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14th Chennai International Film Festival: Interview With ‘Veeram’ Editor Appu Bhattathiri

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Appu Bhattathiri is the editor of the upcoming epic war-drama Veeram, starring Kunal Kapoor and directed by Jayaraj. The 27-year-old began his career as an assistant director in Dulquer Salmaan’s debut film Second Show. He went on to edit Oraalpokkam, the critically acclaimed filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s directorial debut. In 2015, he worked with Sanal again in Off-Day Game, which won the state award for Best Feature Film. A song from Veeram is in the race for an Oscar nomination. Here we catch up with him at the 14th Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF). 

Film Festivals are where you run into the most curious breed of film-goers.

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Those cinema buffs who run from one venue to the other throughout the day, forgoing or sometimes forgetting meals during the festival fever, only to be reminded of their hunger pangs by a dinner scene in a movie. And then there are the people who travel from city to city during the film festival season attending one festival after another, like a diligent devotee. 

For Appu Bhattathiri, the editor of the upcoming epic war-drama Veeram, the 14th CIFF is the fourth film festival he is attending this season. He travelled to Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) in early November, followed by the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at Goa and the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Trivandrum. After CIFF, he will be off to the Pune International Film Festival.

Appu began festival trotting after completing the editing work for the mega-budget Veeram. He watched the film on the big screen at IFFI, and describes the experience as surreal. He says, “Festivals are a place where people with a common love for cinema converge. For a cinephile, IFFI is a purgatory. To watch a film that I have worked in at IFFI was like a dream.”

“There are some films that you get to watch only at festivals,” says Appu. “Like the Egyptian film Clash, a copy of which might not be easy to find elsewhere. Sometimes I miss the film I want to watch due to timing problem or heavy rush. At the next festival, I make it a point to catch that film. For instance, I couldn’t watch Glory at IFFK because it coincided with Nawara. Today, I will watch Glory here, at Casino.”

On Veeram

Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and inspired by Kerala’s famous Vadakkan Paattukal (ballads), Veeram is centred around Chandu Chekavar, a Kalarippayattu warrior played by Bollywood actor Kunal Kapoor. The film is the fifth in Jayaraj’s Navarasa series. 

Veeram was shot in Hindi, English, and Malayalam simultaneously. Appu says, “It was very different from the films I worked in before. Veeram has around 700 VFX shots, most of which are shot using green matte. So, I had to work carefully, keeping in mind how those shots would turn out once they go through all the post-production works.” 

The technical crew of Veeram includes Jeff Olm, the Hollywood colourist who has worked in Titanic, and Hollywood music composer Jeff Rona, who was a part of Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer’s illustrious film score company Media Ventures. Allan Poppleton, the stunt choreographer who has films like Hunger Games and Avatar to his credit, is also a part of the Veeram team. 

Veeram will be a novel experience for Indian audiences,” says Appu. “It’s technically brilliant, with extensive visual effects and stylised graphics. It has high-octane Kalarippayattu sequences. Even for those who are familiar with the story of Chandu, Unniyarcha and the ballads, Veeram will come across as something they have never seen before,” he says. “Although it’s an epic drama, Veeram doesn’t resemble Baahubali. It has a distinct style.”

On Film Festivals

Editing Veeram took around 12 months to complete. As soon as it was over, Appu returned to doing what he loves most: Watching films back to back, just for the sake of it. 

“I love watching films. That’s what came first. The career and everything else came later,” says Appu. “I watch films from myriad genres, cutting across languages. Some of them stay with me longer, helping me evolve as a person and as an editor. It isn’t something that I do consciously.

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Everything you see and experience contributes to the making of the person you are, isn’t it?”

Of all the festivals organised in India, he feels IFFI is the best. “It is great because it happens in a smaller area. The theaters are great – well-maintained with good seats and fine projection. And the crowd is relatively lesser than the one at IFFK and other festivals.”

He also feels that the lack of proper venues is hampering CIFF. “The venues are far from each other. It’s impossible to travel from Palazzo after a movie at 4 pm to catch the next one at Inox by 4:40 pm.”

Veeram will be screened at CIFF on 10 January at the Russian Cultural Centre.

Here’s Appu’s favourite films from the festival season: 

  1. I, Daniel Blake
  2. Warehoused
  3. Age of Shadows
  4. Graduation
  5. The Salesman
  6. Clash
  7. Death in Gunj
  8. The Student
  9. The Net
  10. Train Driver’s Diary

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Read: 14th Chennai International Film Festival: Long Queues, Undeterred Crowds

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