The Film Federation of India has announced that Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malayalam film Jallikattu will be India’s official entry to the Oscars. The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, is based on S Hareesh’s short story Maoist and stars Antony Varghese, Chemban Vinod Jose and Sabumon Abdusamad.
At a basic level, the film is about retrieving a lost buffalo. But,that one-line summary does not explain the surreal energy of the film, which throws itself, over and over again, into spectacular chaos.
Last year, Film Companion screened the film in Mumbai after which Pellissery spoke to Anupama Chopra about what went into making it, what he was trying to convey and his worries about using an animatronic bull.
Anupama: In Angamaly Diaries, I felt like you were exploring food with love, and here there is a sort of a horror around the meat and how in your face it is and how close we are to it. Was that by design?
Not exactly. The short story the film is based on had these elements in it and that’s what attracted me to the story. We just took out that one idea of the differences between man and animal slowly disappearing, and expanded on that.
Anupama: I read somewhere that you said to your DOP Girish Gangadharan that you wanted the shots to be as ‘wild’ as possible. What did you mean?
Those were the keywords which we had in mind during our initial discussions about the film. It was mostly about how wild and raw it could be in terms of the setting and look and background and how we can use those things to make it look really deep in the jungle.
Anupama: When I’m seeing a film like this, I see it as your critique of men. Is that intentional?
In a way yes,. For me the whole film has just two characters – the buffalo and the crowd. And the crowd can be made up of anyone. I just see it as grey. I’m not trying to make it more about the behaviour of one gender.
Anupama: What was the hardest thing to shoot?
The climax and the animal actually. The animal just because we were not able to crack it initially and I was really worried about whether it’ll work on screen by using this animatronic dummy. But once we were confident we could make it work on screen we knew it would work. And the climax was really tough because it involved a large crowd and it was physically very tiring.