While the media is spinning parallels to the real life story of Manju Warrier with that of her character Nirupama in her come-back film How Old Are You, the film’s director Rosshan Andrrews is having a quiet laugh.
He is tired of denying that the film is not drawn on the real life of the actress. He is also not keen to humour those who come up with the most absurd of observations about the movie, most of them based on hearsay.
“I had this reporter calling me to ask why I copied English Vinglish (the runaway hit of actress Sridevi, also in a come-back role),” says Rosshan. “So I asked her, ‘Did you watch this film?’ She hadn’t, and even befo
re that she had filed her story.”
To set things straight, Rosshan says How Old Are You has nothing to do with the Bollywood film. “I had seen English Vinglish and I liked it. But where is the parallel in a lady who aspires to speak English, and another who stands up, chases her dreams and wants prove her true potential? We have so many experts in our midst today, who live their lives in front of computers and come up with all sorts of weird arguments.”
Rosshan adds that the film wasn’t even planned as the re-launch pad for Manju Warrier, who is returning to cinema after 14 years. “We were scouting for heroines in Tamil, Telugu and north India, when Manju announced her intention to return to films. We narrated the script. She liked it and we went ahead.”
He gives due credit to Manju for the success of the film. “I would easily attribute 50 per cent of the film’s success to the love that Malayalis have for Manju. Secondly, women in the age-group of30 to 45 years could relate to the movie. Then there is the 1:4 factor: When a homemaker decides to watch a film, she often comes with her husband and children or relatives.”
How Old Are You is one of Malayalam’s first-of-its-kind ‘inspirational’ movies scripted by the award-winning duo Bobby-Sanjay, where Manju’s Nirupama takes on life with unprecedented fervor at the age of 36 years, defies all odds, and emerges a winner.
“What is extremely gratifying for me is that How Old Are You proved the impact cinema has on our society,” says Rosshan. “In less than 21 days of its release, it has even led to a possible legislation to promote terrace farming (a vocation Nirupama takes on in the film).”
Rosshan is unequivocal about the dearth of female acting talent in Malayalam cinema, citing that as the reason why fewer women-oriented films are made today. “During the heydays of Urvashi, Shobhana and Suhasini, and later Manju and Samyukta Varma, films were made around them. Today, there are very few actresses who can shoulder such roles.”
Rosshan says there were several new experiences for him as a director in the making of How Old Are You. For the first time, he shot scenes at a real event – the Kochi Half Marathon. “To recreate a marathon would have cost us INR 50 lakhs. We shot it at an expense of just INR 8 lakhs. But it also meant making elaborate preparations. We had to wrap the scenes in just three hours – it was a challenge and a rewarding experience.”
He says that the masters in Malayalam cinema, who he respects, called him to congratulate him on How Old Are You. “They said it is one of the best films I have made to date. I can confidently say it is one of the cleanest films made: there is no vulgarity, ‘new generation’ gimmicks, swearing, or depiction of alcohol or drugs. ”
Rosshan is now moving to his new venture, which he describes as a ‘dream project’ that he has been nurturing for over seven years. “It is about miracles and whether they do happen in life.” The new venture too is scripted by Bobby-Sanjay, and will have Prithviraj on the lead.
With How Old Are You emerging as a thumping success, there is even greater media spotlight on Manju. Reporters are digging into her past, often coming up with laughable commentaries after Dileep, her super-star actor husband, filed for divorce. Manju is holding the fort with dignity, refusing to talk to the media in a bid not to stoke the fires.