The film is a tribute to Mohanlal the superstar, arguably the best selling actor in Kerala. The super hit combination of Udayakrishna and B Unnikrishnan and Mohanlal have come together again to conjure the Mohanlal magic. B Unnikrishnan talks to Manorama online about his latest film and Mohanlal.
‘Aarattu’ will be sold as a fixed film?
This is my first time directing an absolute mass entertainer. And as promised, this will be one such film. It helps that I have an experienced writer like Udayakrishna who is known for writing such entertaining mass movies. I told him I wanted a complete mass entertainment package and he wrote the script with that in mind. Mohanlal also gave his nod for such a film after a long time. We shot the film during the high season in Covid. We had to do RTPCR tests for over 1000 artists who had to be part of multiple scenes and create a biobubble for them. Then our confidence was that this was a film meant for 70mm and not OTT. That’s why we waited so long for the release of the film. Now that the situation is much better, we have decided to release the film. We hope the film will bring good luck and entertainment to those who have struggled during these trying times.
How did you get the thread for the film?
We have been planning a film for Mohanlal for a long time. When we realized that the first film we had planned wouldn’t be feasible because we had to shoot in different locations, we dropped the idea. That’s when Lal Sir told us we should think about a full entertainer that can be shot extensively in Kerala. That’s when Udayan came up with Neyyattinkara Gopan and how we expanded the thread and came up with Aarattu. There are four action sequences, four songs, dance. Lal Sir is someone who has successfully pulled off several mass entertainers. We borrowed the template from there. I think people will be disappointed if there are no such references. We also wanted to bring some freshness to the story. We tried to bring that into ‘Aarattu’.
We have never seen such energetic Mohanlal in any of your films before. How did this transformation come about?
It was a pleasure to watch his transformation as Neyyattinkara Gopan. In my previous films he has always played a character who has been through a lot of trauma and pain. He’s never been such a happy character in my films. He relaxed for the role and happily approached it without inhibitions. That was the standard I had for him – give everything, be uninhibited. At one point he said to me: “You want to be shameless on screen? So be it.”
Why did you give Neyyattinkara Gopan “Lucifer” dialogues?
Not just Lucifer, we incorporated dialogue from several other films into Aarattu. It’s done deliberately and that becomes clear when you watch the film.
How did you bring AR Rahman to ‘Aarattu’?
That was difficult. But it was crucial to our story. Actor Rahman was a mutual friend and reached out to Rahman through him. He organized a virtual meeting with AR Rahman. That’s how he got into film and his parts were shot in Chennai.
Was it difficult to get a villain for Aarattu?
The villain is always crucial in a mass masala film. Mohanlal’s hero needs a villain as awesome as he is. This is how we approached Garuda Ram. Also, the film had characters that came from different places. We were also targeting an audience outside of Kerala, so we had to design the film that way. I think that’s what happened in ‘Aarattu’.
There are over 40 characters in Aarattu, what was the experience like shooting with so many actors?
Johny Antony always said that he completed at least 14 RTPCR tests for “Aarattu”. It’s been a while since a movie with 47 main characters came out. And they all did a lot of RTPCR tests. Some actors stayed on location until the end of filming to avoid catching Covid. I am also grateful to Nedumudi Venu who has agreed to act in the film despite his poor health and Covid situation. He was excited because he wanted to spend time with Mohanlal. He was there for 6-7 days and delighted us with old stories. Gopi Ashan also agreed to be part of a song with Mohanlal and Nedumudi Venu. When he got home, Venu Chettan texted me that he was enjoying the days of shooting. He died after he finished dubbing and it was such a shock to us. Also Kottayam Pradeep. heartbreaking.
The idea of combining rap with theme music was very popular with the audience. How did that happen?
I insisted that the theme music should include rap. We came up with an idea for theme music and discussed it with Rahul Raj. He’s done a great job. It was Rahul who told me about rapper Fejo. I already knew Fejo’s rap. We had many discussions. I think Rahul did a great job with music and BGM. Right from the start he asked me exactly what I wanted and worked accordingly. He definitely delivered a product that exceeded my expectations. I’m confident people will love it.
There has been a lot of criticism of Mohanlal’s alpha male characters lately. Is “Aarattu” an answer to that?
There will be criticism, but we say this is a humble film. A film made just for entertainment. As much as you try to criticize the film, the film claims no more than what it is – a mass entertainer. We don’t set high standards with ‘Aarattu’.
I am planning my next project with Udayakrishna. This is also going to be a mass movie and I have Mammootty in mind. You will be kept informed about this project. I have to be sure about this project first.