He makes you feel like you’re in Wonderland, sipping tea at the mad hatter’s party. His imagination is seemingly unfettered; his narration flawless. And just when you start to wonder if he has any flaws at all, he chimes in with a disarming “Hey! But I’m also lazy; I’m very lazy [about writing] scripts.”
He can actually read your mind.
Many people claim that Drishyam is a family thriller, but Jeethu Joseph tells us otherwise: “I don’t think Drishyam or Papanasam are family thrillers. I don’t even know if such a genre exists. Papanasam to me is a family drama. It’s about two families fighting for their children. One family wants to protect their daughter and the other one wants to fight for their son.”
Papanasam is very close to the original, he says: “I would say Papanasam is almost the same as Drishyam. There aren’t any major cultural differences between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, so there wasn’t any difficulty in adapting it to Tamil. We’ve made slight changes, that’s all. We’ve presented the characters in a different manner because in Drishyam, the lead characters hailed from a Christian backdrop but in Papanasam, the characters have a Nadar backdrop. No big changes, otherwise.”
He feels Gauthami is tailor-made for this role. “In my opinion, Gauthami ma’am is the perfect choice for this role. We wanted a young looking actress to play this role and when Suresh Balaji told me that she had plans of making a comeback, I thought who better than her to pull off this role. She is making a comeback after nearly 15 years and that too with Kamal sir, so what more could I ask for?”
Many people had warned Jeethu that Kamal Haasan would interfere in the film-making; he had a reputation for doing just that. But having worked with Kamal now, Jeethu strongly disagrees: “He is a director’s actor, along the likes of Lalettan. After each shot he would go back to his seat. Sometimes I [even] asked him to take a look at the monitor and give me suggestions. But he’d just say, ‘No no, that is your job, you do it’.”
What Jeethu likes the most about Kamal Haasan is his dedication: “After an important sequence where he got beaten, Kamal sir had to make his nose swell up. He had to look like he was hit hard. So he inserted a small piece of rubber up his nose. He accidentally inhaled the rubber and the small piece went all the way up his nose. I panicked and wanted to take him to the doctor immediately. But he insisted on completing the shoot first. I forcefully took him to the hospital and he finally got it removed. Almost anyone in that situation would have called off the shoot. But for Kamal sir, work always comes first.”
And right when he thought he knew all there was to know about Kamal, Jeethu received a moving text message from him: “After we finished shooting, Kamal sir sent me a text message. He said he [was] very happy and he felt very comfortable working with me. He told me that he always shared a good friendship with director I.V.Sasi. They were good friends and they made great films together. In the end of the message, he mentioned that he wanted to maintain a similar friendship with me. I was overjoyed on reading this, I felt really honoured. He is a great actor, but he is also a great human being. That is a very rare quality to find these days.”
Drishyam has given Jeethu many unforgettable memories but there is one particular memory he holds very close to his heart: “After watching the film, the late K.Balachander sent me a long email. It was exceptionally written. He wrote about each and every aspect of the film. It still feels very surreal; this is one thing I hold very close to my heart. I had the letter framed and hung it in my house.”
I ask if his next film Life of Josukutty has as many twists as Drishyam, and he is quick to clarify: “I’ve never repeated genres and I never will. I don’t want to be predictable. My ongoing project with Dileep called Life of Josukutty is nothing like Drishyam. It has a touch of fantasy but there aren’t many twists and turns. It’s a predictable subject that will be presented in a different angle.”
According to Jeethu, stars are sometimes bound by invisible lines. Sometimes they ignore the line but sometimes they’re afraid to cross it: “In India, stardom is a curse. The moment our audiences put stars on a pedestal, they are bound by too many limitations. People wonder why stars don’t do certain kinds of roles, and stars think their fans won’t accept them if they do certain roles. At the end of the day you can’t blame anyone, because they are only looking out for each other. All you can say is, stardom is a curse.”
I ask him if there is anything in the filmmaking process that he wishes he could change, and the conversation heats up: “Almost everyone in this field [is] selfish. There is teamwork but hardly any sincere teamwork. Everybody wants their work to stand out, so their department in turn stands out. That’s not what filmmaking is all about. Every department should merge to make the film a whole. But you will find very few people who put the film first. So in the end the film suffers. Balu Mahendra once said if someone says the cinematography of the film is good, that means the cinematographer has failed. I couldn’t agree more with him, for a film to be exceptional; all aspects must complement each other, not stand out.”
There is one thing that immediately cools him down though, the mere mention of Steven Spielberg: “Steven Spielberg plays the role of a teacher in my life. He is my favourite director. I always believe that I am a storyteller. I am also a director and a writer but I’m always a storyteller first. I believe Steven Spielberg is also a storyteller first, that’s why his films entertain people from all walks of life.”
I try to find out how many more stories are there in his imagination, waiting to be told: “I have plans of making a serial killer film but that will not materialize any time soon. Such films should be handled delicately. They are complicated and require a lot of time.”
Jeethu Joseph is making plans. A lot of them. But he remains tight-lipped about them: “That’s a secret,” he laughs before adding, “On a serious note, I do have a few plans; they are under discussion so this is not the right time to talk about it.”
Papanasam releases this Friday.
The Jeethu Joseph interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.