Manjadikuru

the behind-the-scenes journey of the film

How it started…

In a long room with sloping roofs, in London, I wrote the first words on a second hand laptop. Very much the struggling student dreaming big.

From there a few years later, our first production office – a tiny room, in a corner of our apartment in Mumbai.  A desk. Two chairs. A new laptop. Plain walls but for an inspirational note, my father’s picture and a poster of the film I wanted to make! A big window with a lovely 10th floor view to let in the fresh air and the dreams.

So what would we call ourselves?
“Little Films” seemed appropriate 🙂

A few months later, we are in the same tiny room. The same desk with more laptops. Files start to build up. Walls plastered with reference notes and pictures. More importantly, the first member of our team Arvind Ashok Kumar joins. Like they say, the first follower transforms the lone nut – into a leader. So here we were, two nuts on either side of the same desk 🙂

The Cinematographer speaks…

Pietro Zuercher, an alumnus of the American Film Institute and award winning Cinematographer shot the film. Originally from Switzerland, he spends more time travelling through continents shooting films – almost back to back! Pietro shares his version of the lucky red seed experience.

“One day I get a call from Anjaly Menon asking me to shoot her Movie – Lucky Red Seeds. 
She emails me the script – I read, I laugh, I cry and that’s how the adventure started!

Six months later –  I finish shooting a movie in Switzerland early August and 2 days after I’m already on a flight to India! I don’t know exactly where I am going because I just didn’t have the time to get some info… I’m dead tired after a very hard 7 weeks shoot in Switzerland, but as soon I land in Mumbai – this little young lady (Anjaly) is so energetic and enthusiastic that my body refuses to be tired again… I’ll have time after this movie…

We flew the same day to Kerala – starting work rightaway – locations in beautiful Kerala…  amazing fields, rivers, hills and the typical houses of Kerala, very nice and fresh inside, but also very very dark. Great locations! 




At the same time we start analyzing the script going scene by scene together – finding the right visuals for each scene the right way to visually tell this nice tale. 


4 weeks to prep everything, not a lot… “






Read more about Pietro Zuercher on 
www.pietrozuercher.ch

The script and other stories…

Arvind Ashok Kumar was the first crew member- official designation – Director’s Assistant. Originally from Kerala, Arvind is a trueblue Mumbaiite. Today he works in the Art & Design department of mainstream Hindi films (like Don 2, Talaash.). Back then he was First time assistant to a first time feature director! Sheer madness 🙂 Here’s his take on how we started off:
Would want to term it as a virgin start, of this journey of me and a full length feature film. “There is a lot of paper work to do, why don’t come and start with it” says the Director. Mind wanders in every direction to get a justification as to why and what for paper work in film-making?! The mention of paper work seemed very official and dry. It was the ever lasting excitement that convinced me and my wandering mind. But today I am self assured that if nothing I can surely handle a administration vacancy. From the very next day I handled, preserved, hid end number of papers, not to miss out, of different sizes, colours, qualities etc… And eventually it were these papers that introduced me to the Lucky Red Seeds. 

The introduction was as informal as with the director. The papers were the references, the pictures, the lists and lists of minute details of scene by scene. They introduced me to the story ahead that I was to live in. These papers were my only companions in the square room with a window facing the sea whenever I was alone there. As I write this let me be frank in admitting that from last few minutes have been trying to stress my memory to get to the day I read the script fully and I am not able to. That is when I realise that it just sunk into me unknowingly. 

Whether it is the dining table, the car, the super market, script kept scrolling through Anjali’s mind. She would suddenly take you to a scene and describe it and ask for your opinion. And that is it – at first I used to feel all jittery. What should be the answer, will it be right or wrong? Am I the right person to answer this? Those were the baby steps I took to the style of working that I admire the most and miss too. We were virtually living with – Vicky, Roja, Manikutty, Kannan – the characters of the film. I could say we would eat, drink and sleep with them. It kept lingering in my mind as to why do you need to write so many drafts to get to the final. When I get into the square room in the morning and if Anjali was already there then surely one of the characters was there in the room too. Their personalities were building up and we were making friends with them individually. Anjali had a great connect with Vicky. It is today when I write this I realise that this characterisation had started influencing the scenes and their outcomes. Probably now I understand better what Anjali was doing by making us live with the characters. And it were these encounters that eventually answered my question of why so many drafts to get to the best… Going through this prep period and then being there for the production and later the post just opened my eyes in awe of the outcome! 

[ Script – I surely still can’t recollect the day and time I read the script in full but can feel the connect I had with it for the first time. The smell, the colours, the house, the green, the people, the attitudes I still can’t part with from the script. It just transferred me to my childhood vacations I had in the small beautiful innocent village in Andathode, Kerala. As rightly said all those who could connect then with the Manjadi then still stand tall and united for the Lucky Red Seeds.]

