In the latest FC Front Row event, Baradwaj Rangan conducted a masterclass on Lijo Pellissery, director of India's submission to the Oscars for 2020 (Jallikattu). He was joined by frequent Pellissery collaborator, Prashant Pillai, who did the music for Jallikattu. The members of FC Front Row heard first about exclusive details from his next film, Churuli. Here's some stuff that you didn't know about the one of the hottest Indian filmmakers right now:
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"Lijo is the classic example of what a growth-mindset director will be like. He always invents, adapts to new things, and is fearless to try and experiment. He definitely cares about you, the audience. But not in the traditional way, like how the other creators look at films… It is mainly that he is a seasonal person. As seasons change, as years change, his tastes change. And because he's not rigid or not built by certain grounding principles of filmmaking, he's always willing to expand and grow, and try new avenues, and he's not afraid to fail also."
"Lijo wanted this magician's house to have a ceiling with a certain kind of a painting, an artwork… the entire art department, assistant directors thought he was nuts. That cost money. The art department was not willing to cooperate with him; it was his first film. The producers caused a ruckus. The camera was just going to hold there for a couple of seconds and then come down. But Lijo was so particular about getting that shot right with the right prop in the background. When he narrated this to me, I got a glimpse into his stubbornness. To crack whatever idea is in his head, he will go to whatever extent."
"During the City of God background score process, we were in Chennai. We had taken this small PG kind-of place, and we were doing our stuff there. I used to do my score pieces, the first draft. Then Lijo would come and say change this texture, or make this a bit more dry or a bit more ambient. Hand in hand we made the score, and that experience is really amazing… Now our wavelengths are so matched, that I get what he wants. He has got the soundtrack running in his head, when he's writing, shooting, editing – irrespective of whatever reference the editor puts – he has a sound running in his mind, and he will go to whatever length to execute it.
After it came out, the marketing of the film was so bad, the producer absconded. There were all in all maybe 10 posters across Kerala… Around the 8th month after City of God, Lijo calls me, and I'm crossing the over-bridge of a railway station and I stop… He said Moser Baer released the DVD and CD collection, and their sales have skyrocketed for that film… Lijo started getting calls from producers. Till that time no one cared about him. The calls he started getting from people were about if he had scripts or something interesting… Moser Baer changed the fate of a, now, so-called 'maverick' of Malayalam cinema (chuckles)."
"Some scenes were written over weeks, and there were stubs and stubs of cigarettes lying on the coffee table. They kept trying to get it right. Lijo was giving an idea, and Rafeeq (the film's writer) was giving a counter to it. So what you see on screen is actually the conversations that happened between Lijo and Rafeeq. That's why it's so relatable, so funny, and so alienated.
Certain instances that have happened with him as a child with his grandparents, and mother, and father— he brought all of that to the film. It's a film that's come out of faith and memories. I remember when he was not being able to narrate or explain the film to anyone properly… He was so excited about it, these are colloquial things that only people from the land will relate to, and it's definitely one of his most passionate projects."
"We were just bouncing off some films that we had seen, and we were throwing in ideas about a film, and then we both started doing a live screenplay of it. That film took shape as Disco back then. We got in a few writers but some mess up happened. It didn't see the light of day. But then Lijo took the germ of that idea, and repurposed it, and made it into what Double Barrel is today. So, he's that type of a guy, if he gets a kick out of the moment, he'll keep it in his repository. It might come in his next film or his tenth film. He vibes with the moment, with the artist and with the situation. He's not like a rashly instinctive guy. He's instinctive but he's very planned with his instincts— he puts it to use in the right place, at the right time.
Double Barrel was like Lijjo going into The Hangover mode after Amen's success… He was soaring high on the success of Amen, and he loved being in that state of mind… He started getting confidence about his certain ways of execution and conceptualising things, the so-called stars of the industry started trusting in him, looking up to him… after Amen there were many offers that came in from bigger stars… Lijo wanted to do something and crack this idea of 'diamond vaala film'."
Prashant: "Churuli is going to be Lijo's best cinematic experience ever. If you get a chance, watch it in theatres only. It blew my head off. For all of last year, the film was ready but he went through a transformational process in the last year on a personal and professional level, and that helped him change the climax of the film, and how it was originally designed."
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