Athishayangalude Venal has a child protagonist; and true to its theme, it doesn’t quite deal with situations and emotions that are beyond children’s comprehension. The movie will be screened at the IFFK, scheduled to begin on December 8.
Summer Of Miracles/Athishayangalude Venal culminates in a shot of its protagonist, the nine-year-old Anu, at a bus bay, waiting for a bus to school. A few feet away from him, a bunch of his schoolmates chat and laugh like regular school kids. Our little boy is a loner. He has always been so, and the film doesn’t try to push him out of that zone.
Athishayangalude Venal, directed by debutant Prasanth Vijay, isn’t a bright-coloured run-of-mill children’s film. Through the tale of a boy who dreams to be invisible, the film delves into that unpleasant point where the innocent world of children intersects with the complex and rough terrain of adulthood. In a tone so subtle, it also discusses the cloak of invisibility that the Internet offers, and how the state conspires to make some people disappear without a trace.
Anu (Chandra Kiran) has a burning dream – to possess the power to be invisible. He spends his summer vacation reading science journals and precariously experimenting with electricity, much to the chagrin of his single mother (Reina Maria) and brother. The film takes you to the root of this seemingly innocuous ambition, and shines light on some hard facts. Years ago, the boy’s beloved father, a scribe, had gone missing inside the forests of Chhattisgarh, the red corridor where the Indian government is waging a costly war against insurgents. Anu earnestly believes that his father is somewhere around, inside their two bedroom apartment, invisible like a superhero “How can a person simply go missing?” he questions his mother who tells him otherwise.
Written by Anish Pallyal, a practicing psychiatrist, Athishayangalude Venal makes a delineated portrait of a child’s universe. Anu’s obsession with invisibility could well be a mechanism to cope with his father’s absence; a fact his mother and everyone else have come to terms with. Although he thinks of himself as a scientist, the adorable eccentricity that he displays is akin to that of a highly imaginative artiste. There are amusing moments in the film where the family decides to pretend that Anu is invisible to their eyes, hoping that it would bring the boy to his senses. On a deeper level, the film poses some uncomfortable questions – do we really know how to communicate with our kids? Who can fill that dark void in Anu’s life that his father’s absence has created? Are we any better at handling life than children?
Athishayangalude Venal is slated to be screened in the ‘Malayalam Cinema Today’ section of 22nd IFFK scheduled to begin on December 8. It was also screened at the recently concluded Jio MAMI film festival, and is one of the 24 Indian films featured in the Film Bazaar Recommends list at the ongoing IFFI.
“We wanted to make a low budget film with a child protagonist. We did not have much money to spend, and we thought it might be easier to make a film with children. But it was very difficult to find the right child actor,” says Prasanth. He is currently in Panaji, attending the IFFI’s Film Bazaar.
“This part of filmmaking – taking your film to the film festivals, meeting distributors and festival programmers, making contacts with agents and financiers for your next project – is not easy. Being a novice filmmaker, I am still figuring this whole deal out,” he says.
Prasanth first met his screen writer Anish on an online platform in 2013. The duo bonded over their common love for cinema, and filmmaking ambitions. Athishayangalude Venal was developed into a screenplay from a story idea that Anish had long ago. “We could have made it into a happy film that ended on a pleasant note. But we didn’t want it that way. We wanted it to be realistic and dark. That was a choice we made,” says Prasanth.
“We regularly read in newspapers, stories of men and women who go missing in the red corridor areas and other places of conflict. People can’t just vanish into thin air. You know what must have caused the disappearance of Anu’s father. However, we didn’t discuss it in detail because we didn’t want to include anything that Anu doesn’t understand. We wanted to smuggle those subtle details into the film, without being loud,” he says.
Born and brought up in a household of film lovers in Kerala, Prasanth fell in love with cinema at a very young age. “My uncle is an amateur screen writer. I learned a great deal about cinema from him,” he says. Like most of the youngsters from his generation, he joined an engineering college after school. A self-taught filmmaker, he made a short film in 2012, and in 2015, started working on Athishayangalude Venal.
“I am not a good writer. I can’t create a film from scratch, but if I have a screenplay with me, I can take it to the next level. I need a good writer like Anish to work with, ” he says. “I am good at communicating with people. That’s an important skill you need to have as a director.”
“Anish’s son loves Spider Man. At home, he would pretend that he is Spider Man, act like he can weave webs and climb on the wall. Little kids have such harmless obsessions. My generation, for instance, was fascinated with Mr India and the idea of being invisible,” says Prasanth.
Chandru (Chandra Kiran) watched the film, but refused to comment on it. “He is now basking in the new found fame. I am curious to know what he thinks of it. He is a very intelligent child. He has no background in films, his parents had no idea he could act. We were exhausted from looking for a child actor, and we stumbled upon him. We did an audition, and my friend who trains actors, said Chandru had it in him,” says Prasanth on how he discovered the child actor who is now garnering praise from all corners.
“Some days, Chandru would plainly refuse to act. That’s natural. Acting is an intense process, and children can get tired and bored. We would stop the shoot, and wait for him to return. There are times I got angry, and we fought. One such time, he told me it was my mistake because I had written a script in which he featured in every scene. (laughs).”
The film was completed over a period of two years, on a shoe-string budget. It was shot by Amith Surendran with minimal equipment and a moderately sized lighting unit.
“We didn’t go for crowd-funding because I knew my profile wouldn’t attract many donors. I am a debutant director with no track record. Luckily, a school friend chipped in. He was always interested in the things I had been doing,” says Prasanth. “I had always thought of it as a dark film, but I was taken by surprise at MAMI when I saw that the people were absolutely enjoying it. They were laughing at the right places. It is getting a lot of love, but that doesn’t mean I will be able to retrieve the money invested,” he says.
“I am talking to online streaming companies as well as distributors. I am glad the film is coming to IFFK next month. It is a huge platform to take your film to. But, it offers nothing more to a filmmaker. It’s like a dead end. I wish it provided an opportunity for budding filmmakers to interact with producers, agents and distributors, like at other major festivals. That’s the only way ahead for most of us.”