Films don’t always have to be seen via political prism: Abrid Shine

Writer-director Abrid Shine on making Mahaveeryar, enhancing M Mukundan’s original story with fantasy and time-travel elements, and why some things are left to the audience’s interpretation

author_img Sajin Shrijith Published :  29th July 2022 02:26 PM   |   Published :   |  29th July 2022 02:26 PM
A still from the film Mahaveeryar

A still from the film Mahaveeryar

It’s not every day that an interview with a filmmaker also becomes a story listening session. In the middle of this conversation, Abrid Shine narrated the entire M Mukundan story upon which his new film, Mahaveeryar, is based. I realised the brilliance of a filmmaker who made many clever additions to the source material—with, he says, the author’s permission. 

“The original story was only about the king and his search for a girl who could take care of his strange problem. The time-travel, courtroom, and many of the comedic stuff came later,” says Abrid, one of the few contemporary Malayalam filmmakers whose every new film differs from the one they made last. “The idea of subjecting a king from an ancient time to the legal processes of today’s judicial system greatly appealed to me,” he recalls.

“What are the points that today’s courts would bring up? In the old days, such proceedings had no relevance because the king —being the head of everything —remains untouchable while he is still ruling.” Abrid reminds us how it is unheard of even in places controlled by dictators. “If such a thing was possible, you find possibilities for all kinds of humour in that idea. You can also execute them in a myriad of interesting ways. It’s pure fiction.”

Excerpts:

Did you find it challenging to bring a fantasy-tinged subject with bizarre developments in front of Malayali/Indian audiences today? 
First of all, I don’t see this as a complicated story. This is a place where people believe that Kuberan flew the pushpaka vimanam way before aeroplanes were invented. Our grandmothers used to narrate vivid tales replete with all sorts of fantastical ideas. Storytellers back then imagined things that were created by engineers later. You see, such stories were made for the common man. Fiction and reality merged in some of them. Sometimes the moral, philosophical, or political sides were analysed. But you don’t have to do that all the time. Take films, too. Not everything has to be seen through a political prism. 

Aren’t you concerned about a section of the audience not getting what it all means?
I’m not. I don’t think people will have trouble understanding something like Mahaveeryar. If they don’t get it in the first viewing, they might get it in the second or third. Some might feel confused in the morning and understand everything by the evening. I’m sure it will reach everyone eventually. Many folks are yet to see it. When discussions happen in various corners, they will gradually generate interest. People might find new things when they go back to a story later—that’s the kind of art that artists like us want to make.  

What elements did you think would enhance the original story?
When we are adapting such a story for the screen, it is important to give an enriching cinematic experience. We can’t feed people something dry. We need humour, rich, vibrant visuals... things like that. We also find a way to present various arguments pertaining to a particular topic, which may be of contemporary relevance. What are the rights and wrongs? How do we cinematically present such a debate? There was an attempt to give a realistic bent to a fictional story, as a result of which the final product assumes a surreal nature. We are showing a different world. After a point, the courtroom seems like something not of this world. I also felt that humour presents a great gateway to strange situations. 

The film looks like an epic despite the minimalistic approach. 
Well, it had a fairly big budget because of the visuals, costumes, and locations. Everything had to look rich. The images should be truthful, and we should spend wherever necessary to improve the visual quality. We shot in actual locations like Rajasthan, Pushkar and Jaipur.

I believe you shot in those places to give it a pan-Indian appeal.
Yes, it has to be accessible to all Indian audiences. This is, after all, a story of universal appeal. But something like Mahaveeryar should find resonance for someone from outside India too. It’s not just about an Indian thing. It can be about a king from any part of the world.  

Nivin’s character is full of mystery. Considering the amount of knowledge he has, it is implied that he must be a special entity who lived for many ages. 
I’ll tell you something. It’s not just things from the past that he is knowledgeable about, but also the future. Remember that line he says about travelling backwards and forwards? He already knows what is going to happen to the king (or other characters) in the future. There is no end to his journey. He can also be seen as a representation of time, observing all events.

That whole coin-counting bit —does that also represent the flow of time? 
Well, one can see it that way too. It represents a lot of infinite things. Many layers can be imagined. When the castle of coins is demolished, parallels can be drawn to how real events operate.

Was Apoornandan’s robbery case deliberately left unresolved? 
Look, he has a point when he argues that they can’t say it is stolen. He doesn’t see the vigraham as a mere object made of stone. For him, it’s multidimensional—something that also possesses the fourth dimension. (Laughs) The other characters in the courtroom are baffled because he implies that they have not reflected on the spiritual side of it. That’s why he says the ‘robbery’ allegation is wrong. He wants to show them that it was not really ‘stolen’. 

Is your next a sequel to Action Hero Biju?
Yes, that’s in the writing stage at the moment.

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