'Accidental' editor Appu Bhattathiri on directing 'Nizhal', his first film

The award winning Malayalam editor talks about why it's taken him so long to direct a film when that was his dream all along.
Appu Bhattathiri
Appu Bhattathiri
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At 10 minutes to 2 pm, Appu Bhattathiri picks up the phone for a short interview. He has half an hour before work begins again. The shooting of the first film he directs is happening in Ernakulam and Appu has not a moment to lose. This is a dream he has harboured for years, before he accidentally became an editor, did that work so well and won awards for it. It is finally the lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic that gave him the time to pick up his own film and begin directing it.

It’s called Nizhal – meaning shadow  – and it has got a stellar cast. Nayanthara, the Malayali actor who became a superstar in Tamil cinema, and Kunchacko Boban, who has been having back to back success in recent years.

“It is through our producer Fellini (there are five producers for the film) that we reached Kunchacko Boban and it is through the latter that we reached Nayanthara,” Appu says.

Sparing the fact that it is a thriller and all the actors would have equal importance in it, Appu can divulge no further details. Anything he says would give everything away, he thinks.

Two more actors have been finalised – Rony David and Divya Prabha. Most of the rest of the crew are friends Appu made in the years he has been wandering across platforms of cinema. It began from the time he was a student of Visual Effects, doing his Bachelors. Friends of his in engineering colleges were making short films and wanted him to edit their work. One of them was Basil Joseph who played lead in a short film called CET Life and years later emerged as a successful director in Malayalam cinema, the maker of Kunjiramayanam and Godha.

“Before all that, I made my first association with a director when I was in Class 12, watching the final cut of Jayaraj sir’s Of the people. It is on his sets that I met Srinath Rajendran, who would later direct Second Show and where I would launch my career as an Assistant Director,” Appu says. The dream has been direction, so it felt like the first right step.

But when a bunch of short films got edited by him, Appu was pulled in to do the same in feature films. Award winning director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan called him first, for his debut film Oraalppokkam. At the same time, Basil was scripting his Kunjiramayanam. So when Oraalpokkam got over, Appu found himself editing Basil’s film.

Film after film landed on his lap in the span of a few years. Ozhivu Divasathe Kali by Sanal and Veeram by Jayaraj won him a State Award for Best Editor in 2017.

He did more until the last work got released on Netflix – Maniyarayile Ashokan. Appu also finished Anugrahaneethana Antony before finding himself totally free of editing work.

Watch: Teaser of Anugraheethanaya Antony

“By then I had enough. There is too much thought that interrupts your editing work. You’d keep thinking if you had directed maybe you’d have this particular shot and so on. It takes all your time and thought, you wouldn’t be able to do anything else – like work on your own film,” Appu says.

He got both after the lockdown. S Sanjeev, who was earlier editor of the magazine Pachakuthira, wrote him a script. Appu had liked an idea Sanjeev told him and this was then developed to the script of a thriller.

Sanjeev is someone he has known for a long time. So is Arun Lal, his co-editor in the film, who has been with Appu since their schooldays. The cinematographer is Deepak, Appu’s friend for a dozen years. 

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