Filming is underway in an old Nalukettu at Paravoor Kannankulangara. Although it is noon, it is still morning in the room where the film set has been erected. The crew takes care of sprucing up the room. When the director calls for action, the camera focuses on an old box left open in the room. In the background, we hear the sweet voice of P Jayachandran. Meanwhile, the director concentrates on the monitor in front of him: Meet Rasool Pookutty. The Oscar-winning sound designer talks about his directorial debut for Manorama Online.
How did you come to ‘Otta’?
Once I was the main guest at a reception in Vashi. This program saw children who had run away from their homes being reunited with their parents. So many mothers from all parts of India and it was such a moving moment. There was this guy, running through the chaos – Hariharan. I felt like I wanted to know more about this guy. I found out that he also ran away from home three times.
When I asked him why he ran away from the safety of his home, he said he wanted freedom. The one who ran away from home at the age of eight quickly became the savior of many of these children. I found his story fascinating. “Otta” is the story of Hariharan who started a rehabilitation center called Samathol for these children, as well as the founder of Children Reunited LLP. Also the story of many who have been left behind in life. He is also the film’s co-producer.
Why did his story move you so much?
Although for studies, I am also someone who has moved away from parents since I was young. Even now, I have to stay away from home for a long time. I have lived much of my life in hotel rooms and studio apartments. So I know the feeling of being alone. The concept of home is so important in life. It is to our home and to our parents that we will all return despite our travels around the world. Such trips are about going back to our roots. This film is also about the concept of home.
Why did you want to make your directorial debut in Malayalam?
I have been lucky to be a part of various Indian language films and foreign language films so far. When I wanted to direct, there were a lot of offers in front of me. And that includes a British film and two Hindi films. But then I grew up watching Malayalam movies and they made me love cinema. Even now, I prioritize films in Malayalam, over films in other languages. Of course, as a Malayalee, it’s only natural that I want to make my first film in Malayalam.
Looks like there’s going to be an ensemble cast in the movie…
Asif Ali, Arjun Ashok, Sathyaraj, Rohini, Shobana, Shyamaprasad, Renji Panicker, Indrans, Adil Hussain and Divya Dutta are the cast. My brother Baiju Pokutty also plays a key role.
Shobana is back in a Malayalam film?
As a child, I remember being tense watching “Yathra”. The actors I saw in admiration at the time have become my friends. Shobana is one of those friends who immediately agreed when I told her the story.
Jalaja’s daughter is also in the film?
There is a story behind. I saw filming for the first time when I was a child. Near my house, they were shooting a song sequence. At the time, shirts were considered a luxury for children. We went to see the shoot in khakis. Jalaja and Sukumaran were the main cast. Jalaja was meant to descend mountainous terrain. I remember watching this scene in amazement. After winning my Oscar, I remember meeting Jalaja in Bahrain and telling her about this incident. She quickly remembered the name of the movie. Jalaja’s daughter Devi plays an important role in this film. It’s just a coincidence that my first shot as a director was framing it in a song sequence and my first memory of a movie shoot was watching Jalaja perform a song sequence.
Would that force you to take a break from sound design?
I took a break from sound design until the first ‘Otta’ program. In mid-May, I will resume work that requires my immediate attention. Two British films, 1 Bollywood film, ‘Pushpa 2’ and ‘Aadujeevitham’ are currently being shot simultaneously. Since they’re all friends, my short breaks won’t bother them. ‘Otta’s main schedule is in October. I plan to finish work on my other major films by then.
Why doesn’t Malayalam cinema make big budget films like you see in other languages?
Of course they will. There’s a movie like that in mind. I’m not free to divulge more information about it. More than big budget movies, we should focus on making movies that get universal recognition. I hope ‘Otta’ will be one of those films.