A press junket? What is that? That was my first reaction when my editor asked me if I’d go for a media junket to Kochin. TBH, I was quite nervous. It was barely my second month in the job, and I didn’t know what to expect. But might I say, it was such a fun first experience and I am thankful I went for it.
For the uninitiated, a press junket is a trip arranged for the journalists to help them experience a film or a project through various interviews, set visits along with other interactive events and sessions. So I flew to Kochin, Kerala and got to witness the world of the period drama – Mamangam – starring the Malayalam superstar, Mammootty. And what a trip it was!
Before we get down to talking about the film, here’s a little insight into the amazing time I had in Kochin. First off, yours truly got bumped to business class on the way because well, Lady Luck was just feeling a little too generous! Plus, I stayed in a rather nice hotel and bonded with the other fellow journos. We were fed some mouth-watering Kerala specialities like Avial, papadam and Malabar fish curry, and we were ready for a nap soon after each meal.
As part of the experience of Mamangam, we got a chance to visit the larger-than-life sets of the movie — its mammoth size, the huge cast and crew consisting of a few hundred people, and all the action had us overwhelmed. It was my first time on a film set and I was too excited anyway. We got to see how a scene is shot, which the renowned action director Mr Sham Kaushal was directing. Honestly, to my naked eyes, it appeared to be all chaotic when two people were swinging swords at each other and several others were running in the background. But on the monitor, the shot looked simply magical. To be able to see the stark difference in person was quite surreal. But filmmaking is not easy guys, it’s not! And now, I have a new found respect for the film fraternity for all the hard work they put in BTS. We were also shown a glimpse of the oldest martial art form called ‘Kalaripayattu‘ that has been used in the film. We were gasping in awe as the artists battled with their swords and swung it so close to us! The youngest and the most important character in the movie is a little boy, Achutan, is trained in Kalaripayattu and he showed us some of his moves as well.
The next day, I finally met the star of the film, veteran actor Mammootty for a one-on-one session, and it was an honour to interview him. For those who aren’t aware, Mammootty is Dulquer Salman‘s father. But both of them don’t really prefer talking about each other while promoting their work. I was one of the last journalists to meet him that day. So obviously, I thought he would be exhausted by the end of it all. But much to my delight, he was very warm and patient with me and we had a great conversation.
From this magnum opus Mamangam to how Malayalam cinema has evolved over the years — we spoke about a whole lot of things.
Yeah, that’s all a part of the job, right? It’s my passion, I just forget all the physical difficulties and strain when I am in front of the camera. I cannot blame anybody or complain that it is very difficult for me and I don’t want to do it. Plainly, because I have already accepted the film. It is a wonderful set, they have made it look really natural and even the fight scenes are all being done very naturally. We are not using any extra effects, so it is hard, but it will look realistic on screen.
Mamangam was actually a religious festival which was held every once in 12 years. It’s like a fair where trade took place. Now, this is a story of two Kings and how their followers seek revenge when one of them murders the other in an attempt to get to host the prestigious festival of Mamangam. Every year since that, the Mamangam became a battle, until this young boy with the help of his uncle, manages to kill the Evil King. That is the main plot of the film. My character is a mysterious one who doesn’t have a name and is very crucial to the plot. I cannot reveal much about my character, you’ll have to watch the film for that.
I feel 90 days in itself is a lot, we don’t go beyond 50-70 days in most films! Films rarely go on to 100 days, so this is one of the biggest. We have had schedules during the filming. We have completed 4-5 schedules in different locations and on different sets. You missed the location where there was a palace! They are very beautiful sets, and a lot of hard work has gone into it.
Yes. See, we are a small industry, so when we are making a movie which is in such a large scale, it is only profitable for us if we take it to a larger audience. Nowadays, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu films are almost going pan-Indian. I am, of course, dubbing for Tamil and Telugu. But they are asking me to try for Hindi as well. I don’t know yet.
Yes, of course. Over the years, we have seen cameras and sets evolving. Now, everything is digital and technology has progressed. But the work is the same, the core is still content. As technology is evolving, change will occur everywhere. People’s thinking, their likes and dislikes change, and we need to cater to that and make movies to suit them. Malayalam cinema has always been about the content, yes. And the new generation is also doing the same thing. The only thing is, it is catered to the audience of today.
After an interesting interview with the celebrated star, we headed back to our hotel rooms. And guess what? We had some amazing goodie bags waiting for us. They were filled with Kerala’s famous banana chips (yum!) and a variety of spices (which made my mom very happy, BTW). And lastly, we flew back to Mumbai as Kochin bid adieu to us in the form of heavy rains and thunderstorms. I should say, it was the most dramatic ending to a wonderful trip!