The joke that goes around in film industry circles today is about how director Dileesh Pothan had to carry on the shoulders by the film crew to shoot the climax of his debut film Maheshinte Prathikaram.
Dileesh laughs at it. “Fahadh (Faasil) and Soubin (Shahir) have been making it a point to repeat it at every venue,” he smiles. “Fahadh had met with slight injuries during the shoot himself.”
The said-climax involves a physical tussle between the hero Mahesh (Fahadh) and Jimson (the talented Sujith Shankar, a National School of Drama alumnus), shot over four days in a muddy puddle. The challenge was to get the right physical contact, and the stunt scene is arguably the defining moment of the film.
As for Dileesh, he had his leg all plastered after he ventured out to play a game of cricket with some boys in the field. “It was funny in a way; the trouble that the crew put up to take me to the location,” says Dileesh.
Shot on location in picturesque Idukki, Maheshinte Prathikaram’s fantastic success at the box-office nullifies all the troubles, and has elevated Dileesh to the limelight, clocking the start of another chapter in his film career.
Dileesh, to start with, is no stranger to movies. Viewers of Salt N’ Pepper would recall him as the rather slimy colleague of Shweta Menon, who urges her to go a pleasure trip. But his ‘film story’ begins even further back.
Smitten by cinema, the young man from Kuruppunthara completed his computer studies, and headed straight to assist on movies. He worked on a dozen or so, mostly commercial, and not all of them runaway successes. “Shyam Pushkaran (the writer of Maheshinte Prathikaram) and I used to share a room then; he was also assisting in movies,” says Dileesh.
But in an atypical fashion, Dileesh decided to leave the industry to build his skills. He wanted to learn more the intricacies of the medium – especially acting – and he enrolled for his Masters in Theatre studies. Also securing an MPhil in the same field, he returned to movies.
By then, Malayalam cinema was changing too. Dileesh became part of what is called the ‘new generation,’ assisting Aashiq Abu, and working with the new line-up of promising youngsters who were creating a new idiom of expression for Malayalam cinema.
Dileesh says that such constant rejuvenation and reinventing is important and healthy for cinema. “Everything is changing around us, and it is only natural that films represent the changes in the society. And alongside, we also evolve – maybe for better or worse.”
His own change, no doubt, has been for the better. That is how from being actor and associate director with Aashiq Abu and Amal Neerad, among others, he has evolved as an independent director. “There have been many opportunities to direct films but I wanted to the right project, a concept that I truly believed in.”
He had worked with Dileesh Nair (also an accomplished writer and director of Tamar Padaar) for nearly two years on a script. “Both of us were not equally satisfied with the project, and we dropped it.”
That is how Maheshinte Prathikaram took shape. Loosely inspired from real-life, the film written by Shyam Pushkaran is downright earthy. A simple tale that resonates with all, the film is about a small-town photographer, his clash with another man in the village, and the twists and turns in his love life.
Dileesh says the film is all about team work. “We worked on the script for nearly three years but what made work on the film is the exceptional cooperation we had from everyone involved, not least the people of Idukki.”
For Dileesh, the only real goal was to make a movie that he would like to watch. “We knew it would be a film that would not disappoint viewers but its extraordinary success has us all excited.”
Simplicity is at the heart of the film’s narrative with people and situations responding and evolving in utter natural ease. But to present anything with simplicity is no mean task. “That is where the teamwork helped. We also had the perfect casting, despite the fact that several of them were newcomers.”
Alongside Fahadh and Anusree, every relative and rank newcomer has scored it big in Maheshinte Prathikaram, a mark of the detailing that Dileesh gave to the project. “We can only approach filmmaking with the intention of getting the best out of any given scene. We did elaborate preparation for each scene, no doubt, and then we went with the gut feeling.”
That sense of intuition, he says, is the result of working with a number of directors, each of them leaving a definite impression in his mind.
Having earlier worked with Fahadh, Dileesh knew that he was a director’s actor. “He trusts the directors implicitly, and this gave me a lot of freedom. We did not go for the star-value of Fahadh; we went for the natural and spontaneous actor in him.”
Quite like Action Hero Biju, for which its director Abrid Shine, had allowed actors to respond to situation without prepped up dialogues, Maheshinte Prathikaram too had a flexible approach, says Dileesh. “We had dialogue ready but not exactly what you might hear on screen now; we resorted to spontaneity.”
Spontaneity is exactly what shines through in Maheshinte Prathikaram, a film that you will love for its earthiness and simplicity.