As I pen my first few encounters, I am already looking forward to the next leg of encounters which has left impressions as deep as influencing my career choice.”

Manjadikuru- the first draft

I don’t exactly know when or where my journey as the writer of this screenplay began… perhaps it was when I found my first red seeds at my tharavadu; or perhaps it was when the first line of the script slipped out onto paper before me. Somewhere started this exploration of my childhood and that of many others with relation to the land we no longer inhabit. The land that holds our roots and our origins. Nostalgia, childhood, reminisces… all these words tend to usually total upto plenty sentimental mush. But beyond those rose-coloured memories- there were others… that shaped the way we thought, the way we sensed and in general the way we grew up.

The touch of moss, the new born puddles, the alert mynas, hot payasam on banana leaf, the hunchbacked sweeper, the baby kittens- I could go on and on… and so I did go on and on and when collated on paper- it turned into some sort of a script. A script that told a story so different from what we usually see on our screens. I was excited that this could be the script of my first feature film. Like every other film graduate- “the feature” rankled in my head all the time!

But there were issues. Being a second generation Malayalee expatriate I had never learnt to read and write Malayalam in school- something I regret very much. Gathering my courage and embarrassment, I asked a friend to translate my English script into a Malayalam draft. She was more a friend than a writer (bless her!), so the result was a stilted literal translation.

This knocked-up-in-a-week version was offered by an apprehensive me to an esteemed writer of Malayalam screenplays. He was kind enough to read it. His comment was – “DON’T MAKE THIS AS YOUR FIRST FILM”. To me it sounded more like “DON’T MAKE THIS!” He was vague about the reasons as only genius writers can be – he believed that there was promise in the story but I just hadn’t found it! Heartbroken, I set it aside.

I sulked for a while but was soon carried away into other spirited stories. My love affairs with these scripts and characters flourished, but each time my heart was broken, I would run back to this one. Almost like an old flame who turns into an old friend. I’d write a few more pages each time and set it aside again. Somehow now, I was writing for myself and no one else.

The Line Producer’s take

NP Prakash, writes in from Mumbai where he is a producer with Highlight Films. He started by producing “Punaradivaasam” – a Malayalam film and his latest film is produced by Disney!

“I am one of the few lucky people who got the privilege to read the script of Manjadikuru. it was a really wonderful and touching script that took me back to my childhood time. There were so many similar things in the script that happened in my family also. It was a nostalgic experience while reading the script.”

“I still remember the difference in treatment given to the cousins of our age from abroad who would come for holidays compared to us who were in Kerala only. Still remember the small things we used to be fascinated about and one of them is Manjadikuru. We used to break it open and eat the dhal inside!

Used to feel that the paddy fields next to our house were never ending, and the trees used to be so huge and tall…”

NP Prakash has backed up his belief in the script by coming onboard as Line Producer on Lucky Red Seeds – the film. 🙂 And since then he has been rock solid with us n through all the ups ad downs and plenty fun! 

Making of Manjadikuru + Prithviraj Interview

The shoot – crazy but it works!

Pietro’s notes about the shoot:
My crew in India is always the same. Closer to the shoot they come down from Mumbai – Deepak Anjaria – the best Gaffer in India and a really good DoP himself & Brian D’Souza – best Focus Puller In India, and Robby our assistant. Great to have them with me once again – I couldn’t do it without them. The rest of the crew was also a lot of fun and crazy as usually in India!
NP the great Line Producer – this film I think it could not be done if he wasn’t there!! And the actors!!! I don’t know how Anjaly put together all of that cast but I think she really must know someone! Great people … great actors!
So here we are…let’s start the shoot! Everyone is yelling as usual on an Indian set, a lot of people everywhere drinking tea, working, discussing, running, yelling …if you see it from outside it looks crazy but it works.
Working with Anjaly was very easy. For a first time Director on a Feature she has very clear in mind what she wants but she trust her collaborators and moviemaking is all about trusting the people you work with, you can’t do a movie by yourself and she knows that, not something a lot of people assimilate so fast. The shoot goes very fast and I’m always more and more tired (I’m sorry about that Anjaly, I promise next time I take a month vacations before starting your film!!)!
We worked hard and I think is something we can see in the film, I’m proud of the film we made, good story good actors good visually and on all this we also had fun making it. What more do you want ?

The voice of experience

A blessing we had was the arrival of Vinuji (of Suresh-Vinu fame) into our crew- an experienced director who was kind enough to join us as Associate Director. It was Vinuji who handled one-on-one the actors dialogue coaching which was crucial at our sync sound shoot. His pleasant temperament has helped us through many a difficult circumstance. Having very little idea of how the Malayalam film industry operated – his presence and wisdom have helped us learn a lot!

