Expatriation is a theme that recurs in director R Shyamaprasad’s movies. It could not have been coincidental. After all, he had been an expat – a Masters student in Media Production at the Hull University and then working as media researcher and creative contributor for BBC in London.
But more than the mise en scène of his films, what makes them special is the inward trajectory he takes into the psyche of his characters. You will hardly find a superfluous character in his films, and you will invariably be dragged into the vortex of the emotional dilemmas of people caught in ordinary or extraordinary situations.
That is why even when Ivide comes with the huge advantage of its Tier 1 star-cast – Prithviraj and Nivin Pauly, both ‘superstars,’ if you may, in their own right – the film is known and talked about as a ‘Shyamaprasad’ movie. The cast complements; the director is the ‘star.’
With Ivide, now playing at theatres in the UAE, Shyamaprasad (a regular at the Dubai International Film Festival circuit) is moving into another expat territory – this time, the US. He has earlier documented expat life in Kuwait (Kallu Kondoru Pennu), UAE (Manalnagaram, a TV series) and UK (English).
“But then, each film is differently nuanced,” says Shyamaprasad. “While the theme of displaced people might be common, there are other factors that make Ivide more layered. For instance, there is this constant corporate ambition in Nivin’s character, while Prithviraj’s role has a mixed racial background making his assimilation into the system problematic. Then, there is a love story and a crime angle.”
Shyamaprasad, however, wouldn’t call his film a ‘thriller’ as Ivide is much-touted. “I haven’t marketed the film as a thriller and I do not know where that came from. Our film industry plays by certain simplistic derivatives of genres, and the thriller tag does not match the kind of film we have made. It definitely is my film, about human emotions, but not in the thriller genre.”
Peripherally, Ivide is the story of a cop Varun Blake (Prithviraj) investigating a series of murders. Varun’s demons are many, not least being his mixed parentage but also a potential threat to his ex-wife Roshni (Bhavana), who now finds solace in an ambitious IT professional Krish Hebbar (Nivin Pauly).
With a predominant Hollywood crew, the film is extensively shot in the US, and has gained critical and popular acclaim in Kerala, despite the Premam-wave. “These are two different films,” says Shyamaprasad. “As Anwar Rasheed (the producer of Premam) has said, it is for a very young crowd of say 16 to 23 years, while Ivide will be more appreciated by people who are aware of the life of Malayalis abroad.”
He says that working with the Western crew, though not a novelty for him, was a reaffirmation of what is taught at film schools – on the need to have elaborate preparation for movies. “It underlined the need to place greater attention to pre-production work, to have stronger communication with your cast and crew, and to have a script that is understood by all members in your team. It reaffirmed that we need to have double the prep time; if the film is being shot in one month, you need two months of serious prep time with technicians and cast that will help achieve the kind of aesthetic one aspires for.”
Despite being shot in the US, Shyamaprasad deliberately veered away from using the location as a prop for picture post-card song settings or to bring in the whole aspects of nostalgia, which he says “is overused in fiction and films.”
He sees it as a compliment that critics define his films, even when mistakenly branded as ‘thrillers,’ to be about people and their emotional vulnerabilities. “Whatever the genre or context, I believe there is a common concern in all my films about people. I do not attempt to make different films. My commitment is to be truthful, honest and authentic.”
He says that his own expatriation probably prompts him to “look at life of people outside their natural purview. I think it is far more interesting to look at the global Malayalis and go deeper to try and understand the underbelly of their existence.”
Closely following The Artist, one of his most accomplished works, Shyamaprasad says the excitement of doing Ivide was in working with the international crew and a predominantly bilingual script. Teaming up again with scenarist Ajayan Venugopalan (who also wrote English), wasn’t coincidental says Shyamaprasad.
“He is a kindred soul and understands my concerns. And then, there is hardly any published fiction about expat life in Malayalam that is worth making a film about. We need people who can look into their lives and have a closer idea of it, which Ajayan brings in.”
Shyamaprasad describes Ivide as a ‘human story not just for expats’ but one that expats including those in the UAE will identify with far more “because it is about assimilation in a different milieu and at the same time about being considered differently. That conflict and tension is the backdrop of the film.”