Alice had come back home late at night. But the early morning alarm doesn’t irritate her. She wakes up with a smile on her face, puts on her cycling gear and steps out. The strict dad, one-time coach, asks, doesn’t she want to sleep a little more, she has to travel tomorrow? “What’s to be done today should be done today, tomorrow is another day,” Alice tells him. She adds under her breath, “And you taught me this.” The dad smiles proudly as the door opens and Alice cycles into the cold morning.
Finals, the film, puts you in a cozy mood, with those little exchanges between dad and daughter, and watching Alice cycling across the hills of the beautiful Kattapana in Idukki. PR Arun knows her every move, gesture, expression. He had written her story 17 years ago, and dreamt of making a film on it all this while.
“It was a news story I had read in 2002 that disturbed me so much that I wanted to write a story about sportspersons. It was about a young cyclist called Shiny Sylus who died while taking part in a road race in Manjeri,” Arun says.
He told the story many times, to many people. But a sports film is a bet few were willing to make. “Everything changed when Maniyanpilla Raju stepped into the picture, " Arun says. Raju, actor and producer, said he would produce it. Arun, who had thus far been a writer and a playwright, decided to direct the film.
It is not Alice’s story alone. You’d think it is, judging by the posters that showed a tough-looking Rajisha Vijayan, on a cycle, helmet on and ready to race. The two characters on either side of her are just as important. Varghese, the dad, played beautifully by Suraj Venjaramood, the man who can make you choke up with emotion, and Manuel, the boyfriend, played by a relatively fresh face Niranj.
It is not one protagonist, the story is told through the eyes of all three of them, says Arun. The customary disclaimer, at the beginning of the film, says it is all fictional, and resemblance to real life characters is coincidental.
“It is fictional but it is woven around real life instances. The many sports people I have met and spoken to have gone through similar situations. There is a scene where Alice goes to her old school and makes a speech. She says every cycle she has is a loan taken by her dad. The people she speaks to in that scene are not extra actors. They are real life sports people. The coach she thanks – Joseph maash – is based on a real life character – late coach Jose who trained many sports people in Kattappana to win international medals. So many sports people have come from Kattappana," Arun explains.
In another scene, many young sports people are seen complaining about the lack of facilities. “It is all based on real life situations. I have met a sports person who had to stand on a train from Chennai to Patiala to take part in a race and still came back with a medal,” Arun says.
He just had to tell this story, Arun knew. He didn’t make any compromises – pulled no stars in, didn’t take the focus away from a story that revolved around a woman. “The struggle is 10 times bigger for girls. To dream itself is a luxury for many. And for girls, it’s much harder," he says.
The actors got fixed in his mind only when he decided to direct the film a few years ago. “I was an RJ for many years, but quit my job and turned full-time into theatre and cinema. I took an MA in Theatre from Kalady University and began a troupe of my own – Fifth Estate. Rajisha acted in one of my plays – Hand of God – and I knew she should play Alice. Suraj Venjaramood had to be the dad and Niranj remained as fresh as possible.”
It is a never-ending job for a director, Arun says. Not like when he just had to write the script for Jamna Pyari, four years ago. “But I am loving it. On the opening day, there were very few people at the theatres. But I learnt that those few people came out with their eyes filled. Today, as I talk to you, I have heard that all shows in Ernakulam and Kottayam are houseful. A man who wanted to watch it on the first day had to pull five people from the street to make it the minimum audience at a theatre in Thalassery. Today it is a full house at Thalassery.”
It makes him happy that the story is reaching people. “I got calls from cyclists and poor athletes who said that they have been represented in a movie for once. Things are still the same for many of them. The hostels are as bad as they are shown in the film. But some developments are there. A former vice-captain of the Indian hockey team was selling lemons at the Connemara market in Thiruvananthapuram but he has got a job at a government sector now,” Arun notes.
Arun, job done, will continue actively in theatre, as he will in movies.