A former journalist, Sajeev Pazhoor tells TNM that he is drawn to stories that could happen to people around us.

Im drawn to small dilemmas of real people Writer Pazhoor on Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum Facebook
Flix Mollywood Wednesday, July 05, 2017 - 16:09

Sajeev Pazhoor, the writer of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, is a happy man. The Malayalam film has received phenomenal reviews and Sajeev's wonderful and quirky story about a thief who swallows a gold chain is all the talk of the town.  

The Fahadh Faasil-starrer is a film without a hero or a villain, and is expertly directed by Dileesh Pothan.

Basking in the success of the film, Sajeev tells TNM that the story was originally written by him with the hope that he would someday direct it. The former journalist, who has worked with Deshabimani for 19 years, is currently Assistant Cultural Officer with the Department of Information and Public Relations in Kerala. 

How Thondimuthalum happened

"I've been in the film field for about 13 years now, working in parallel cinema," Sajeev says. "I was working as an assistant to director Shaji. I have done 75 documentaries so far and I was looking to direct my own film. This story was written for that."

Sajeev says that he'd planned to do the film three years ago as a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual. They were planning to shoot at Uvari, in Tamil Nadu. However, the actor who was supposed to play Sreeja's character had to be hospitalised and the film was postponed.

"Besides, elections were going on in Tamil Nadu and it was difficult to get permission to shoot," he shares. 

Nevertheless, the team was very invested in bringing this story to the screen. Sajeev's friend, his classmate and producer Krishna Kumar, offered to produce the film. But Sajeev came to believe that this story could be made into a much bigger film – he knew that his friend wouldn't be able to afford the costs. 

Sajeev started approaching production houses to make the film. However, looking at his experience in the art film arena, many were wary of giving him the nod for a mainstream film. 

Eventually, he met with Sandip Senan who'd go on to finance the film along with Anish M Thomas. 

Sandip was interested in doing the film but it didn't happen right away. Sajeev had nearly forgotten about the project, he says, when Sandip called him in June last year and asked if he'd mind another director making the film. 

That director was Dileesh Pothan, whose work Sajeev greatly admires.

"A film like Maheshinte Prathikaram has not been made in the last 10-15 years. Cinema should inspire, it's not just for entertainment," Sajeev says, adding that he met with Dileesh Pothan the very next day.

The director listened to the story and said that he'd do it. And just like that Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum became a reality.

The writing process

There were certain changes that were made to the script – in the original story, the couple played by actors Suraj and Nimisha (Prasad and Sreeja) were much older, and had a 12-year-old child. However, the team decided to make them a young couple.

Though Dileesh Pothan was keen on having Fahadh on board from the beginning, it was only later that it was decided to give him the role of the thief. And the star – who doesn't have a flashy introductory scene, duet, or heroine – agreed to play it.

On how he managed to write the character of Sreeja so authentically, Sajeev says that the story was written from a woman's perspective from the beginning.

"The premise of the film is: a woman's thaali maala is swallowed by a thief. She gets it back after 2-3 days but her relationship with the thaali maala changes. Just because the chain went inside a thief's stomach, it's not as if the two-pavan gold chain has changed. But she develops an emotional detachment from the thaali. The chain still has social standing but she cannot look at it in the same way," explains Sajeev. 

Sajeev credits Dileesh Pothan (for his direction) and Syam (who wrote the dialogues) for how beautifully the character came alive on screen.

He adds that he is drawn towards stories that explore such human predicaments which may seem small and insignificant to others but are complex dilemmas for the characters involved. 

"For instance, the story of a man who sweats too much. He works as a peon but finds it hard to manage because he can't carry any document... he makes them wet," says Sajeev, doling out other such examples of small premises with huge potential for drama.

"These are the kind of stories I like. Mild stories, stories which are happening around us, which could happen to people around us," he smiles. 

The politics on screen

As a writer, Sajeev is keenly aware that art is not free of politics. He says that Dileesh Pothan, too, is equally conscious of the politics of representation.

"He always says that cinema doesn't just happen. It's we who make it happen," notes Sajeev. He goes on to say that the creative process for Thondimuthalum was a "democratic" one, with even the light boys on set giving their opinions. 

"Dialogue writer Syam's lines are very sharp. He knows just where to underline what. He got the temperament right," he says. 

Sajeev confirms that except actor Alencier, the other characters in the police station were all played by real cops. 

"The SI was played by the CI, the CI was played by DSP... everyone was from the force," says Sajeev.

Adding that the cops did not have a problem with the film showing their incompetence and politics within the station, Sajeev notes that this is a humane story which takes place over the course of two days at the police station. And after it was over, it was back to business for the cops. 

"The cops also contributed a lot towards setting up the scenes. The director put them in a comfortable zone. A lot of things come out during the rehearsals...it is the cops who will know a thief the best. When we say 'thief', we have a stereotypical image in mind... the point was to break that," he says.

The film also has an undertone of caste politics, with the couple Sreeja and Prasad belonging to different castes. However, the marvellous fact about Sajeev's story is that all of this is melded into the narrative without the film turning preachy or trying to pass on a "message" to the audience.

Sajeev also points out that, though there is no villain in the film, it is the system which ultimately turns everyone into victims – from the thief to the cops and the couple caught between the two.

"There's also the politics of belief in the film," Sajeev says. "Who can believe whom? Can we believe the thief? Can the husband believe the wife who says the thief swallowed her chain? Can the police believe her? Can she believe that the police will get the chain back?"

On film integrity

Most films in the Tamil, Telugu and Kannada industries today are set in the metros while Malayalam films continue to be made in small towns. Does this mean the chances for remakes or dubbed versions releasing in other states drops? And is that a concern for him?

Sajeev is quite clear that stories should be told around characters and that the landscape you choose to place your characters in should make sense.

"For example, this was a story about two people who go to an arid land. They are in need of water. It can only be set in such locations," he says.

He is all praise for directors like Dileesh Pothan and Lijo Jose Pellissery (Angamaly Diaries) who make films rooted in reality. “They show characters that you feel you could know in real life,” says Sajeev.  “Cinema is an art and should never be taken lightly.”