In this interview, director Ahammed Khabeer, who made ‘June’ starring Rajisha Vijayan, speaks about why he made his first film on a girl’s story and recreating a '90s childhood.

16 producers rejected June because it was a girls story Director Ahammed to TNM
Flix Interview Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 13:40

Ahammed Khabeer’s first film June is about the life of an ordinary girl who does the most ordinary things in life. Played by Rajisha Vijayan, June is not one of those inspiring stories of a woman who fights for justice or has a lofty dream. The camera pretty much follows her around as she goes to school, then college and then work, falling in and out of love, hiding secrets and sharing things with her family.

Most people who’ve watched the film would be surprised to know that it was written by three men – Ahammed, Libin Varghese and Jeevan Baby Mathew – considering how accurate it is about girlhood and growing up. Ask Ahammed how they managed this, and he laughs.

“We had great relationships, girlfriends, and lots of close friends who are girls. So we didn’t have to go in search of the story. I’ve been in a long relationship myself, and I have women friends I’ve known from my school days. The school life you see in the film is inspired by own experiences in Class 11 and 12,” he tells TNM.

Ahammed went to Girideepam School in Kottayam and later did his MBA in Media at Manipal University. He went on to make a few short films and also worked for a year as assistant programme producer with Mazhavil Manorama. Now 29 and the youngest among three siblings, he says he had no trouble at all re-creating the growing up years – from the sip-ups kids drink in bakeries to the kind of tape-recorders people used to have at home. 

However, the next step was not so easy – finding a producer to back the project. In a period of two years, a whopping 16 producers rejected the film.

“Vijay Babu sir was the 17th person I met. First, though producers liked the film, they felt a ‘female subject’ is risky. Second, they didn’t want to do the film with Rajisha Vijayan because she isn’t a big star. I had already told the story to Rajisha and I was keen to make the film with her,” says Ahammed. 

Rajisha had won Best Actress at the Kerala State Awards for her performance in Aunraga Karikkin Vellam around the time when Ahammed was writing June, and he was convinced that she could carry the film on her shoulders. 

June also had 16 newcomers in the cast. The team held auditions for people between the ages of 18 and 26, and only in Kottayam and Pathanamthitta, because they wanted to get the dialect correct.

Ahammed was quite clear about what he wanted to do in June.

“I didn’t want to make a film about a woman entrepreneur or something like that. There are only about 10% of women who do such things. The rest of them are leading fairly ordinary lives. I didn’t want a film with big events or problems. There are hardly any villains in our real lives, right? It’s not like we go around beating people up. I just wanted to show a normal life, a family with adipoli parents, and her love life,” he says.

But though the film never elevates June in any manner, she remains very much her own person throughout. 

“Her first relationship fails, she tries out being with someone who follows her around but that also doesn’t work. She finally ends up in an arranged marriage but with someone she likes. And that too, only after she has figured out what she wants and has become financially independent,” Ahammed points out. 

The film opens with June in Varkala demanding a bottle of beer. Later, too, we see her drinking with her father when she’s still a schoolgirl. She also shares intimate moments with her boyfriend. In another scene, we see her standing up for herself, refusing to resign from her job to please her prospective in-laws. But though none of these looks forced or deliberate in the film, Ahammed was conscious of what he wanted to project.

“I know that most women don’t have this much freedom. But I included it anyway so that the women watching, who have these desires, can see it on screen,” he says.

The father (Joju George) offering June a beer, he adds, was inspired from stories of his Christian women friends, many of whom have told him how their dads would let them drink, especially for occasions like Christmas, after their moms went to bed. 

But the filmmaker didn’t make the parents unrealistically progressive either – in the film, June’s father is not opposed to the idea of love in general, just that he doesn’t want his daughter to fall for anyone!

“What he tells her when she’s a schoolgirl, about him finding the man for her, pretty much comes true. But the man is someone who likes her for who she is,” he says. 

There are many little nuances like this in the film, Ahammed shares. June has a crush on macho actor Suresh Gopi as a girl, and the guy she ends up marrying (Alex – played by Sunny Wayne) has a thick moustache, as does Anand (Arjun Ashokan), the cop she dates in between.

“In those days, it was Suresh Gopi who would save all the damsels in distress,” Ahammed says with a laugh. “June likes men with a thick moustache, even her dad has one!”

At first, the Muslim girl Fida (Raveena Nair), who wants to become a supermodel, looks like a refreshing departure from the usually conservative depictions of Muslim women on screen. But she ends up getting married first and having a child early.

Ask Ahammed why he made that decision and he says, “We had two ways of looking at Fida. She wants to become a model, but in the end we see that she has married some Muslim man and has a child. But if you observe, she hasn’t covered her head when she comes for the wedding (like she used to in school). What we wanted to suggest through this is that though she hasn’t achieved her dream, she’s still happy and free. The girl who used to sit next to her in class, and who imitated her, goes on to become a film star. Life is like that, you don’t always get what you want but you can still be happy.”

Did he worry that the film would be seen as imitative of Nazriya’s Om Shanthi Oshana or Nivin Pauly’s Premam, both films with a similar premise?

“Yes, I knew the comparisons would be made. Especially because it’s only Om Shanthi Oshana which has become a hit in recent times, and centres around the female character, and is a fun and happy story. But the story is not the same. I knew that if Rajisha acted cute, she would be compared to Nazriya, so we did it differently. There are three loves in Premam and so too here, but this happened when we wanted to show different stages in life, it wasn’t deliberate,” he says.

Unlike Premam, though, June has very little on college life. Ahammed explains the reasons, “June’s greatest desire was to study with her schoolmates in the same college. She also breaks up with Noel (Sarjano Khalid) during their farewell, and she’s really unhappy through her college life. But the other reason I didn’t show much of her college life is because I wanted to show the Anand story – the guy who follows her around – later as a surprise.”

In the average film, Anand would be the creepy stalker who is shown as the “true lover” and gets the girl as a reward. But in June, not only is she blissfully unaware of him for the most part, she dates him on the rebound and later dumps him. Anand’s loserly behaviour becomes the subject of comedy between his mother (Shiny T Rajan) and June, instead of the former validating her son’s actions.

It’s through these little details and twists, and the way it builds up nostalgia, that June has managed to win the audience over, despite being an all too familiar tale. Ahammed is looking to make his next film soon, and having struggled to get his story on screen, he’s open to working with first-time scriptwriters too.

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