His debut film Adaminte Makan Abu, about an old perfume seller who yearns to visit Haj before his death, won him critical acclaim and was also chosen as India’s official entry to be considered for nomination in the Best Foreign Film category for the 84th Academy Awards. The films that came after, Kunjananthante Kada (about a man’s struggle to retain his shop and his identity) and Pathemari (the travails of a Gulf immigrant), were also equally well received critically. He is back with the Tovino Thomas starrer And the Oscar Goes To…, after a gap of two years. More from Salim Ahamed himself…
We heard that And the Oscar Goes to is partly biographical?
Of course, there are shades to it that are inspired from my own personal experiences. There is also fiction. It’s something we have planned for more than a year. There were so many elements to it—shooting abroad, travelling, permissions to shoot, audition to get artists from there were all causes of delay. Scripting took me more than a year.
What’s was the trigger?
There is a struggle to make a film. But there is also a struggle after the film becomes a success to take it to another platform. Once you get an official entry to Oscars, it’s another struggle to take your cinema there. I have spent more time trying to bring Adaminte Makan Abu to Oscars than I took in making the film. It’s a struggle for independent filmmakers like me at the Oscars. It’s like an MLA contesting for the elections, projecting himself and his brand everywhere. I met Vetri Maaran recently who said he was also planning to write a script on it. He has had the experience while taking his film, Visaranai, to the Oscars. They spend almost Rs. two crores there. Geethu Mohandas had shared similar concerns through an audio, as part of the marketing of this film. Marketing at the Oscars is a struggle.
Tovino was your first choice?
Among the youngsters, I think he is the most talented of the lot. Right from Ennu Ninte Moideen I have felt so. During a Filmfare Award function in 2016, we had met and discussed this.
How do you see your association with Madhu Ambat?
Be it Madhu sir, Rasool or the editor, it’s the same team. As Madhu sir says we are two bodies and one soul. Besides he is ready to drop everything for my film. There is great teamwork.
What is the change you see in cinema from Adaminte Makan Abu to ATOGT?
I think our audience has evolved. And it’s evident in the kind of films that are becoming successful today. During Adaminte Makan Abu, we didn’t have that luxury. Even Pathemari we didn’t get wide release or enough theatres, just about 60 centres while ATOGT is releasing in around 130 centres. Now we have good theatres with solid sound systems. Earlier for Kunjananthante Kada there were major issues with sound in theatres, since it was done in sync sound. Now so many films are being released in sync sound. Not many are aware that a film like Njan Prakasan was done in sync sound.
It took me a minute to register that you have directed a comedy reality show called Rasikaraja No 1 in Surya TV before making Adaminte Makan Abu…
I was a mimicry performer, with a troupe of my own. Then I started Rasikaraja because of the mimicry background. But even back then I used to take cinema very seriously. At the school of drama, I graduated with a Masters in Theatre Arts.
What’s the kind of cinema you grew up on?
Every kind of cinema. From Priyadarshan and Sathyan Anthikad films to Iranian films. Maybe Chithram and Boeing Boeing are two films I have watched the most. I think it’s about how I approach cinema when it comes to direction. I believe that one shouldn’t waste any screen space.
Have you thought of directing someone else’s script?
It hasn’t crossed my mind, maybe in the future I might. Once I enter cinema, I give it my 100%. It’s simply about discovering the ideas that we want to tell and later convert it into a film.
Most of your leading characters seem to struggle from a sense of belonging…
It’s not deliberate. A few people have observed the feeling of being lost in some of my characters. But I think Kunjananthane Kada doesn’t follow that route.
Do you think the film didn’t get its due?
Probably it would have made more of an impact if it had released now. I am told that it’s my best film.
What’s your scripting process?
I prefer a bound script, but I don’t stick to it. I will keep developing it, improvising it. The Pathemari climax was developed a day before the shoot. I will write little notes, and then once I start scripting, I will take reference from there and begin writing. It goes through various filters. Pathemari’s dialogues were mostly from the conversations I had with people I met.
How is it with the actors? How much of their involvement is crucial to you?
In Adaminte Makan Abu, since they were actors who had no judgement about us they simply took my briefing. But post that actors would take it in all its depth and understanding. Mammookka is a different actor, from Kunjananthante Kada to Pathemari. I think I am a good narrator. During Pathemari’s narration, Mammukka would excuse himself in between to wash his tears as he was totally moved by it. Tovino has done a clean job, all the more because he knows what it is to struggle as an actor.
Which is the character closet to your heart?