The film, produced by Prem Abraham under the ZSAZSA Productions banner, also features actors Manoj K Jayan, Amit Chakkalackal, Ashwin Kumar, Sidhartha Siva and Santhy Balachandran, among several others.
Aaha is directed and edited by Bibin Paul Samuel. In conversation with Silverscreen India, Bibin, who marks his directorial debut with the film, calls it an out-and-out sports drama. “It is about Kerala’s lesser-known sport Vadamvali, known in English as ‘Tug of War’. Vadamvali is a layman’s sport that is mostly played by labourers and daily wagers. There is a huge fan base for this sport in Kerala, but it has not got its due recognition in the wider stage,” he adds.
Bibin reveals that Aaha is a fictional story loosely inspired by a legendary Vadamvali team called Aaha Neeloor, which was popular in Kerala in the 80s and 90s. The team is said to have won in almost all tournaments during a particular season.
“Indrajith plays the role of a Vadamvali coach who trains a team of youngsters. The film reflects on how significant the game is for the players in the midst of their struggles and livelihood issues. Vadamvali is an integral part of their life, something that earns them respect and appreciation,” says Bibin.
The film’s script is written by Tobit Chirayath. The director says Tobit learnt about the team Aaha Neeloor and also spent time learning to play Vadamvali, before writing the script. Once the script was ready, he met with the director and his team. After that, the entire team spent around a year studying the sport in-depth, meeting players, and watching live tournaments to get a wider perspective and better understanding. Their research revealed that there are around 2 lakh Vadamvali players and 1000-1200 teams in the state.
“Once the preliminary work was completed, we began the casting process. The artists selected were then provided four months of intensive training. We also roped in real Vadamvali players from 20 different teams.”
Noting that Vadamvali is also prominent in Haryana, Punjab and China, Bibin says Kerala’s Vadamvali has a unique form known as ‘over the shoulder’ and they have highlighted this pulling style in the film.
Aaha was shot for around 62 days in the hilly terrains near the Kottayam-Idukki border. The film went on floors around the end of 2019 and was wrapped in January 2021.
About the theatrical release, Bibin says since Aaha is a large canvas film, it calls for the big-screen experience. “Our cinematographer Rahul Balachandran has shot the film in a grand manner. The sound mixing is done by the National Award-winning audiographer MR Rajakrishnan and the music is composed by Sayanora Philip.”
“There are several motivational and inspiring moments in the film and we believe Aaha will be enjoyed by the family audience, children and youngsters as well,” he says, adding that Aaha is a socially-responsible film and is the makers’ effort to get some recognition for the players of this sport in the mainstream arena.