By his own admission, Madhu C Narayanan belongs to the Aashiq Abu school of filmmaking. From being an associate director to directing his first film co-produced by friends Fahadh Faasil and Dileesh Pothan, it’s been a fairly happy ride.
Hailing from Palakkad, cinema interested him before he knew it. He began with Malayalam films and once he entered the world of cinema, he started binge-watching world cinema, which led him to re-watching old Malayalam films, observing the nuances and techniques more closely.
“I kept going back to KG George films and once I knew this medium closely, a lot of my favourites started changing and evolving," he says.
Here's more from the director.
You have been a long-time associate of Aashiq Abu. What does an Aashiq Abu set look like?
I began with Aashiq Abu’s Daddy Cool and worked with him till Rani Padmini. Though I earlier worked in the banking sector, event management and ads, cinema was always my destination. It’s a very democratic space. Right from its inception to its release, I have been part of the team.
He (Aashiq) makes it look very simple but it's only later that I realised there is more to it than meets the eyes. It’s only when other assistant directors reported about their experiences that I realised how much freedom I got here. There is so much give and take. Of course, hierarchy is there, and it should be there for a smooth sailing operation. But otherwise there is no politics. It’s just work and nothing else. No one fears sharing their opinions.
When did you decide to go solo?
It’s after Rani Padmini that I thought of making a film and discussed this story with Syam Pushkaran. At the time, Dileesh Pothan was about to make Maheshinte Prathikaram and I worked as an associate on the film and in Thondimuthalum. We began the scripting after Maheshinte Prathikaram.
What triggered Kumbalangi Nights?
Kumbalangi is a place very close to Syam Pushkaran’s home. He has many friends there and has seen life in close quarters. He wanted to tell their story and he discussed this with me during Salt 'N’ Pepper. When I expressed my confidence in making a film, that idea resurfaced.
Fahadh, being part of this large friend circle, was it easier to have him on board?
Yes, I know him from the days of 22 FK. He doesn’t play the hero and his character has negative shades to it, but he agreed immediately. Even the rest of the actors, Sreenath Bhasi, Shane Nigam and Soubin Shahir, were already in our mind, but by the time we started making the film their stature had grown. Today, it looks like a multi-starrer.
Did that prompt them to alter their character sketch?
Dileesh Pothan and Fahadh Faasil co-producing the film. How did that happen?
Dileesh already knew about the film and the discussions we were having. One day during the shoot of an UAE exchange ad at Ras Al Khaimah, Dileesh offered to produce the film. Once he came on board, things just fell into place with all the right people in it.
Syam Pushkaran, how was the equation?
I met him during an ad shoot in 2009 and I was aware of his radical ideas that were simple yet so different. I knew he had potential and would make it big one day. Salt 'N' Pepper changed a lot of our lives. I was impressed with his detailing and thorough process. This, for us, is like an extension of being on the sets of an Aashiq Abu film. Thankfully there was no struggle. From the ADs to actors, writers and producers, everyone chips in and works as a team, it’s something we learnt from the Aashiq Abu school of filmmaking. From working as an AD to directing Fahadh.
What’s Fahadh's process?
I was already blown away after watching him from behind the camera in 22 FK. I don’t know whether he does homework but its amazing to watch him become that character. Also, Syam has been discussing this film and his character right from Maheshinte Prathikaram. The character Shammi’s evolution and changes were constantly in discussion. They would constantly call and exchange notes. By the time the shoot started, Fahadh had thoroughly understood Shammi. He is a 2 to 3 take actor. It’s very cool to work with him.
Cinematographer Shyju Khalid is already an assured brand of quality today. What’s the best thing about him?
Yes, he is also one of my good friends, and I know him since Daddy Cool. You don’t even feel that there is a camera, his frames are so lifelike, it’s like jumping straight into cinema. You can’t spot one distracting frame. He is my favourite.
There are a lot of newcomers in Kumbalangi Nights. What’s the process with fresh actors?
We had these long workshops. Mathew was with us for a year—training him to fish, hold fishing nets, row a boat. Anna Ben was there for a month or two. We familiarised them with our people, the camera and the film during these workshops. By the time the film started they were ready to roll. The film is about actors.