What prompted you to convert Tennesse Williams’ play into a film?
I was familiar with the play from 1980 onwards, right from my Drama School days in which I had to study American drama. This play is also one studied by a lot of postgraduate students of English literature in Kerala. It was one of my favorite plays and was my diploma project. So, I had produced the play on stage. I had this dream of re-creating it in a photographic medium, either for television or for the big screen. Now, after 20-odd years, I am re-creating it on the big screen.
Why does this play carry such a fascination for you?
It touched my heart. I related to it, and also found myself in it. It is a many-layered association. On the one hand, it gave me a tremendous chance to create a visual feel; on the other hand, this is a process in which I rediscovered myself, my own creativity and my own life. It certainly acted as a reflective board. As I am not a writer myself, I have to depend on the creations of others.
Is it to suit the Indian sensibilities that you have made the characters Anglo-Indians in Akale?
Yes. The original play was set in the US in the 1930s. But I decided to make the mother (Margaret D’Costa played by Sheela) and her two children (Neil played by Prithviraj and Rose played by Geetu Mohandas) Anglo-Indians, one of whom - the son - is the narrator. I shot the film in Kannur, so I made them an Anglo-Indian family based in Kannur.
Did you adapt the play, or take a lot of liberties while recreating the background and the characters?
It is a very free adaptation. The film continues even after the play ends. Also, the film begins much before the play starts. I have put in contemporary situations, which stir certain memories in the main character (Neil), who is a writer. You can also call it nostalgia. Once the play made an imprint on my mind, I didn't go back to the original at all. But I had written five or six versions of the script.
Why did you make the film in Malayalam, and not English?
I am a Malayali. Basically, my impulsive urge is to create something of my own culture and in my own language. And, it has been done a couple of times in the US as a film. So I thought, why I should make the film in English? The story is so universal that I felt it was very challenging to re-create it in an Indian context.
Why did you cast Sheela as the mother? Was it after her sterling performance in Manassinakkare that you thought of her?
Actually, I considered her earlier than that. The moment I came to know that she was making a comeback, I cast her, that is, before Manassinakkare. The role is of a beautiful woman who lives in the glory of the past. The character has this faded beauty, faded glory and I felt it suited Sheela’s personality. She has acted so well in the film. There’s a kind of hysterics in her, which actually goes very well with the character of a nagging mother.
What were the considerations for casting Prithviraj and Geetu Mohandas?
Basically, I was looking at people who are also stars so that the film reaches the audience directly. These two are very good actors too. For example, Prithviraj portrays a character who ages from 22 to 45. In the beginning, he is a 45-year-old writer and, when the story goes back in time, he is a young man in his twenties. I am glad to say he has shown so much of range in the film.
Is there no romantic element in the film?
There is. There are only four people in the film and all of them are heroes and heroines in their own way. Rose, the character played by Geetu Mohandas is psychologically and physically weak. She has a limp because of a polio attack. She is considered the problem of the family because, in an Anglo-Indian community, unless you are outgoing, you won't find a match. So, she is a big worry for her mother.
On the other hand, the son is an indifferent kind of a young man who dreams of becoming a writer. He also wants to travel but he is forced to stay in the town and work in a warehouse for the family. So, he hates his mother and sister for trapping him within the drudgery. In desperation and because of the pressure from his mother, one day Neil brings somebody home to meet his sister. To everyone’s surprise, this guy turns out to be a dream boy. Somehow, we believe that all will end well because Rose and this guy develop a very good relationship. Then comes a very unpredictable climax.
Your film has only four characters, and most of the story takes place inside the house, which is quite daring. Did you have to make any compromise while making it?
This is one film in which I have done the least compromises, artistically as well as technically.
Which kind of audience was in your mind while making the film? I know film-makers do not like to categories films into commercial and artistic, still, is Akale for a niche audience?
Honestly, I can't tell you which audience was in my mind. Basically, I made this film to please my taste and tastes similar to mine. Let us put it that way. I believe there are thousands of such people.
How do you describe the kind of films Malayalam film industry is churning out these days?
Pretty hopeless. But the industry is suffering many other problems, anyway.
In such a background, do you feel a film like Akale will be accepted by an audience that is fed on cheap comedies?
I don't like to make any claims. Those who saw the film were touched and to my gratification, some have even described it as something so fragile and beautiful. If you ask me if it is going to run 100 days, I don't think so. It is not intended to.
It is a small film, something like chamber music. I wanted to achieve the chamber music like-impact using minimum elements. We have only four characters in the film, and the location is just one house. It is a kind of Bergman-esque! If you ask me if it is an art movie or a commercial movie, I don't know. I only know many people will identify with the film
Can I say you have made a film which you believe in?