“Considering the Malayalam movies that I have worked for the past few years it gives me immense pleasure in pointing out that “MANJADIKURU” is one of a kind that any one would strive to work again…
Where the most experienced would have found it a hard time, the core crew was one of the main reasons for the successful shoot and I am happy to be a part of such a crew… The camera  man Pietro Zuercher is someone who should be looked up to as an example by the upcoming cameramen in the Malayalam industry. The way in which he got involved with the story and the Malayali culture really surprises me…

Considering the work – its very rare when a properly scheduled chart is worked out. And while I talk about all the technicians its worth mentioning the part of the artists who were really dedicated from the start and cooperated to help complete the movie in the scheduled time. This was one of the movies where sync sound was used which really added to the flavor… for me it was a wonderful opportunity to work with such a good, disciplined  crew.”

Vinu


So much work BEFORE the shoot?

“Talkies… Cinema… Movies… these 3 stuffs had always facinated me… I would have been a Doctor… Engineer… the last choice a Business Administrator! But that passion for reels kept me going 24×7…I am no one today…still have an identity as AD to ANJALI MENON…the best director I have worked with till now…no flattery meant here! She is the best if one needs to learn film “MAKING”.and that too from a person whom u have known 🙂 …. let that be the climax of this posting…

The story begins…

I had been in to this industry for quite sometime… worked with few directors… going with the containment in heart that I have reached the industry that “I belong” to. That was when a call of Anjali’s friend’s came inquiring if I was free. I said I was… he asked can u become IInd Ad to Anjali Menon? Anjali … Menon? that was my question. I had no idea abt such a director. Anyways he was good at convincing me. After a call with Sujata, Anjali’s Ist AD, I was asked to reach Shornoor in 2 days.

2 Days Later.
I reach Shornoor with half heart and a full bag. When I enter the temporary guest house I see “NOTICE BOARDS”. Taking a closer look I understand that these guys have scheduled “which foot they should put forward at a specific time.” Can films undergo such a pre-production?” I wondered…after all this is Malayalam Cinema. Anyway, I was briefed as to what and when I should do by Sujata and was handed over a laptop with some movie planning software, with greens, reds, orange etc. it took me quite sometime adjusting with it and the funniest part was we had to issue call sheets before pack up to all the main technicians…which everyone found awkward and funny except for the  crew from Mumbai and Pietro, the DOP, who would wait for the call sheets to get changed. Which I knew this was only bcoz we were shooting a Malayalam movie, that the schedule keeps changing.

Casting- Round 1

Once the script was done and the seed funding was in place – the priority was CASTING. We started with the most difficult part – the children… we had to find two boys and two girls (ages 5-12).

Tried many routes – advertised in newspapers, worked through agents, talked to kids in the neighbourhood, asked filmmakers for references, went to children’s workshops… the works. I must have poured over hundreds of snaps and profiles – and the lesson I learnt was precious: the children of today are so different from the children we were…

It was important for us to find children who still had that innocence and “that sense of wonder”. Uncorrupted by adults or adulthood or the wise world around them.

After a great deal of shortlisting the first round of meetings was scheduled in Thiruvananthapuram. For this round we had invited children with some acting experience – most of them had done some kind of television work. I thought this would help them cope better with our schedules and work pattern.

But I was in for a shock.

My journal for that date reads thus …
“I’m speechless. Almost every girl who walked in the door was caked in inches of makeup…  And almost each boy tried to impress by mimicking Suresh Gopi or the CM -Achuthanandan!

Add over-enthusiastic parents to this equation and ROUND 1 = Tragic!”

😦

Answers to those questions…

“How can I watch this film?”
“Is it coming to the theatres?”
“When will it release?”
These are three questions that are sent most often to my inbox!
So for all those people – here is the answer :
Manjadikuru / Lucky Red Seeds has only been screened at film festivals so far.
(fortunately to some wonderful responses! :-))
The film has recently gone through a change in the Producers, so right now we are preparing the full release version for you with more scenes, fresh sound design, more songs and tracks… eagerly getting it ready to share it with you!!!  🙂

 

Time to smile again!

It has been a while since the last post… that folk tale has been truly metaphoric of the journey this film has taken since. During this time I had many moments of hopelessness where it didn’t seem like there was light at the end of this tunnel. But there IS plenty light 🙂 and so let’s do what someone smart suggested –

“drop those gaps into the silent limbo of the past…
let it go, for it was imperfect, and Thank God it can go!”

Back to the beginnings with our smiles once again… Last night Lucky Red Seeds was awarded the ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ at the Schlingel Film Festival in Germany 🙂

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