Helmed by Aashiq Abu, Tovino Thomas-starrer Neelavelicham is slated to hit the screens on Friday. The Malayalam horror is based on Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s novel of the same name and a remake of the classic horror film Bhargavi Nilayam (1964).
In Neelavelicham, Tovino essays the role of writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer ( or rather a fictionalised take on the writer), who moves to an abandoned house and ends up befriending the spirit of a young woman, Bhargavi (played by Rima Kallingal). Tovino Thomas, who plays Basheer in the film, says Bhargavi Nilayam and Neelavelicham are set in two different time periods, and that the film’s team looks at the latter as a tribute.
Beyond merely adapting the screenplay of the original, the team has done extensive research on Basheer’s other works to recreate his world. The actor says, “We have also used elements from nine other works of Basheer. That’s why you cannot really compare both these films. With Hrishi’s (Hrishikesh Bhaskaran, who penned the additional screenplay for Neelavelicham) input, we realised that there was a love story between my character and Saraswati Devi in the novel Anuragathinte Dinangal (The shore of deep solitude). My character is said to have shifted to this house after their split up. Based on this, I was able to give my character an element of depression too.”
In the story, the writer lives in solitude, spending most of his time reading, writing, talking to a dog, the house and yes, the ghost. To prepare for his role, Tovino spent a night alone in a beach resort. “I was the only guest at the resort; it was partially closed due to the monsoons. A few steps towards the beach was the same place where the song in Bhargavi Nilayam was shot. I did a lot of things that one night — speaking to myself, taking a stroll along the beach, and reading aloud. Only when I started to spend time by myself, I realised why my character may have thought of such a person (the spirit) in that solitude. It helped me get into the mood of the film.”
Almost 30% of the scenes in the original (which co-starred Madhu and Vijaya Nirmala) saw the protagonist talking to himself. “I don’t think Neelavelicham would have worked out if we had stuck to the same pattern of an actor speaking to himself. We have changed a lot, be it in terms of fashion or filmmaking, to suit this time period. But on the other hand, one cannot make it completely contemporary either. So, the trick was to find the right balance,” the actor notes.
Tovino’s preparation also included reading Basheer’s works over the years. “For instance, I have an old edition of Pathummayude Aadu from 1984 and Moocheetukallikarante Makal from 1979. These are small books so it doesn’t take a lot of time to read and his way with words is amazing. It helped that I was familiar with this world of Basheer’s. In fact, even my worldview has been created by his books. I have so many animals and birds, and the idea to create a garden — everything came from a Basheerian philosophy.”
Neelavelicham co-stars Rima Kallingal, Roshan Mathew and Shine Tom Chacko.