Shahi Kabir, the writer of Joseph and the recent Nayattu, starring Kunchacko Boban, Joju George, and Nimisha Sajayan, talks to Anupama Chopra about how he humanized the characters in Nayattu and his response to the controversy around the depiction of Dalits in the film. Edited Excerpts…
In a film like Nayattu which has the format of a police chase, how did you find a way to humanize characters. You spend thirty minutes introducing them. Were you afraid of doing that, because very little was happening.
Generally, in society, the majority of people do not like the police, for some reason or the other. So, portraying and proving that even cops are a part of society and that they also have day-to-day problems like other human beings was important. Because it makes people accept issues with greater conviction in the later stage of the film. It was important to show them like that before the issue is created in the film. We believe that because of the first thirty minutes, the audience was able to travel with these three people after the accident which caused all their problems.
When you were writing the film, did you anticipate the kind of backlash you received for the film? What was your reaction when people started calling the movie anti-Dalit?
When we were making the film we never thought of it that way. After the film’s release, we started noticing the rise in controversy about the topic on social media. Actually, we never saw it that way. Especially when it comes to Dalits here, they do not have any privilege. When there are elections, they might get benefits in that period alone. Otherwise they don’t get much and that’s what I was trying to portray in the film. If you look closely, if it weren’t an election situation, a character named Biju would have been remanded. Only because of the specific situation, political parties went against the police. Other than this, we didn’t have any other intention in our mind.
Two cop characters Sunita (Nimisha Sajayan) and Maniyan (Joju George) are not connected to the community even though they are Dalits. Did you have any concerns about it or did you just write what seemed natural?
I didn’t keep that in mind. I did not balance things out when I was writing by trying to have Dalit characters on opposite sides. They are the most underprivileged and exploited section of society.
In my mind, there was only the concept of: hunter vs hunted. There are no heroes or villains. If you take Maniyan, he is an innocent man. He frames an innocent boy in the initial part of the film (we don’t mention the caste; he’s just an innocent guy). So, Maniyan was also in the system; he was a hunter, actually. He initially even shows his subordinates how to behave as a cop: a bit like a goonda or a professional assassin. He says that they just have to get the job done even if it’s against their wish. Later on, as the tables turn, the hunter becomes the hunted.