Actor Vishnu Govindhan talks to TNM about ‘Attention Please’, which has been selected for screening at the International Film Festival of Kerala, and his other projects.

Vishnu wearing a black t shirt and blue jeans sits, with his palms held together, against a light grey background
Flix Interview Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 20:07

Six years ago, Vishnu Govindhan stood alongside other delegates of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), inside a packed theatre, protesting that they too be allowed to watch Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The President. They had all waited under the sun for two hours in a long queue and when their turn came to get in, the seats were all taken and they were asked to leave. The protesters’ demands finally led to the movie being paused for long minutes until the projectionist said that the license would expire if the film’s not played soon. Everyone quietened down and all of the audience stood up to watch the movie together.

This year Vishnu is a guest at the same festival, lead actor of a film selected for screening in the Malayalam Cinema Today category – Attention Please. He is surprised by the new attention and respect he is receiving at the fest. “This is a festival I haven’t missed in the past many years, one for which I have sat on the floors of theatres to watch movies. Just like the hundreds of other delegates who do. This year, to be a part of the people bringing their films, has been really special,” he says in an interview to TNM.

Vishnu has been acting since he bagged a role as Chemban Vinod’s younger version in Iyobinte Pusthakam in 2014. After several noticeable roles and directing a film, Vishnu played the male lead in Attention Please, made by debutant Jithin Issac Thomas.

“I have played one of the main characters before, like in Premasuthram where I was the antagonist, and Balu [Varghese] was the protagonist. But this is my first role as a single male lead,” he says.

Still from Attention Please

It wouldn’t appear so at first. Five bachelors living in a house are spending another evening drinking, talking and pulling each other’s legs. They had all moved to the city to try their luck in cinema but are not getting opportunities. Only Hari (Vishnu) sticks to his dreams, writing script after script every day, knocking on doors of producers and directors. One script had almost worked, he tells the others, but then it didn’t. If you take note of such passing remarks, you might figure out what’s bothering Hari.

The other men tease him, accusing him of plagiarising older films as soon as he narrates one of his stories. Hari does not like their reactions. In the kitchen, two of the other men – Jithin, Hari’s childhood friend – and Ajith, who wears the thread worn by Brahmins and some other upper-castes – speak conspiratorially about Hari. It seems like a harmless little plan when Jithin (Sreejith) asks Ajith (Anand Manmadhan) to show no mercy in telling Hari off as they had all spoiled him by encouraging him too much. But after a while, the plan backfires. And that’s when you see Vishnu’s true potential as a performer. His transformation is admirable, as well as befitting the script.

“There are subtle references to the underlying issues of caste and colour that perhaps you can make sense of when you later realise the origin of Hari’s problems,” Vishnu says.

Vishnu hadn’t immediately read the script when Jithin gave it to him. He had liked a short film Devika that Jithin had scripted, so he was interested in the film. The script got read on a day when some of his friends were visiting and one of them began reading it aloud. Vishnu immediately called Jithin and said, “Tell me you will cast me in the next film, only then shall I tell you my feedback on the script. Because when this one comes out, you will become quite noted, and then I don’t want you to forget me!” Vishnu says, laughing.

That’s the confidence he had in the script. There was a brief creator’s block when all of them got together in the house in Ernakulam where Jithin lived, where the film was going to be shot. “We used that break to come to watch the 2019 IFFK. That gave Jithin the time to properly plan everything and by the time we got back he was ready. IFFK therefore is very much an integral part of the making of the film,” he says.

Vishnu is travelling with the film from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi where the IFFK will be mirrored, the fest being conducted in four places this year to avoid crowding during COVID-19. His hands are full with the IFFK on one side, shooting for three films and directing a web series. “That is Kili, it’s a comedy about five bachelors living in a flat, and is produced by [actor] Aju Varghese,” Vishnu says about the web series.

Watch: Trailer of Kili

Vishnu directed his first film History of Joy in 2017, casting his friend and son of director Vinayan – another Vishnu – in the lead. Joju George, Vinay Forrt and Leona Lishoy were all part of the film.

“I came into cinema with the idea of making films, or rather storytelling. I realised my calling while doing my engineering in Cochin University when I did a lot of theatre,” Vishnu says.

After working as an Assistant Director to Joshy Mathew for Black Forest and a Tamil film Vizhithiru, he got cast in Iyobinte PusthakamOru Mexican AparathaPunyalan AgarbattisGoodalochana all followed soon after. Next in line are Ka alongside Neeraj Madhav, Randu directed by Vishnu Unnikrishnan and Pathompatham Nootandu by Vinayan.

Someday, Vishnu would also like to do stand-up comedy.

Also read: 'Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam' Review: This relationship drama is a wonderful ride 

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