It is a glorious comeback of sorts for director Vasudev Sanal. The director of Priyam and Iruvattom Manavaatti had been on a self-imposed sabbatical after his third film, Two-Wheeler (later renamed and released as Players) faced unprecedented delays.
Those were tough days for Sanal, who had to bankroll the project with the assistance of a number of producers. While the film had been noticed for its innovative subject-line, production delays hampered its fate, until finally Sanal clinched a decent satellite right for the film, sorted out the financial issues, and breathed easy.
“It was a massive learning experience,” says Sanal, an alumnus of the School of Drama, and the state award winner for best director and best play.
Perhaps it is the challenges he faced that streamlined his thought-process to the theme of his newest movie, God’s Own Country, which has gained critical and mass acclaim.
“God’s Own Country is about money and women, and how they impact lives,” explains Sanal in a nutshell about the film, which is structured in a multi-linear format.
But it goes much further in its philosophical overtures and the contemporary relevance of its content. “People from any walk of the society can relate to God’s Own Country because it shows both the futility and utility of money. It shows how money hoarded uselessly by one person can serve as a lifeline for another.”
With a stellar star-cast including Fahadh Faasil, Lal and Sreenivasan, the film has served as a solid come-back for Sanal. “Staying out of the industry for a few years, I was determined to make a return only with a project that shines through for its script, which also had a social value to it,” he says.
Sanal worked on the script of God’s Own Country for nearly a year, and it was endorsed and appreciated by Sreenivasan, who plays a central role in the film. He was also the first to sign up for the project.
Next to come on board was Lal. While Asif Ali was to play the third protagonist, as fate would have it, Fahadh Faasil gave the nod, and it changed the entire equation of the film.
“Each of these actors brings a certain unique value to the film,” says Sanal. “Fahadh is fantastic with his subtle acting style, and the film offers several such moments. In fact, he has few lines but communicates the entire burden of his character’s dilemmas with his inimitably subtle performance.”
Essentially the story of three men, two of them – Fahadh and Lal’s characters on a desperate pursuit for money to save their loved ones – and the third, Sreenivasan, playing a public prosecutor, God’s Own Country chronicles a large slice of Kerala’s socio-political milieu – all in one day’s events. The film, partially shot in Dubai, also stars Isha Talwar, Lena and Mythili.
Sanal dips into his own experiences for some elements of the film in addition to observations from the journeys he undertakes. “Ultimately, I believe that the film makes an innate connection with the viewers. They will relate to the characters as well as to the situations.”
He says that shooting in Dubai was a delightful experience, one that makes him confident of returning here for more film productions. “The people were extremely helpful and that made shooting a breeze.”
Sanal adds that choosing the city for part of the shoot was integral to the script, as the character played by Fahadh is an NRI, who is on a visit to Kerala to raise money to secure the release of his wife who is in jail. “You see a very diverse cross-section of Malayalis here, and the situation that my protagonist goes through is something NRIs would understand.”
Coming to theatres without being trumpeted or hyped-up, God’s Own Country’s success has, no doubt, energized Sanal. “Even through the toughest of times, I had never lost my personal confidence. But the audience acceptance – of making a film that came with no frills and turning it into a remarkable success – is no doubt very encouraging.”
He is currently in discussion for his new venture, even as he relishes the sweet taste of success, which is also a personal vindication of his commitment to film.
“I could have always gone back to theatre,” says Sanal. “In fact, I have worked extensively in both professional and amateur theatre. But cinema has always been my strong interest.”
Starting his film career by assisting director Viji Thampi in Thiruthalvaadhi, Sanal, who hails from Kallambalam, says God’s Own Country is his best work to date. “When I did Priyam too, I gave it my best. But we evolve as creative professionals with time.”
Equally at home in theatre and film, underlining that both mediums fulfil the creative professional in him, Sanal is now turning a new leaf in his career. And what a way to do so, with a film that mirrors a society that – almost everyone might agree – is the hardest to define!