Interview: Malayalam director Prasanth Vijay on his coming-of-age feature Daayam

‘Daayam’ (Inheritance), which is Prasanth’s second feature film after ‘The Summer of Miracles’, will be screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Thiruvananthapuram.
Still from 'Daayam'
Still from 'Daayam'
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In a few minutes, Kalyani switches from a teenager complaining about tiring rituals, to a proud daughter showing off her dad’s collection of books, and then to a griever, breaking down over the memories of her mother. She had cheerfully pulled her visiting friend to the front of her computer screen to play a video, which has her and her parents quoting Tagore and singing an old Malayalam classic. When the music stops, the friend finds her shedding the tears she had earlier held back, while relatives thronged her house and dictated rules over the final rites of her just dead mother. 

For his second feature Daayam (Inheritance), Prasanth Vijay has carved out a very relatable teenager — not, thankfully, a stereotypically ‘different’ protagonist. Kalyani comes in a script written by Indu Lakshmi which, Prasanth says, hugely helped in the detailing of the character. As a director, his practice is to not get too close to the characters but behave like an objective observer, he says. He has observed people of all ages and he has a system of consulting with a trusted group of friends belonging to all genders. The system has obviously worked and the male director’s gaze has not disrupted the flow of Kalyani’s language, conveyed tactfully by actor Aathira Rajeev.

The film had a premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival earlier this year and will be part of the Malayalam film package for the upcoming International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). Incidentally, both of Prasanth’s films took the same route – MAMI and then IFFK. The Summer of Miracles or Athishayangalude Venal, his first feature from 2017, was also a coming of age film. “I had not thought of it when I was making Daayam but there is an unintended connection between the two films. Both have children dealing with the absence of a parent and trying to find a balance,” he says.

Prasanth Vijay
Prasanth VijayLiroye_Silveiraa_Photography

Prasanth had, like every filmmaker, wanted to go in a different direction from his first creation. He had thought of filming Daayam in a hand-held camera but the cinematographer, Rakesh Dharan, convinced him that the script – with most of the shots involving people walking into rooms – was not written for one. “I did retain my trademark of letting the camera stay still for long minutes while the characters were sitting or standing or talking,” Prasanth says cheerfully.

Most of the film is woven around Kalyani and her father and the carefully narrated dynamics of their relationship. In just over 80 minutes you, by Kalyani’s side, observe the differences sparked by the new absence of the mother figure. Actor Pradeep Geedha plays the father, and Paurnami Sankar, the mother. The side characters – those familiar relatives every household would have – are also nicely cast, and written, showing them as sympathetic even when they are annoying. 

Father and daughter in 'Daayam'
Father and daughter in 'Daayam'

It is a fairly new cast, and Prasanth is all too aware of the risks he is taking as an independent filmmaker. OTTs will want a star, and there is little hope of a theatrical release. For independent films to work, there should be parties willing to invest, support and host the work on the internet, he says. “It is only now that we are at least talking about the challenges of independent films, how hard it is. But the scene has not changed much for the better.” Daayam was produced by his wife and IT professional, Jessy.

Prasanth’s third film, in post production, is somewhere between mainstream and indie. For one, it has a star - Roshan Mathew. For another, it is a romance with elements of comedy. But he is reluctant to call it an all-out mainstream venture. “It is mainstream because of the content, but the treatment does not use the mainstream tropes,” he clarifies. The film is called Ithiri Neram, and Zarin Shihab plays one of the protagonists. It should, if everything goes as planned, have a theatrical release next year.

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