This story cannot start with ‘Years ago, when he stood as one among the audience watching a filmmaker win the award for Best Film, he wondered if he would be that guy one day’. Because Lijo Jose Pellissery has not gone to attend the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) before this year. This was his first time and he was there because his film Ee. Ma. Yau. was chosen to be screened at the festival, and on the last day, it won the prestigious Silver Peacock Award for Best Director (for Lijo)and Best Actor – Male (for Chemban Vinod).
“There’d always be work. I went for the festival breaking the shooting of my new film Jallikattu,” Lijo says on a busy day. He has only ten minutes to spare for the interview. His mind, you gather, is fully on his film. The one that’s being made. Not the one of a few months ago, and definitely not the awards.
But Ee. Ma. Yau has been dear to him. Writer PF Mathews and he had many plans to make a film together. Chavunilam that Mathews wrote had been an interesting work, Lijo says. “PF Mathews is such a talented writer, it is a shame that he has not come into the limelight before this. That in a land where novels are much celebrated, Mathews’ name has been left out for so long. It is perhaps with the film that he has become more noticed,” Lijo says.
It is only the setting and the atmosphere of Chavunilam that came in Ee Ma Yau. The rest is new. It has a son running around in the darkness of a sad night when his father dies in the middle of an impromptu performance at home, and he has to keep his word of giving him a decent burial. Chemban scores as the saddened confused-looking, going-mad-with-desperation son.
It somehow seems apt that Lijo and Chemban won the awards together. It’d have seemed incomplete otherwise, like an award for half a show. Ever since Chemban, a physiotherapist, was pulled into the world of cinema by Lijo in 2010 with Nayakan, they have been mostly together. Not co-doing anything but excelling in the different fields they work at. Chemban moved away from acting and into scriptwriting last year when he wrote Angamaly Diaries and gave it to Lijo to direct it with 86 new actors. It worked. The man seems to discover a whole new talent every few years. Physiotherapy first, acting next, scriptwriting later.
But Lijo is strongly rooted to filmmaking. Lijo shudders every time he is asked about his occasional acting bits. “No, no, no please don’t write about it. I am not at all interested in acting,” he says. But Chemban, he vouches, is born to act. The till-then physiotherapist had surprised the likes of Thilakan with his very first shot for Nayakan.
It is silly to ask Lijo if he likes working with Chemban. Of course he does. But that doesn’t mean Lijo restricts himself to comfort zones, although, one could be skeptical about it.
Jallikattu too has Mr-Close-Friend-Chemban doing a prominent role. Lijo doesn't say much about the film.
“It is a man and animal story,” he says vaguely. The only additional point he makes is that he is now going to start shooting the film in the dark, like the whole of Ee.Ma.Yau had been done.
“From 6 in the evening to 6 the next morning,” he says, as if it is the most natural thing to do, nothing eerie about it. But then that’s Lijo, the man who creates exceptionally experimental movies, so much so that you can never point out one feature in his movies and claim that that’s a Lijo signature (except of course Chemban, but you don’t say that aloud). He is what you can call a totally unpredictable director although he may tell you, “I have no such plan, I just go there and execute the written material”.