Minnal Murali, is being touted as the first ever Malayalam superhero movie. Tovino Thomas plays the superhero who gains powers after being struck by lightning. From being lightning fast to having great strength, he is also humorous and edgy. Basil Joseph sets this story in a village in Kerala. The actor and director speak about the origin story of the film itself, struggles of a full body costume and how the many difficulties that came their way didn't shake their resolve to make this film.
Anupama Chopra (AC): You are trying to do so much in this film. The checkboxes of a superhero movie — the origin story, the super power, the costume, the villain — but you're also trying to make it authentic by making the relationships feel real and set it all in a village in Kerala. What was the writing process like?
Basil Joseph (BJ): The writing process started in 2018 when the writer, Arun Anirudhan, came up with the idea of a village guy getting struck by lightning and getting a super power. Superhero films is a genre that demands something exaggerated. We cannot make a small superhero movie and it has to look big some way or the other. We really wanted to make sure that the movie should work, emotionally. The base of the script needed to be strong and then we spend a budget on it. We cannot spend on action and VFX alone and do less with the script. Our effort was to make VFX work with practical effects and action sequences on top of a good script. Even if we cut out the superhero elements, it should be a good movie.
I think of my parents watching the movie. They're not used to superhero films. I am sure they'll not get excited watching action or some fancy VFX.
AC: But, they'll relate to the emotion in the film..
BJ: Yes. The film has to connect with basic human emotions and be grounded as much as possible. The genre is such that it has been experimented with quite a lot across the world. It's very difficult to find original ideas because some way or the other we'll end up hitting the wall.
Tovino, when you first heard the script, you wanted to do the role that Guru Somasundaram has done. Why did you want to play the role and how did he convince you not to?
Tovino Thomas (TT): Basil gave me two reasons. First was when he said "I will have to find someone else who will pull off the superhero character and I have sequels also lined up." Then I said if he had a Minnal Murali 2 planned then I had to play Minnal Murali. (laughs)
I was flattered by another reason he gave me. He said "Humour and physique is a rare combination. I want my character to be physically fit and be able to handle humour." He said, right now, he couldn't find a replacement for this character apart from me. I loved the compliment!
AC: When actors do superhero movies, you always hear them talk about the first time they put on the costume. Especially, the MCU actors talk about how electrifying it is to first be one of those characters. Did you have that experience at all?
TT: When I had to urinate, I had to hold for hours. I was actually wearing this full body suit, it wasn't CGI or motion capture. So, it was not so electrifying. (laughs) But, when I did the costume trials, I went and stood in front of this glass window. It was in Mumbai. I looked at the city and I felt like a superhero.
AC: This was a tough shoot. You were handling COVID, lockdown, vandalism. Basil, did you ever have a moment where you thought "why did I start this"? Did you ever lose hope?
BJ: There were so many instances when it was too much to handle for me. I am not that strong emotionally and I break down quite often. But, my team was super strong and supportive throughout the process. There was a moment, just ten days before the shoot, our cinematographer then had to move out for another project. Our set work and everything else had started and I didn't know how to move forward without a cinematographer. I was sitting in my apartment's basement without knowing what to do next. Then our producer, Sophia Paul, called me and said "Basil, take your time and find a cinematographer you want to work with." Then, Sameer Thahir came into the picture. He is a filmmaker and producer himself and he was a big pillar of support for me, mentally.
Also, our art director Manu Jagadh didn't commit to any other movie for two years because he knew that whenever we wanted to start the shoot, he had to be ready. He was also a big support system. Everyone from the writers to the music directors, Shaan Rahman and Sushin Shyam, were all super good. Everyone knew this movie was going to do something for them and really wanted it to come out well.
When I am 60 and I will look back, Minnal Murali is not just a project for me. It's an emotion. It's part of my life and I've learnt so much in the process of this movie.
Everything that happened turned out to be for something good. We got a better location for the climax because of the vandalism, one that looked even bigger and grand. During the lockdown, Tovino grew his own beard and that worked for his different appearances in the movie.
TT: We have learnt a lot of things, cried and laughed together, fought with each other. But, we didn't, even for a moment, regret our decision to make this movie.
BJ: We didn't really lose hope.