Back in 1994, when assistant director Madhupal made his debut as an antagonist in his director Rajiv Anchal’s Kashmeeram, he was eulogised for his looks, with the vernacular press calling him the next Arvind Swami. Since then, he has done over 100 films, in roles significant or otherwise. That passage can best be described as uneventful. “I was learning to make cinema all that while.”
During all this, he continued to make waves in other fields of art (author of nine published short stories, and member of Kerala Chalachitra Academy, Kerala Folklore Academy and Kerala Children’s Film Society). His directorial debut in 2008, Thalappavu, which chronicled the life of Naxal Varghese, went on to bag several State awards, as did his second film, Ozhimuri (2012) which was screened at the Indian Panorama at IFFK, besides winning several International awards.
His third and latest film is releasing after a considerable break—Oru Kuprasidha Payyan, headlined by Tovino Thomas, Anu Sithara and Nimisha Sajayan. More from the director:
Are the long breaks after each film intentional?
I wouldn’t call it a break at all since I am doing a lot of work for TV, besides working on screenplays and documentaries. Creatively I am super active. It’s just that I am not keen on making a film just for the sake of it. The subject should communicate and satisfy me. There have been instances when what seemed like an exciting subject ended up evolving into something dismal. Even then, we can still get some portions or threads that can take the shape of a tele-series or a documentary. That itself is a preparation towards cinema.
What was the thought that triggered Oru Kuprasidha Payyan?
My earlier films, Ozhimuri (a commentary on the matriarchal Nair society’s transition into patriarchy) and Thalappavu can be called period films and I was keen on doing something on contemporary society. I found the recent spate of murder mysteries in Kerala quite intriguing. There were so many layers to it, be it the background and the closure. That led me to Jeevan Thomas’ essay based on a real-life incident and eventually the film.
Was Tovino the first choice for the role?
Let’s say, the character fit him. He had seen my earlier films and was keen to work with me. It’s a nuanced character and he was a terrific surprise. Acting and behaving are two things—Tovino did the latter. When you place an actor in a milieu, it’s important that he infuses himself into it.
How do you deal with actors? Are there workshops and rehearsals before the shoot?
We were finicky about picking only experienced actors even for the minutest roles. Just for that, we had a rehearsal camp. I am very particular that every actor and technician on my set should have read the script. It gets them into the mood of the film and more importantly to work as one entity. The involvement was tremendous, be it about lighting, framing, the morning-evening shots.
You have been a prolific short story writer. But none of the films you made were written by you…
Filmmaking, according to me, is a collective art form. There is a lot of give and take, ideating, and arguing between a scriptwriter and director. Almost like a good husband-wife bond. There are two thought processes and attitudes at work, and it makes filmmaking a more enriching process. If I do both, it would be a lonely process.
You have assisted Bharath Gopi, Rajiv Anchal and Jude Attipetty during your early days in cinema. How much of it made Madhupal the director?
Gopi Chettan (Bharath Gopi) is primarily an actor and it was an art to watch him brief his actors. Rajiv Anchal is an art director turned director and I learnt how he prepared for a scene, creating the right atmosphere, framing it like a painting. Jude’s execution was precise. I would say I have learnt something from each of the directors I have worked with as an actor too.
Did you enjoy acting?
It was passion for filmmaking that accidentally led to acting. I knew direction was my calling. The more films I did, the more I observed and learnt about cinema.
It’s like being dead or alive, our life is consumed by the thought of how many likes or dislikes we get. Ultimately if a film is good, if it has relevance or influence, it will survive and exist. You can’t force anyone to like or dislike anything
What’s your idea of good cinema?
Every audience has an idea of good and bad cinema in their mind. Nobody wants to make a bad film. Personally, a film should entertain, motivate or inspire me, that’s when it exists, or else we will forget it. A film should stand the test of time. When you talk and discuss it after a decade, then it has ticked the right boxes.
What process of filmmaking do you enjoy the most?
The post production stage, at the editing console, adding sounds. You can shoot as much as you want but the real film evolves at the editing table. An actor can be shot at various levels and spaces but the mood and feel that defines the scene is determined then. Characters, shots, music—everything progresses on the table. Like finding that perfect word to use in a sentence.
Are you under pressure when you make a film?
Is it just when you make a film? Aren’t we under pressure all the time? Even when you write a story, when you act, when you drive. There aren’t moments when you are not under pressure.
Are you ok with the social media reviews?
Sure, why not? Anyone can write, unfiltered. The important thing there is just to be active online. It’s like being dead or alive, our life is consumed by the thought of how many likes or dislikes we get. Ultimately if a film is good, if it has relevance or influence, it will survive and exist. You can’t force anyone to like or dislike anything.
A lot of re-readings are being done on misogyny and lack of female representation in cinema today. Do you follow any guideline when you draw a female character?
I don’t know where it is going. Equal status is very important. It’s like this—you talk and I wait for you to finish and vice versa. There is harmony there. It’s as basic as that. One doesn’t exist without the other and I believe it should be the same on screen too.
And finally, can you name that one film that changed your life?
It cannot be one film for sure. Every film has influenced me in one way or the other. We must learn various subjects in school and college before we graduate, right? Similarly, one film doesn’t teach you everything. If it does, you will end up a fool. So many films, so many filmmakers, so many exquisite scenes, so many dialogues, so many languages—let’s keep that discussion for another day?