Malayalam cinema has been seeing a resurgence of Indie film projects over the last few years. It looks as though there is a platform for these smaller, self-contained films, with directors like Krishand, who directed Avasha Vyooham (2022) and Purusha Pretham (2023), and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, who is behind films like Vazhakku (2023) and Oralppokkam (2014), leading the way with lesser budgets and more freedom. Bakki Vannavar (2022) is the latest independent entry into this list, which competed in last year's IFFK and has now been released in select theaters in Kochi as part of Rajeev Ravi’s ‘Collective Phase One films.’
The film written, produced and directed by a five-man crew is a timely exploration of the social and economical degradation of Kerala's development prospects and how the youth have to sit back and wait endlessly for state-sponsored jobs. The film shot on a low budget, is a piece of meditative storytelling that follows a few days in the life of a food delivery boy living in Kochi and his struggles to land his dream job.
The film, also titled ‘The Leftovers’ in English, is directed by debutant Amal Prasi based on a script he co-wrote with Salmanul, who also plays the film’s hero. The entire screenplay is framed as a series of interactions between the hero and the like-minded misfits around him, who are yet to find their voices to fight the unfair job market.
The filmmaking is often reminiscent of the aesthetics of minimalist PSA short films but elevated most of the time with a keener eye for visual compositions and blocking that keeps things engaging. Even the occasional stretches of prolonged agony and frustration emanating from the characters and their desperate lives, seem to be in a harmonious rhythm. We caught up with Amal Prasi and Salmanul to discuss the story behind the film. Excerpts from an edited interview:
When did you guys decide to quit your jobs and make this film and what prompted the decision?
Salmanul: We have been friends ever since college and 90% of the cast and crew in our film are ex alumni from Maharajas College, Kochi. In our case, it so happened that both of us were forced to quit our jobs at about the same time due to inadequate salary and other work related issues.
So we decided to get together to do something centered on the issue of unemployment as it was the most pressing issue for us at the time. Since we always loved cinema even in our college days, we sat down and came up with the basic idea and structure of our film.
Amal: It took us three years after passing out to put the film together, since we were trying to survive on our day jobs. As you are aware, the lack of stability is a major problem we all face at work these days, so we were forced to make a film to address that issue and decided to do it within a shoestring budget out of desperation.
How did director Rajeev Ravi end up distributing your film?
Salmanul : We had first premiered our film in last year's IFFK (2022) and it was our first rough cut with some finishing touches pending. We were trying to get Rajeev Ravi sir to watch the film somehow, since we had a connection with his team. He did watch the film and asked us to go ahead and finish the final patch work, including colour grading and sound mixing with his studio’s support.
We were so excited at the time and he asked us to submit it for some film festivals post the polishing works and that was a great turning point for us.
One thing I found really interesting is the way you have written your lead character as this quiet, passive guy. I ask this because it's such an angry film. How did you decide to make the hero a mere spectator in his own story?
Amal : We came up with the idea about making the protagonist a food delivery boy since Salman has had experience working in that job and has even faced many first-hand bitter experiences. Casting Salman as my leading man helped me overcome any stress as he knows the world and internal working of our film as much as me, as we have written the script together.
We had decided early on while writing that our hero will be a passive observer since we did not want to stick to the cliched conventions of reactionary heroes but wanted someone to be real to our lives. Our lives are mundane, there are no self congratulatory BGMs and life altering events in daily life, so we wanted to make the hero grounded.
And Salman, how did you conceive the meter for this performance?
Salmanul : We had a solid idea from the early days, so there was no such confusion as we were clear that only one emotion should reflect in our hero at all times, which is helplessness. That helped us map a consistent graph for the character.
How did you guys finance this film?
Amal: The budget is too low for the film as we did not have a producer per se for the project. Even during the IFFK screening, we did not have a fixed budget as it was a team effort and was financed by a five-member crew mostly composed of friends. And for the recent theatre releases, Rajeev Ravi sir helped us with post-production patch-up works.
How did you manage to capture these visually representative compositions while working with just a five member crew? Even in the interior scenes in his house, you frame the hero using tighter lensing to give out the feel of the congestion in his daily life. Is that right?
Amal : Yes, that's correct. It was preplanned and we wanted to isolate him and show his family as a passing metaphor and that's the reason we did not give a name to the hero. We did not want any judgements reserved towards him in the audience's mind by stressing on any of those things and just wanted him to represent a bigger issue and not be a person alone.
Another important thing is how you incorporated Rene Castello’s poem into the film. Was that an ode to John Abraham’s Amma Ariyan (1986), from which you used the voice over from?
Amal : Yes, we wanted to tip our hats to John Abraham and his team for crowdfunding a film like that back then. We felt energised by the possibilities of that and wanted to reference it as it was a perfect fit to show the film's core themes directly.
Your production house is named ‘Blue Collar Cinemas’ and it looks like you had a guiding philosophy right from the onset, to explore topics such as unemployment, migration and the poor economic rewards of staying back in our state.
Amal : Absolutely, we wanted to present certain facts that were nagging at us for a long time and now more than ever we are interested in pursuing denser social commentary in our works, rather than make standalone movies alone. It can be any medium! Not only cinema.
So, can you tell us anything about your next project?
Salmanul : We are having many discussions right now, but we would love to do a play next. Actors like Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran have been huge pillars of support for us to get our film out in theaters. We are planning to do something with them soon. We just want to tell the stories in our minds right now. It can be any medium.
On a final note, how have the reactions from the industry been like?
Amal : We have received calls of support from directors like Jeo Baby, Krishand, Mahesh Narayanan and Vinod Illampally among others. It's been a surreal feeling to feel that your work means something. We are getting some extra shows this week based on great preview screening reviews. We have no say in the OTT streaming side of things but will be interested to explore more mainstream films in the future so that we can get across to more people in a more efficient way. We will be making some announcements soon!