Kavya Prakash speaks about making a film based on Unni R’s story.

Flix Interview Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 17:47

Something about the way Unni R narrated the story had her hooked. Kavya Prakash listened attentively as this man, whom she found enigmatic and highly intellectual, told the story of Vaanku, which is about a young girl’s dream to call the azan. Kavya had graduated in visual communication, specialising in films and advertising, but was not looking to make a feature film just yet. Until Unni’s story fell on her lap and then she had to make it into a film. Shabna Mohammed, a Ponnanikaari (native of Ponnani in Kerala), wrote the script and Kavya directed it, all – she would say half a dozen times – with the guidance of Unni.

“It was all organic. He was visiting dad’s office when I met him,” Kavya says. Dad is VK Prakash, renowned director of Malayalam films as well as an experienced ad filmmaker. Unni, known for his unconventional and fantastical story writing in Malayalam, has had several of his works adapted to films – LeelaCharlieMunnariyippu among them.

Kavya has made a few ad films too, and then assisted directors like Mridul Nair and Prakash Varma.

“I wasn’t then looking for a story to direct. But the way Unni sir narrated the story was really interesting. What I really loved about it was that every person could connect to this element. At one point in everyone’s life there would be this one thing that you really want to achieve. It is that basic human emotion that attracted me to the subject,” Kavya says thoughtfully.

Kavya Prakash

Making sure it won’t hurt anyone

She makes it really clear. The subject is sensitive and the team took many months to finalise the script, to make sure it does not hurt anyone. The heroine of the story – Raziya – is not rebellious, Kavya stresses. “The reason she wants to give the azan is more spiritual. She is a very calm, mature, intelligent girl, way wiser than her years. For her, azan is a spiritual way of connecting to a higher force that she adores.”

The film is not about gender disparity, Kavya says. “The idea of a girl giving azan is frowned upon. But the film is not to challenge gender disparity. It is more based on the character’s love and devotion towards the Almighty. It is her innocent desire to connect to a higher force through a simple means. We are trying to talk about the emotion behind it rather than the constraints put down by society.”

Towards the end of 2018, a school play called Kithab, adapted from Vaanku, led to a row when Muslim organisations protested against the staging of it and called for a ban. Unni had then come out saying that his story was not the same, there were differences in the adaptation.

Read: SDPI protests against school play in Kerala claiming it hurts religious sentiments

Kavya has not watched the play but is not worried about any such reaction. “The way we treated the film is very subtle and it talks about a person’s undying love for a higher force rather than showing any negative aspect of any religion. It is a sensitive subject and we were utmost careful. Unni sir was there, constantly giving us guidance on the right way to go about it. Moreover, the movie’s trailer and songs are out and we have received nothing but love for it.”

Women’s perspective

It is a novel combination of three women right in the thick of things – two young women scripting and directing and a third even younger one playing the lead. Anaswara Rajan, known for her performance in Udaharanam Sujatha and Thanneer Mathan Dinangal, is playing the teenage lead of the film, Raziya.

“I think when a woman writes about female perspective, the emotion behind each scene is more credible and relatable. Each scene that Shabna wrote and I envisioned with her has maneuvered the script in a way that every emotion is relatable to every girl across the globe. I would say it boils down to basic human emotion, which is very gender neutral,” Kavya says.

Shabna and Kavya had Anaswara in mind even in the final stages of the script. She had become the character in their head. Although there were some initial hiccups, finally they worked out a way for Anaswara to do the lead. Viewers are going to see a whole new range to Anaswara, who has already proven her talent with her first few films, Kavya is sure.

The crew is a mix of young and old, new and experienced. Music director, art director, editor and of course the writer are highly experienced while Shabna, Kavya and most of the actors are young and new. Noted actor Vineeth is in the trailer, playing Anaswara’s dad.

Watch: Trailer of the film

“There were the obvious challenges that every first timer faces but this is also a very difficult subject to deal with and we had to be very careful about how we treated it, without hurting anyone. It was also a challenge working in a new environment – the film was shot in Ponnani and Punnayurkulam. It’s a very beautiful place. I had interactions with the local people there. Shabna is from Ponnani and she was very particular about getting the dialect right,” says Kavya.

This was essentially their film, Shabna’s and hers, that’s what VKP told them when he kept away from all of it. “He said, this is yours and Shabna’s and you have to be under the guidance of Unni sir. He handed us over to the right hands. We were like a seedling given to Unni sir, whose presence was very calming for my nerves. But he too gave us our space. In the end, he loved the film and called my dad to congratulate him. Dad has not yet seen the film.”

They are not planning to release it on any online streaming platform as of now. The producers Sirajudheen and Shabeer Pathan prefer a theatrical release, and so they are waiting for theatres to open again. 

Also read: 'Women have legs': Rima, Parvathy, Ahaana and others stand by Anaswara

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