'I didn't expect this kind of a superb response'
Malayalam director Aashiq Abu has struck gold with his latest film, Salt N' Pepper. The film has a foodie theme and is having a spectacular run at the box office. Scripted by Shyam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair, it has Lal, Asif Ali, Baburaj, Swetha Menon and Mythili playing lead roles.
Here is an exclusive interview with the young director.
Did you expect Salt N' Pepper to be such a big sensation?
(Smiles) Frankly, I didn't expect this kind of a superb response from the audience. But after the preview, we knew that the film could leave viewers with a smile, not just on their lips but in their minds as well.
What was the best compliment that you got for the film?
The best and the most repeated compliment was that "it was a cute little film which is extremely likeable". I was really happy when my guru, director Kamal, told me so.
There are not many so called conventional commercial ingredients in Salt N' Pepper. It has a new 'recipe', like the archaeology backdrop and of course, food. We have made the film based on certain concepts like food and romance and it has worked.
Image: Movie poster of Salt Salt N' Pepper. Inset: Director Aashiq Abu
'We don't have many instances when good films have failed'
What was the inspiration to make a story based on food?
It's a rare genre. In fact, when the script writers told me about it, I felt that it had every ingredient for a feel-good movie. It all begins with a phone call made to order a dosa. The story develops showing all the major food joints in Kerala.
How much of a foodie are you?
I am not a crazy foodie, but I love food. I love traditional Kerala food.
There have been some 'different' films happening this year. Is the atmosphere in Malayalam cinema welcoming such experiments?
It was always there. We don't have many instances when good films have failed. The audience has always accepted genuine films.
In recent times, Traffic became a hit and Chappa Kurishu has been accepted as a different attempt and has appealed at least to a certain section of people. Let's say we have to feed grass to a cow to get milk, right?
Image: Movie poster of Salt Salt N' Pepper
'Salt N' Pepper has no melodrama'
How did you decide to cast Baburaj, who mostly plays baddie roles, as a comedian? The general feeling is that most directors would have chosen someone like Suraj Venjarammoodu for the role.
It was part of the process to think different. Of course, Suraj Venjarammoodu is a good comedian and most of the scenes would have worked with him as well. But we were not looking for laughs alone.
As a filmmaker, I needed a different colour. The script demanded that the character be a Hanuman devotee, a brahmachari who is careful about maintaining his body and at the same time, who looks a bit shady as well. Baburaj fit the bill perfectly.
How difficult was it to convince others involved in the film about your choices?
I have said in several interviews about the difficulty that I had in convincing all. Not many were convinced and it was regarded as a loss making venture. But all those who worked with us were excited. See, I don't know the recipe to make a super hit film. For me, every film should be a new thought. My priority was not to question their common sense or irritate the viewer and I wanted it to be entertaining. In Salt N' Pepper, there is no melodrama. Every emotion shown in the film is subtle, genuine and natural.
Is Salt N' Pepper being remade in other languages?
Yes, talks are on to remake it in four languages -- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi.
Image: A still from Salt N' Pepper
'I am planning to make a film with Mammootty'
Your last film Daddy Cool was not a big commercial success, but you were still willing to experiment with the next one.
Daddy Cool may not have made the kind of money that a superstar film should have made but as far as I know, it made profits to the tune of around Rs 75 lakh. I was planning two films with Mammootty and Prithviraj when this storyline came to me and I decided to make it first.
The song by the band Aviyal at the end of the movie has got a mixed response. Do you think it gelled with the whole storyline?
The song was not part of the film at all. It may be felt as breaking the continuity, especially since we are not used to it. The song was essential for the film's promotion and may have helped to bring in viewers to the theatres on the first day to a certain extent.
What is your next project?
I am planning to make a film titled Gangster with Mammootty as the hero. The script is being written. It is the story of a mafia family. Mammootty will play a character named Akbar Ali Khan, who is an immensely rich don. The story is about his family affairs, personal surroundings and so on.
Image: A still from Salt N' Pepper