Malayalam indie film, starring Dubai actor, to premiere at Moscow film fest
1956, Central Travancore, which will see Assif Yogi in the lead role, has also been shot by Dubai-based cinematographer Alex Joseph
A Malayalam indie film - featuring Dubai-based Assif Yogi in a lead role and shot by Dubai-based cinematographer Alex Joseph - is slated to have its world premiere at the prestigious Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF) next month.
Written and directed by Don Palathara, the film - titled 1956, Central Travancore - is set in the district of Idukki in Kerala and follows the story of two migrant brothers, Onan and Kora, who are trying to make a living in post-Independence India. The movie is about a bygone era - the time just before the land reforms by the communist government in Kerala - and seeks to question the validity of historical narratives and the nature of truth itself.
Speaking to WKND, both Assif and Alex expressed their joy at having the film picked up by one of the oldest film festivals in the world. "It's not easy for Malayalam films to be showcased at such a prestigious film festival at all," notes Alex, who has been a UAE resident for the last 15 years. "We've seen many Malayalam films premiere at Toronto, Venice and other reputed film festivals - but the Moscow International Film Festival has their own aesthetic. So, we're really happy about this."
Only two other Malayalam films have premiered at MIFF in the past: Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Swayamvaram (1972) and Munnariyippu (2014), starring Mammootty.
Describing the themes of 1956, Central Travancore, which has been produced by Abhilash Kumar, under the banner of Artbeats Studios, Assif - who essays the role of younger brother Kora - explained that the period film explores themes of migration, man versus nature, and also human greed.
It was quite an "intense" experience for the 40-year-old, who works as a senior maintenance planner in the aviation industry and doesn't have much prior experience with acting. "Being in Dubai for so long in the corporate world, you live a different life. Going back to 1956, where you need to wear a lungi and T-shirt, and take on the crude, unpolished mannerisms of farmers of that time. I needed to alter everything from my looks to my body language and my speech. I'm from the central part of Kerala, but the movie is set further south, so I had to pick up a totally different slang."
For Alex too, shooting the 94-minute film - which will be his debut feature film - was no walk in the park. "We were shooting in a forest area and had to trek 5-10 kilometres a day in the heat for the shoot." More than that, however, it was the black-and-white format the film was shot in that challenged him. "The director was quite insistent on shooting in black-and-white, as he didn't want the viewers' attention distracted by other objects and colours. He wanted them to be focused only on the subjects," he explains.
That's the good thing about independent films, chimes in Assif. "It's far more content-based than commercial films and there's more artistic freedom and reflection in creating them. It's a struggle, but a different kind of reward when people appreciate you for them. If you ask me, it's independent films that change the course of cinema. It may happen only over the course of many years, but they're the ones who take the film industry forward."
The 42nd edition of MIFF was originally scheduled to take place in April, but got postponed due to the pandemic. It will now run from October 1 to 8.