Janeman, is an upcoming Malayalam dark comedy, a directorial debut for Chidambaram. The film casts his brother Ganapathi amongst many Lal, Arjun Ashokan, Balu Varghese, Basil Joseph, Sidharth Menon, Abiram Radhakrishnan, Ria Saira, Chembil Ashokan, Prashanth Murali and Gilu Joseph. In this interview with Vishal Menon, they talk about what it is like to work with friends and family, to write a dark comedy and social media influencers turning actors.
Vishal: A director-actor sibling duo is rather rare in Malayalam cinema. In Tamil, we have seen Jayam Ravi – Mohan Raja combination. Tell us, how different is the relationship on a set compared to when you’re at home?
Ganapathi: At first, I thought it was easy to perform in front of people you know well without any nervousness. It was only after I went on the set when I realised it was a whole different feeling. The absolute opposite feeling. I was very nervous and awkward to perform in front of someone who I see everyday. I was tense.
Vishal: Give us an example, which scene was the most awkward and difficult to perform?
Ganapathi: What happened was that during script discussions I used to give suggestions. But when it came to performing I kept wondering whether the scene was translating on the screen the way we had discussed. That kind of nervousness would set in.
Vishal: Were you also tense because your brother is making the film and that it’s his first film?
Ganapathi: More than anything, the tension was really about the process and the output of the film. But after shooting for a few days, we found a happy rhythm. We are both familiar to most of the crew and cast, like Arjun (Asokan) and Balu (Varghese). We would wrap up each day happily.
Vishal: Chidambaram, when you have to make your younger brother act, are you able to make a distinction between him being Ganapathi, your brother and the actor? Do you borrow from personal incidents that happen with him?
Chidambaram: It works both ways. Sometimes, yes. I am reminded of certain events and incidents that happen at home or when we are with friends. This isn’t restricted just to Ganapathi but also with other actors like Balu with whom we hang out.
Vishal: Especially when you’re writing a comedy..
Chidambaram: Absolutely. A lot of the comedy is inspired by some incident or the other. You think of things people say and see how you can adapt that into a scene.
Vishal: In the trailer, we see that the film has some dark and tense portions. But when you’re working with a cast who are so close to you, what is more difficult to shoot – comedy or drama?
Chidambaram: I think, whether it is dramatic or comedy, a scene should be workable. The scene should be able to convey what the story is. That is the bigger challenge. Also, the film doesn’t really have any dark portions. The trailer might show that, but the film is really light and one to laugh at.
Vishal: Like you said earlier, your cast and crew are also your friends. What is their involvement right from the scripting stage. Do you have writers-cum-actors room?
Chidambaram: Yes. Especially because the film is in the comedy genre, we did multiple discussions for each scene. Everyone’s opinion counts and everyone gave inputs on how to make a scene better. Arjun knew about the film right from the beginning and supported us during the production stages. In fact, he is instrumental in making the film happen. From the very inception of this idea, Balu was aware of it and I told him what character I wanted him to play. He got involved, we’d hang out and write together.
Vishal: What is the philosophy behind cutting the trailer and teaser that way? Both of them look like they are from two different films. Teaser was comic but the trailer, while being funny, took a dark turn. What was the idea behind it?
Chidambaram: One reason is that we wanted to create an intrigue among the audience. We had to make them curious enough to think of the twists and turns in the film. While having said that, the teaser does carry the essence of the entire film. It’s not misleading, it’s simply to create curiosity.
Vishal: Another aspect of the film is that it recognizes the stardom of social media. There are actors in your film who are social media influencers. Have you embraced this new generation of talent that is coming from this platform?
Chidambaram: They are already in front of the camera and make content by themselves. It’s far easier to assess whether they will be able to carry a scene, how well they can lip sync, etc. This is not the only way to find actors but it makes the process easier. Apart from that, even the influence they have on social media works as a plus for our film.
Ganapathi: When we started casting for the role, we took many auditions. However, we came across Shruti, who was making make-up review videos and she was really popular. For Arjun’s sister’s character, we needed a relatable character and we felt like Shruti would fit in perfectly. Everyone knows Prapti Elizabeth as Mrinalini from her comedy sketches. There would also be a general curiosity of how she’d be in a film. We cast them not because they are influencers but because they are good actors.
Vishal: With newer discoveries of female comedians from platforms like Tik Tok or Instagram Reels, do you feel like there is more scope now to write characters that don’t stick to a template?
Ganapathi: Finding people from social media is only one medium. It is just another platform where talent can be showcased. If older female comedians aren’t being cast in different kinds of roles, that is because there aren’t as diverse scripts and characters out there. At the end of the day, influencers or not, talent is what matters.
Vishal: Another fascinating thing in the trailer is that Balu is getting a darker role, is there some truth to that?
Chidambaram: No, it is not. There is a saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. At first sight, it will seem like it is a dark character, but as the film progresses, you will understand that it is not.
Vishal: It is a big release in so many ways. It has been only a week after theatres opened, what is the mood among the team currently?
Chidambaram: Yes, if it was OTT there was nothing to be scared about, but a theatrical release is entirely different. The collections, footfalls and so many things matter. Having said that, I am happy that I can watch my first film on a big screen. Even the producers are confident about putting it on a big screen.
Vishal: Is Vinodayathra hangover done or do people still talk about it when you go out?
Ganapathi: No, it is not over yet. People are not forgetting that character, we are trying to break it by doing new movies. Let this be that movie. We have taken lots of efforts and let us pray for a positive outcome.