Malayalam film audiences often relate to director Ranjith Sankar as one of the flag-bearers of the new wave of cinema, where the film’s narrative, structure and approach make a departure from established norms. He also finds himself in a league where he is not tagged as a ‘new generation’ director and yet has clearly found his footing among the seasoned directors who make ‘clean films’ without cheap frills.
That, indeed, is a great going for someone who is the proverbial ‘outsider,’ venturing into movies despite his successful IT career, led by a passion for the medium.
Ranjith recalls how on his first meeting with Mammootty several years back for a story-telling session he panicked realizing how little he knew of movie-making. He was on the sets of a Blessy movie and watching how time-consuming the shots were, his own plans for having Mammootty for his debut film, which he planned to shoot in flat 20 days, seemed like going for a toss.
While Mammootty did not sign for Ranjith’s first movie Passenger, the runaway hit starring Dileep earned him the chair of the ‘promising director.’ Hitting the road running, he went on to make Arjunan Saakshi with Prithviraj, Molly Aunty Rocks with Revathi and Punyalan Agarbathis with Jayasoorya and Dubai-based Nyla Usha.
His newest film Varsham, now playing at theatres in the UAE for a second week, was to be his second venture, which he had planned with Mammootty. Talk about cycles in life: The actor, who gave an encouraging nod and inspired Ranjith to become a filmmaker, has stepped forward to produce it too. And audiences get to see Mammootty in the avatar they like – not as a frolicking superman but as a powerful actor who gets into the shade of the character with impressive élan.
Varsham indeed has brought out the actor par excellence in Mammootty with audiences raving about that seminal moment in the film, when he faces a mind-numbing tragedy in life. With just two words, Mammootty makes that emotional bond with viewers.
Ranjith recalls that the shot was taken without rehearsals and okayed in the first take. “I felt we could never capture the emotion in a retake and simply let the moment take its own life.”
Needless to say, he was awed by Mammootty’s performance as an expatriate, who returns to Kerala, finds himself in familial and business troubles, and then makes a positive transformation in life.
Ranjith says the film’s story is universal in its appeal. “The expatriate angle is not the core; the situations in the film could happen to anyone, anywhere. I personally know of people who have gone through such crisis. Ultimately, the film is about the transformation that happens in you.”
He says the film is not a radical departure or a calculated move to make a ‘family-oriented movie.’ “My outlook is to make the films I like to watch. And I do not approach films with pre-conceived notions. For me, every film is a learning and unlearning experience. You evolve and learn as you go,” says Ranjith.
The success of the film, which was innovatively marketed over social media platforms and had an international release as far afield as Japan, has not overwhelmed Ranjith. “I have seen successes and setbacks, and as a person, I like to take things with equanimity.”
He acknowledges the acting powerhouses he had at his disposal for the movie, which gave the film its strong emotional quotient. “My goal with any actor is to give him or her a role that challenges him, which is why the roles of Asha Sharath and TG Ravi stay apart from their other films,” says Ranjith.
He also ensures that every character in the film – irrespective of the length of their roles – must be fully fleshed out. “It is very important that every character is nuanced so that they contribute to the overall tonality and emotional quotient of the movie.”
For Varsham, Ranjith repeats the mise-en-scene of Thrissur, which was extremely successful in his earlier Punyalan Agarbathis. “It was after a long time that a few years back that I met with friends and enjoyed the Pooram. That is when I decided to make a movie that captures the spirit of my hometown,” says Ranjith, who is an engineering graduate from Kothamangalam.
“So Punyalan was made with that in mind but with Varsham, it just happened to be shot in Thrissur because of logistical and location reasons,” says Ranjith.
As a writer and director, Ranjith says he seeks and finds inspiration from the people around him. “I like to observe the world and take cues from everyday life.”
That, indeed, is what makes his films relatable to Malayalam film audiences. With all his five films to date, he has not let down audiences – and has also clearly attempted to stay away from being stereotyped.
Ranjith has not commenced work on his next, but he has now turned his full attention to movies. He only resigned his job after his first three movies, and that gives him the freedom to set his mind on his absolute passion – cinema.
At some level, with his own life, Ranjith proves the power of positive transformation – and the ability of individuals not only to chase his dreams with blind faith but also prove that dreams can take wings and set you in the right path.