History does come a full circle. After his experimental, genre-bender film Double Barrel was panned, director Lijo Jose Pellissery says: “You get such extreme reactions when you try something different. I never tried to tell a story and that is the first thing people should get.”
He went on social media telling disgruntled and even condescending commentators: “Sorry guys, no plans to change… no plans to impress.”
He didn’t change nor does he bring a ‘story’ in the conventional sense to his new film Angamaly Diaries, scripted by actor Chemban Vinod Jose.
And as Lijo so well predicted, he has got extreme reactions to the film, extreme appreciation and celebration to a film that stands out for its singular approach to filmmaking.
The filmmaker might have had no plans to impress anyone but that is exactly what he did with this must-watch film of the season.
We need to expand the space
“Isn’t it a wonder that one of the largest industries revolves around just a handful of people,” Lijo asks as he discusses the making and success of Angamaly Diaries. “We have such incredible talent and when we expand the creative space, there is room for more cinema, better cinema.”
That is exactly what he does with Angamaly Diaries. He picked 86 people, all rank newcomer, and placed them in a film rooted in the rustic milieu of Angamali, a township tucked between Trichur and Kochi.
“I have always wanted to make a film with an entire cast of newcomers, and when this project came along, it seemed a perfect fit to do it,” says Lijo, who adds that working with the raw cast gave him exceptional freedom. “It was not just liberating; it was so much comfortable and they presented the opportunity to mould these men and women into true-blooded characters.”
The conscious decision to cast new faces has been appreciated by cinema-lovers with Antony Varghese who plays the lead role of Vincent Pepe and Sarath Kumar, who appears as the antagonist Appani Ravi, along with a horde of others captivating the masses.
The story of a people and a place
Angamaly Diaries is the story of a place and its people; that is the best one-liner you can get of the film. Through the place, through what happens in a mofussil town and its suburbs, the story and characters evolve.
On that count, the film is not much different from Lijo’s earlier works, where he focuses on treatment and narrative strength than in a linear story per se.
“Angamaly Diaries stems from many stories that Chemban Vinod used to say; when he strung it all together, I wanted him to direct it,” says Lijo. But one thing led to the other, and he took on the mantle, and in doing so, brought a rare sense of craftsmanship that is always evident in his body of works.
Living just about 15 km from Angamaly, Lijo says he could pretty well connect to the milieu. “The sense of humour, the sarcasm, the perspective on life…. That is something I could totally understand.”
Add to it his own sensibilities as a filmmaker, shaped by observing people and places, which Lijo says “is important for film. You need to have characters from life and not just recycle the characters you see on screen.”
The story of the 10-minute single-shot sequence
Lijo loves single-shot sequences; he marveled audiences with one such in Amen. Angamaly Diaries has a 10-minute single shot climax shot, which is sure to hook you on to the screen.
Lijo says he opted for a single-shot because he wanted audiences to be drawn into the narrative without break. “What we did is to design the scene elaborately, and much planning went into it. But the entire credit goes to Gireesh Gangadharan (the cinematographer who only this week won a special mention at the state film award).”
“Anyone who has handled a camera knows how delicate it is,” says Lijo. “Gireesh had full control on the scene, deftly moving around with it.”
Angamaly Diaries also scores high on its music by Prashant Pillai; Lijo’s association with him goes all the way to his debut film Nayakan. “Music is one part of filmmaking that I love,” says Lijo. “And with Prashant, he intuitively understands what I want.”
Lijo is not overwhelmed with the exceptional success of Angamaly Diaries, just as he wasn’t underwhelmed with Double Barrel. “I never promise a producer a hit. One cannot function like that. And I never harbour expectations about the film’s box office performance.”
But with Angamaly Diaries he had an ace: “I did not have the stress that was associated with my earlier films. I had the space and time to sift through the script, correct mistakes and polish my film. That definitely helped.”
This week, if you love experiments, if you love the new wave in cinema, Angamaly Diaries is not-to-miss. It is raw, intense, down-to-earth honest and just mind-blowingly entertaining.