Murali Gopy sits down for an interview with Vivek Ranjit a week before the release of Lucifer, the first film he has written for Mohanlal. Edited excerpts from the conversation:
Lucifer, one of the biggest films in your career, is ready. There are a lot of expectations riding on it, not just because of the star cast but also because a superstar, Prithviraj, is directing the film. How did this film take shape?
Even when we were talking earlier, he was someone who liked the style of my scripts. So when he wanted to direct, he approached me. Earlier, I had written a plot for Lalettan which was also called Lucifer but that was meant to be directed by Rajesh Pillai. But this is not that idea. When Prithviraj asked me for a script as we were working on Tiyaan, we called up Anthony Perumbavoor and narrated this script to him.
In the mid-90s, you worked as a journalist. Acting followed and so did script writing. But there were several gaps in between.
I didn't plan these breaks. I'm a journeyman. When I was a kid, I used to read a lot, especially books that were extra-curricular. Journalism was a natural progression to that. I was good friends with director Lal Jose and I even interviewed him when I was writing for The Hindu. That's how I entered the film world. But Rasikan, the film I wrote for him, didn't do well. Even so, I was bombarded with acting offers, but not to write. I wasn't interested. I then got a job to head two sports magazines in Dubai and moved there; it was like an exile. When I came back, Blessy asked me to do a role in Bramaram. It was his coercion that I became an actor. But writing was all Arun Kumar Aravind's doing. He had read my short stories and saw a spark in them, even though my first film had failed. I thought about it and wrote Ee Adutha Kalathu. Both entries were quick and accidental.
You said you used to write short stories. What is your writing process now? Is it ideation and then structuring or is it random?
I have thought about it. But it forms like rain…that's the only simile I can think of. It's like a clouding and the rain that falls after. The actual writing doesn't make much time, like a deluge. It's just two or three weeks, but the time before that is a natural and sincere process. I don't force myself. My scripts are detailed and I want that to happen naturally too. This is why I don't take up acting when I'm writing.
There are different types of writers; those who go to sets, those who write on the sets and the others who just hand over the script. What type are you?
It is impossible for me to write on the sets. That's a different skill set and I admire that quality. My blueprint, to the T, is given to the director. I also make sure I'm on the sets. I enjoy seeing the film take shape. Once I've given everything on paper I give full control to the director. It is their film then. But, I too give my opinions.
Does the writer in you help the actor?
Writing is like acting on paper. Acting is writing with your physical form. It's a very similar process.
The ideas in all your films are very different from what we usually see. The Mohanlal-Mammootty fans angle in Rasikan, the Rubic's Cube like formation in Ee Adutha Kalathu…these have all gained a following later on but they weren't major successes when they released.
I have to be the mediator of my themes. These themes come to me and I want to take them to the masses as naturally as they come to me. I never believe in films that don't address the general public. Whether they accept it or not is a different issue. A lot of factors decide that but films live on. In that, my films have been successful. But financially speaking, I haven't had massive commercial success, though I consider myself a mainstream writer. This is my drawback. There's nothing like an experimental film working in the box office too. When people come to me now and talk about how great my films were in hindsight, it feels terrible.
Lucifer is a huge multi-starrer. Commercial success is important and so is the prominence all these great actors get in such a film. How difficult is it to balance all of that?
Lucifer is a straightforward mainstream film that's strong on content. It is a mass film and Mohanlal fans will enjoy it. Even the other actors have not been cast for no reason; their characters are such that they demanded these actors.
How do you see Prithviraj as a director?
His dedication and how he applies himself is something else. I feel a lot of relief after giving him the script. He had studied the whole thing and he remembers aspects of it I myself have forgotten. His memory is very sharp. The mounting of this film is massive and you need to have a lot of directorial command to handle it. He has a grasp of the craft. He has done 100 films and I feel all that has been a preparation for this. He is thorough in every aspect of filmmaking; he is a dream director.
We're seeing a lot of political biopics release one after the other before the elections. Your film Kammara Sambhavan had a predictive quality to it, spoofing what we're seeing now…
I feel true art has that predictive nature. What comes naturally to you has that power and that's why I feel I must communicate it to viewers. We talk about biopics today and we see people use real names in their depiction. But if you use real names, it becomes history…it becomes hoodwinking. Creatively, it's not the right thing to do. You can make political thrillers but I don't agree with using films as a political tool for parties as propaganda. I'm glad people are noticing that after Kammara Sambhavam. The purpose of mainstream films is to remind them of such vested interests.