Director Jeethu Joseph talks about the making of Pranav Mohanlal's debut as a hero in Aadhi
A few before the release of Aadhi, the debut of Pranav Mohanlal as a hero, yes, the son of Indian cinema's powerhouse actor Mohanlal, Jeethu Joseph was feeling the jitters. His hero was already on a Himalayan trail, having said that he won't be part of the promotional bandwagon.
The film's producer Antony Perumbavoor offered little solace. "I am going to book a ticket to somewhere," he joked to Jeethu, to which the director, retorted: "Book one for me too."
Everyone was seemingly on tenterhooks. They were shouldering a mega-responsibility - the launch of Pranav. "There were only two possibilities: Either the world would tear me apart for wrecking Pranav's career or they would say, I did justice to the young man," says Jeethu.
He was ready to face both: if you know Jeethu, the man who took Malayalam cinema to the big league of multi-million-rupee blockbusters with his Drishyam (starring Mohanlal), you would realise that he is quite the 'cool' man.
Not one to get overly excited about success or lose oneself in the face of setbacks, Jeethu is more like a kindly family physician than the hotshot film director that he is. Thoroughly unassuming, he says the defining moment came when he watched the first fully edited film on the eve of its release.
Earlier, Mohanlal and his wife Suchitra had watched the 'double-positive' and - in their modest manner - had said "the film has turned out well. All have done well," recalls Jeethu.
"I watched the film with my wife, and instantly, I knew I had got it right. I knew it would be an entertainer," says Jeethu. For the first time in a decade, he went for the first-day, first-show of Aadhi at a local theatre.
"The last time I watched a first-show of my movie was for my debut film Detective," says Jeethu.
By the time he exited the theatre, Aadhi was certified as a blockbuster hit. Pranav Mohanlal had arrived. Ushered in by Jeethu. In style!
A parkour thriller
What has had fans going gaga about Aadhi are the parkour stunts by Pranav. Yet, the film's story was not tailored for Pranav, says Jeethu.
"It was a one-liner I had from my college days, about a cross-country runner, and how he gets into an incident; the only way to get out was to use his champion-skills as a runner."
He kept the theme in the backburner in his initial days in the industry. He went on to direct Detective, Mummy & Me, Memories, Drishyam (its Tamil remake with Kamal Haasan - Papanasam), Life of Josutty and Oozham.
On Papanasam and Life of Josutty, Pranav was an assistant to Jeethu, an unassuming youngster with a distinctive personality, a wanderer, a dreamer, a kindred soul not reveling in the lure of limelight. He debuted in cinema as a child actor in Onnaman, and took home a state film award for best child actor for his second film, Punarjani.
"Appu (as Pranav is fondly known) has always been different," says Jeethu, who now has the task of talking about Pranav in his absence.
"Since he is travelling, invariably the media asks me about him," smiles Jeethu.
When Jeethu bounced off the idea, replacing cross-country running with parkour, Pranav liked it. "It helped that Appu used to do parkour as a young boy," says Jeethu.
Mohanlal read the script and but for a few minor suggestions, was fine with it. Antony Perumbavoor stepped in with a dream offer: "Budget no bar."
So, it is that Aadhi came to life with Pranav, Siddique, Lena, Anusree and Jagapati Babu, among others. A thriller, it charts the story of a young aspiring musician, Aadhi (Pranav) and how he unwittingly gets entangled in a dire incident. To stay alive, he must use his skills - including parkour.
Working with father & son
On directing both dad and son, Jeethu is matter-of-fact and not obsequiously effusive.
"Pranav is a beginner and he has done a good job. There is something about him that is like Mohanlal. When you are filming Lal, the external vibe he gives out is that he is not serious - but the result you see on-screen is mind-blowing. Similarly, Pranav too makes a powerful presence on the big-screen. I think Appu really enjoyed the process of filming."
Jeethu now goes on to direct his first Hindi film with Emraan Hashimi and Rishi Kapoor, an adaptation of a Spanish film. "It is a thriller that unfolds in one day."
He says that with a profusion of new talents and fresh faces, Malayalam cinema is witnessing a golden era now. "There is more realism, and the treatment is different. It is important to reinvent your craft, and I will do that."
That statement also says a lot about Jeethu - about his own openness to learn despite his strong credentials.
For now, Jeethu, who also wrote Aadhi, has given Malayalam cinema a new star: And Pranav has proved his mettle. He even has a registered fans association. But will he bait for an all-out acting career? Jeethu doesn't have the answer. And Pranav is not saying. But a star is born, let him shine.