hareesh. “It was my first experience of attending a film festival outside India. I rarely attend film festivals. Recently I watched many films on Lijo’s recommendation in his apartment.”
He describes Lijo as one of the most creative personalities he has ever come across. “Lijo and I have known each other for over four years now. Maoist was recommended to him by some friends who had read the book. He got in touch with me and we began discussing the possibility of a film based on the story”.
The project didn’t take off immediately. In the meantime, Aeden, a second short story in Hareesh’s short story collection, got a film adaptation by filmmaker Sanju Surendran which won four Kerala state film awards in 2018. Lijo made Angamaly Diaries and Ee Ma Yau which were critical and commercial successes. The two films inducted Lijo, a director of box-office hits, into the film festival circuit. He won the best director award at the International Film Festival Of India last year for Ee Ma Yau. Towards the end of 2018, Hareesh got embroiled in controversy; his novel Meesa met with protests, calls for boycott and threats from the Sangh Parivar and its allies.
Maoist was inspired by people and events from Hareesh’s surroundings in Kottayam. “It is about a butcher in my neighborhood, and a buffalo that ran amok. It’s a rather simple story that looks at the stir that the animal causes in the village.” Many readers had suggested to him that the story had the scope to be a great film. “I had seen Lijo’s Amen at that time, and thought Lijo might be able to make an interesting film out of Maoist.”
The film adaptation of Maoist is action-oriented, with few instances of dialogues. Jallikkattu completely belongs to Lijo, says Hareesh, who co-authored the screenplay with his friend Jayakumar. “What you will see on the screen is Lijo’s version of Maoist. I picked up a story from the life I saw around me. Lijo has created another interpretation of that story.” The screenplay, which was completed in less than a month’s time, underwent many modifications during the filming. “Making of a film is teamwork. If you point out a scene now and ask whose idea it was, I can’t really give you an answer,” says Hareesh.
Post Jallikkattu, Hareesh collaborated with Lijo again. He wrote the screenplay for the director’s latest film, based on a story by writer Vinoy Thomas. The film is under production in Idukki. The film has a stellar cast that includes Vinay Forrt, Joju George, Chemban Vinod Jose and Soubin Shahir.