Malayalam thriller sends strong message
Helen is a unique twist on the 'female fight for survival'
When a girl goes missing in India, you assume the worst. From kidnapping to assault and murder, the last place you think she would be in is - an industrial refrigerator.
Mollywood's latest offering 'Helen', starring Anna Ben from the Kumblangi Nights fame and veteran actor, director Lal, gives a unique twist on the subject of 'female fight for survival'.
As Helen, the female protagonist played by Anna fights for survival inside a -5-degree refrigerator at the restaurant where she works, another war wages on the outside. Helen's dad Paul, expertly portrayed by Lal, her boyfriend Azhar, played by Noble Babu Thomas (also the man who co-scripted the film) and Kerala Police organise a massive hunt for the missing girl.
Produced by Vineeth Sreenivasan, under the banners of Habit of Life and Big Bang Entertainments, the film is directed by debutant Mathukutty Xavier, and Thomas has co-scripted the film with Alfred Kurien Joseph. Anand Chandran, who cranked the camera for movies like Premam, Anandam and Neram, is the cinematographer for this film.
Shameer Muhammad, who was the editor of Angamaly Diaries and Charlie; is part of this project too. Music is from Shaan Rahman.
Critics and cinema-goers have well received Helen in Kerala. Chatting with City Times ahead of the movie's UAE release, actors Lal and Anna Ben, and the movie's director Mathukutty Xavier have called Helen a 'compelling, survival drama' that has been made keeping movie-goers of all ages in mind. Helen will release in the UAE on Thursday, November 28
'We shot in minus 5 degrees for 20 days'
"Helen is a 24-year-old nursing student who plans on going to Canada for her higher studies. In the meanwhile, she works at a fast food joint to financially support her father. She is a mature, goal-oriented character who knows what she wants," explained Anna.
She added, "In the past two movies I've acted, I've tried try to find the relatability factor in them. Though there is a lot of difference between myself and the two characters, there are common elements you can relate to."
In Helen's case, the homework was more on the survival side, said Anna. "She went through something I've never faced in real life. We worked hard as a team to keep my health intact throughout the shooting of the refrigerator sequence," she explained.
"The crew had on a lot of gear, but I was only in my costume, and that was very difficult. We would shoot for an hour, and I'd take a ten-minute break. This went on for 20 days," said Anna. The actor said she stayed away from cold drinks, ice cream and paid a great deal of attention to her health. "The team was accommodating and helped me in some way or the other to survive throughout the movie. They would give me blankets, and do everything to cheer me up," she added. "Throughout the shoot, I had to stay in character. Helen was going through a lot while being stuck in that situation," said Anna.
Commenting on the social relevance of the movie, Anna said Helen is a movie on survival. "There were two types of struggles. One that happened inside the refrigerator, and the second was the one that took place outside," said Anna.
Helen shares a loving relationship with her father Paul; however, when he realises she has a boyfriend, he finds it hard to communicate with her. "The struggle with the father, the questions that arise after a girl goes missing, and other social issues are revolving around such cases. A lot of research went into the script," said Anna. However, Anna insists that Helen is not a female-oriented film. "It is a more character-oriented film. It could've been a guy who went missing as well," added the actor.
Playing Lal's daughter on-screen was an enjoyable experience for Anna, she said. "He has always been part of my family. It was so easy to see him as a father figure, and he was wonderful on-set as well. You don't feel intimidated when you're acting next to him, and you learn so much from him as well."
Lal, however, told City Times, "It is a family- theme movie. Nothing has been forced to make the movie, and the climax is compelling. There is no additional drama to make a point, and there is an important social theme in the movie as well."
According to Lal, an incident like this could happen to any father. "There is a relatability factor in the story, and it has been narrated charmingly. We've seen a lot of movies where characters are trapped; however, in this one, it's the softer, human elements and relationship between the characters that are given the spotlight. The subject of struggle has been treated with a lot of sensitivity as well."
The first-time director hits a mark
With no experience in cinema, debutant director Mathukutty Xavier surely makes a mark with Helen. "The movie is doing well. We didn't expect something like this, and with Vineeth's entrance into the film, it got bigger. Helen was intended to be a small movie, but the response we've received for it now is overwhelming," said Xavier.
He said, "The movie gives the theme of survival a different twist. Though the character who gets stuck is a woman, it is not a movie about female survival. It is ultimately about father-daughter relationships, a young girl's relationship with her boyfriend, and how she survives in a closed, confined space." The movie itself draws inspiration from several real-life events.
Giving a message to viewers in the UAE, Xavier said, "It is a thriller, and we want people to feel happy when they leave the theatres watching it. On the plus side, there is also an important social message at the end of the movie."