“During Covid, when I happened to re-watch Rakshadikari Baiju Oppu (2017), I realised it had been some time since Ranjan (Pramod) made a film. I picked up the phone and asked him when he was going to make the next film.” And that question led to Dileesh Pothan acting and producing O.Baby, written and directed by Ranjan Pramod. Set in the lush green plantation in the Western Ghats, the film narrates a story old as time but still relevant - the strict class and caste boundaries that define who you can fall in love with. In a conversation with Film Companion about O. Baby, Dileesh who has effortlessly donned the hats of a director, producer and actor spills the beans on what goes behind the famed “Pothettan brilliance.”
Every film is a calculated bet and each producer makes films hoping they will be great, says Dileesh. “If there is some element in the story or narration that excites or affects me, I will go ahead with the project hoping it might excite a few others like it did for me. This is just an intuition and it could sometimes go very wrong; I have experienced that as well. But it is part of the magic of cinema.”
Another part of this magic that Dileesh is popularly known for is the “Pothettan brilliance” — his ability to bring out incredible performances from a wide range of actors. He says, “When I worked in theatre, I saw the actors transforming into the characters during the 30-odd days of rehearsals. It made me think how little time we spend with actors in films compared to say lighting a scene or designing art while the most evident results come out from the time we spend in polishing the performance.” In what the director calls a personalised approach, he spends a lot of time understanding the actor as a person. “Beyond actors, they are people with their own strengths and weaknesses. I consider it my responsibility to understand them as people and provide them with whatever they need to become the character.”
Dileesh is known for making films like Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017) and Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016) that are rooted in realism. But interestingly, he asserts that he is not someone who believes every film needs to be realistic. “Whenever I’ve done a film, I’ve only gone by the amount of realism that particular film needed. I would definitely want to make films in the fantasy realm or a few over-the-top films too,” he clarifies. His future plans and collaborations hints that his next film might as well be a mass entertainer. “I have been discussing a project with S Hareesh (of Churli (2019) and Jallikattu (2019) fame). I have always wanted to make a mass film with Udaykrishna (of Pulimurugan (2016) fame).” So will the director pen a script someday? “I would love to write a film, but I will never direct it” he quips. “I always need a person to bounce off thoughts which is why I never see myself sitting alone and writing."