'I owe it to Prithviraj for believing in me'
Santosh Sivan's Urumi is one of the most awaited Malayalam films in recent times.
As it makes its way to the theatres today, scriptwriter Shankar Ramakrishnan shares his experience of being a part of the historical adventure with Paresh C Palicha.
Urumi, the first feature length film written by you, is releasing today. What are your feelings?
As a screenplay writer, the Urumi drive was a U-turn for me. It is the culmination of an adventure trip of two years into a two-and-a-half-hour film reel.
I am awed by the body of work put together by some of the finest artists and technicians in the industry. They have brought into reality the dream of Urumi. As one of the members in the core team, I am happy to see my best effort touch screens across the state.
Image: Shankar Ramakrishnan and Santosh Sivan
'I have stuck to my imagination in creating what is necessary for the film'
Can you please elaborate on how this idea came about and how the team got together?
On the last day of post-production Ranjietan's Paleri Manikyam, Prithvi called me to share an idea of adapting William Shakespeare's Macbeth into the medieval Kerala history. He had discussed this with Santosh Sivan and was looking at a Pan-Indian film, incorporating actors from most of the languages and on a big scale.
I was extremely surprised because it had been two years since I sent him my script of Mamankam, a period martial arts film based on a 17th century ritual festival. It was a story of suicide squads called Chaavers. It was to be produced by Capitol Theatre (of Ranjith). That film was pending because we knew that we would require huge funds from a co-producer to make it look the way it should.
I owe it to Prithvi for believing in me. It was he who took me to the sets of Raavan where I met Santosh Sivan. Santhoshettan was open to move away from an adaptation idea when I told him about my take on Vasco da Gama's impact on Kerala's socio-political history.
What kind of research has gone into writing the script?
Prithvi cut me loose to Kannur where I found access to a lot of ballads and local historians. Shaji Nadesan (the producer) gave me strong support to deliver an original cinema story for Urumi.
It was Santhoshettan who approved of creating back stories and local flavours for legends from our point of view, and he provided me the guidance to set a space-time correlative in narration. It was then the turn of many academicians who taught me about the period and sent me valuable material, helped me develop a perspective.
I have stuck on to my imagination in creating what is necessary for the film. Prithvi supplemented with his parallel inputs. We converged into the final script after eight drafts.
Image: A scene from Urumi
'I am planning to bring out a graphic novel on Urumi'
How authentic is the film?
The film keeps intact a chronological history as it is recorded but deviates in creating composites in character and shifting time lines for dramatic purposes.
The English version of Urumi takes a totally different structure from the Malayalam version and it is as original but entirely different in its stance.
You have been Ranjith's associate for some time now. Tell us what attracted you to films after completing a degree in Law and post graduation in Management?
Cinema was a constant with me. Whether I did Law or Management or held a corporate job. My childhood buddy, schoolmate and friend -- Anoop Menon (it's been 22 years together!!!) -- wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be a filmmaker.
I joined Ranjietan (Ranjith) after leaving my job with The Times Of India. When he set up Capitol Theatre in 2006 -- his dream production platform -- he understood my passion and let me be a part of it.
Over the span of five years, we have made a list of films, which made a marked difference in Malayalam cinema. I am proud to say that a film like Kerala Cafe happened because our audience is open to new narratives and ideas. Capitol is committed to do more films of different genre and I will be a part of it to experiment and practice cinema.
What next, after Urumi?
I am planning to bring out a graphic novel on Urumi which will have an independent visual text from the film. I have been working on it for some months now. The research and styling is just getting over.
When I started writing for Urumi, I met Santosh Sivan, the director. After finishing the film, I got an elder brother in him. It is simply overwhelming when he asked me to write one of his films next year tentatively titled Music Room, which is a very modern musical, and a different challenge.
My production base, Capitol Theatre is also coming up with two films this year and it is in our plans to create a positive space for all the lovers of this fantastic medium.
Image: A scene from Urumi