“Five years ago my friends shared a one-liner about life after death and the wandering soul’s state of helplessness and tribulation of leaving behind loved ones. It triggered a deep pain in me and that pain turned into something beautiful- Anugraheethan Antony,” says debutant director Prince Joy.
The Malayalam drama fantasy released on April 1 and received a positive response from audiences. The story revolves around Antony (Sunny Wayne), the good-for-nothing son of Varghese (Siddique). Despaired by his attitude, Varghese brings home two puppies and looks after them as his kids while Antony dislikes the dogs. Antony, who falls in love with Sanjana Madhavan (Gouri Kishan), dies in a sudden mishap. However, she is unaware of his demise. What follows is Antony’s journey as a wandering soul to fulfil his deeds.
Speaking to Silverscreen India, Prince talks about his journey of making his debut film.
Making Anugraheethan Antony
Asked about the genesis of the story , Prince said: “There is a belief that departed souls wander on earth for a few days to complete pending deeds. We did a bit of research to understand the religious thoughts behind the concept of life after death and understood the soul is believed to stay in the earthly realm for seven days. Using this belief as a sounding board, we bounced off with an idea to instil a hope that there will be someone or something to help us fulfil the desires after death and make us truly blessed (Anugraheethan).”
Prince said that story writers Jishnu S Ramesh and Aswin Prakash and scriptwriter Naveen T Manilal were his friends. The film, produced by M Shijith under the banner Lekshya Entertainments, was shot in Thodupuzha in a 44-day schedule between 2018 and 2019.
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The director said that one of the challenges was to depict the dead person’s emotion on screen.
“As soon as one dies, he doesn’t accept the fact that he is no more. It takes some time for him to understand that he is merely a soul and has no human skills. To show this process of realisation we had set limitations and obstacles for those characters to overcome and it helped in convincing the audience,” he said.
Asked about the stellar cast- Sunny Wayne, Siddique, Indrans, Shine Tom Chacko, Gowri G Kishan, Suraj Venjaramood, Baiju Santhosh– Prince said that the script was planned keeping this particular cast in mind.
Prince said that the movie’s song Kamini, which was released in December 2019, was a “promotional tool” for the film which is running in theatres for the third week.
“The song has got 24 million views and it is a huge number for us as we didn’t expect it to become a hit. Music composer Arun Muraleedharan was my roommate and one-and-a-half years before the release of the song, we used to listen to it every day. Post-release, we can hear it from our neighbourhood and most of the places we visit. It was such a heartwarming experience. The song created an enthusiasm among the audience to watch the film,” he said.
Dogs the show stealers
The two identical golden retrievers play a pivotal role in the film and the director said that they had been trained for two months.
“The two dogs were given the royal treatment. They had AC rooms and our team pampered them and created a comfortable atmosphere for them to perform. We were very particular about capturing natural emotions of the canines and did not resort to any Computer Generated Imagery.”
Prince said that the scenes from the dog’s perspective were shown in desaturated tones as dogs are believed to be colour-blind.
The director said that the plot was risky as it had to convincingly deliver the dog’s emotions as well. “Since I am a dog lover I was able to pull off that part. I feel it is easier to convey a dog’s emotion than that of a human’s.”
Plans for OTT release
Anugraheethan Antony was one of the many films whose release was stalled due to Covid-19 induced lockdown. The film released after two years since the completion of the production.
Prince said, “Lockdown was another obstacle on my way in making this film. I was scared and worried that this movie will never come out. But the producer was confident about the theatrical release and that’s why we didn’t take it to OTT platforms initially. We waited patiently to see clear skies and now we are happy to see the film doing well on the big screen.”
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Prince said that they have been in talks with an OTT platform for the film’s digital premiere and believed that this option will take this movie to audiences beyond language barriers. However, no deal has been finalised so far.
Destined to do this film
As a debutant, Prince said that he had a lot of struggles and he often wanted to keep this script on the back burner even before the film started rolling.
“Every time I decided to drop the project, there was some magical force that pulled me back in and I think that helped me finish the film,” he said.
“Having travelled with this story for around five years, I found a profound connection with my work after an unfortunate incident. Four months before the release of the film, my father passed away. The pain I went through somehow made me realise that I was destined to make this film,” he said.
Pursuit of filmmaking
The 27-year-old filmmaker is a journalism graduate from Wayanad, Kerala. He rose to fame as a budding director after the release of his first short film Ettukaali. The short film was released on YouTube and was screened in many film festivals.
“I was always drawn towards cinema, but I realised that it was my calling after making my first short film. When I went to film festivals to attend screenings of my short film, I would ask directors to allow me to assist them. Many of them joked that I should make my own film instead of assisting them. Though they intended to get rid of me, initially I didn’t understand the sarcasm behind it and began working on my own story (Anugraheethan Antony). Later, I assisted Midhun Manuel Thomas in Sunny Wane’s Alamaara. There has been no looking back since then,” he said.
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