Director Basil Joseph, the mastermind being BCU (Basil’s Cinematic Universe), has put a lot of thought into his Tovino Thomas-starrer Minnal Murali. Who places a superhero film in a tiny Kerala village? Edited excerpts from a conversation between the director and Vishal Menon.
Generally, directors who’ve been assistant directors take something from their mentors for their film, in terms of pace and visual sense. Have you felt that?
I’ve been inspired by Vineeth ettan’s usage of music. Like him, I too want music in my film. I think about a film musically. The screenwriting is also based on music — we tell writers that we should develop a scene for a certain emotion that leads to music.
Could you give me an example from either Godha or Kunjiramayanam?
In Godha, there’s music for punch, where Tovino Thomas is going to Punjab. We didn’t want the cliched ‘balle balle’ to create the mood, but something different to showcase the state. Accordingly, we stylised the cuts for Punjab showcasing a ‘raw’ Punjab, not just landscapes with flowers. We were inspired by composer Sneha Khanwalkar’s ‘Tung Tung’, and conceived this sequence where Tovino goes to Punjab to go to college. The pacing of the film also changes, so we made these changes from editing to shooting. That’s how we explain the scene to the artiste too. People will get the mood from watching this, and it’s helpful for everyone. Actors get an idea about their character too.
Did you get this idea from Vineeth Sreenivasan?
Yes, on how to give importance to a song. When we meet for anything we talk about new music directors, songs and singers in Hindi. That process excites the both of us and Vineeth ettan shares new songs with me on WhatsApp and we’re musically connected.
You’ve worked with Tovino Thomas in Minnal Murali and Godha. At what stage did you decide on him for the film?
When we mentioned super hero, Tovino came to my mind. I know a side of Tovino that’s not shown in films and that’s actually helpful. Only when an actor and director have a certain comfort zone, can he or she loosen up on the humour without being conscious about it. There’s mutual respect and trust.
As in, he can do whatever he wants?
Yeah, that I trust whatever he does. That he’ll be there till the end and won’t talk bad about me anywhere. So while thinking about the film itself, I know I can trust him with this. This won’t be there in every film. Which is why when Tovino performs well, his director also becomes known — it is a give-and-take thing. Tovino also puts in a lot of physical effort. He does stunts without ropes and he’s also excited about it. He exercises and comes with so much energy in the morning to the sets, it’s never dull. There’s a difference between the energy levels of someone who has just woken up and someone who has worked out. That is visible on screen.
Watch the teaser of Minnal Murali here
What did you do during the COVID-19 lockdown?
Till the teaser, work was going on smoothly. Then lockdown happened, but the teaser kept it going. Now, we’re ready to get back on social media apps.
Oh, so you deactivated all of them?
No, I disabled them. Keep a phone with you and at least half an hour of yours is gone. For example, when we watch a film, we get on WhatsApp, reply to chats, and go to Instagram, Facebook and, so on. We lose that connection with the film, we cheat the film that way. Because, the learning process during the film should linger. We should think about it, do research, explore spaces. When the phone is in our hands, we instantly get detached from the films. It’s difficult to get back to it. Controlling social media and focussing on this seems like a good idea, and it includes all sectors. I use social media when I have to put up the poster or teaser, and then go back to how I was.
We have a good learning process, on the one side there’s Lijo Jose Pellissery and Dileesh Pothan and on the other there’s Mahesh Narayan. We are all surrounded by talented people. It’s a privileged space. Growing up, I did not watch too many films. As a child, I didn’t have exposure to films, foreign or non-Malayalam. We didn’t go to theatres. My father is a priest, and there was cultural taboo. ‘If a ‘Father’ goes to watch films, what will people say?’ sort of thing. So, the opportunities were less.
If I’m watching the painting scene in Titanic, people will notice I’ve closed my eyes. Because of this cultural setting, I didn’t get the opportunity to watch such films. I got the opportunity to watch them when I entered films, so I see it as something that I can catch up on with my peers. They are already there, masters. So, I also do my work to catch up with them.
Our shelf life is how long we stand in the industry, not how many movies we make. So we have to keep ourselves updated and keep learning. So I began to spend a lot of time learning. We start learning something once we’re done with something else. Like after receiving criticism from a current film, we try to recover in our next film. We cannot finish learning anything in cinema, and we realise we’re nothing when we step into the ocean of film knowledge.