Malayalam News

Helen: National Award Winning Malayalam Film’s Makers Look Back on Shared Vision and 5 Years of Hard Work

“If there’s one thing that made Helen, possible, it was a simple principle that we believed, work a little every day for the dream. Those baby steps shall open the doors of possibility,” says National Award-winning debut director Mathukutty Xavier


The Malayalam survival thriller film won two awards- Best Debut Director (Mathukutty) and Best Makeup (Ranjith Ambady)– at the 67th National Film Awards.

The self-taught director says that winning the prestigious award was the result of five years of hard work and perseverance of the “team”. He shares the credit with his co-writers Alfred Kurian Joseph and Noble Babu Thomas who resonated his belief in the idea of “I am because we are”. 

The film starring Anna BenLalNoble Babu Thomas, and Aju Varghese in a pivotal role is produced by Vineeth Sreenivasan and Noble under the banners Habit of Life and Big Bang Entertainments. In the film, the protagonist gets trapped in the meat-freezer at the restaurant. What follows in the latter half is the efforts of her father and boyfriend trying to find her while she tries to stay alive inside the freezer.

In conversation with Silverscreen India, Mathukutty, Noble, and Kurian share the journey of three dreamers, one vision, and five years of hard work in making Helen a reality.

It all starts with a dream

Mathukutty’s love of watching movies started at a young age when he visited theatres to assist his father in supplying AD slides for the cinema screens.

“During school days, I along with my friends made a short film with a digital camera. While seniors made fun of us, primary children enjoyed it. That experience propelled my interest in filmmaking. From then on I did everything possible– watching YouTube tutorials, and sneaking into multimedia classes in college– to learn the skills. After completing my Bachelor’s in Animation and Graphic design, I worked as a graphic designer and a video producer for a few years. But things became difficult when I couldn’t juggle between my job and passion. There are times when our dream feels far away and that’s when we have a desperate urge to achieve it. This feeling made me quit my job in 2015 to follow my pursuit of filmmaking,” Mathukutty said.

“Later one day, I met my nursery friend Kurien with whom I discussed my idea and we instantly clicked. After working together for one year, our two-member team grew a size larger with Noble.”

Making Helen a reality

The trio wrote several scripts over five years but nothing kicked off due to various reasons, including the unavailability of dates of the artists. But with an undying zest, the team came up with a sure-shot plan: to make a film on a small budget with a story that revolves around one main character.

According to the team, films based on true events are “exciting and inspirational”. And one of the co-writers Kurien, who has a habit of collecting news clippings, landed on an article about a kitchen worker trapped in a walk-in freezer at a hotel in Atlanta. This paved way for Helen.


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A post shared by Mathukutty Xavier (@mathukuttyxavier)

“With this reference, we wrote the climax first. Though the story is about a girl getting trapped in a freezer, our main aim was to connect with the audience at an emotional level. It is a human instinct to feel for our loved ones when they are in a trouble. So, in the first half, we purposefully established father-daughter sentiments and a relatable world around Helen. This made a strong impact in the latter half as the audience felt for Helen when she was trapped,” Mathukutty said.


Speaking about the research that went into this project, Kurien said that the team visited various food outlet freezer stations in and around Kochi. “During the field visit, we realised that it was very difficult to endure such low temperature for a few minutes. We also consulted doctors to understand the medical conditions of persons being trapped in freezers and tried to find if there have been similar instances in other places. This laid a strong foundation for the script,” Kurien said.

One of the most appreciated aspects of the film was Helen’s make-up for the scenes shot inside the freezer. The film’s makeup artist Ranjith Ambady said that the references provided by the writers and the director were useful for him to create the exact look and the assistant directors helped to maintain the consistency.

Kurien said, “We had noted down the changes in the face and body at every stage during the scripting process. The specifications were noted across the scenes. Following which a photo shoot was done for various looks. Those were also attached to the respective scenes which were helpful while shooting.”

Teamwork makes dream work

After the major work of scripting was completed, the team contacted renowned Malayalam director, producer and actor Vineeth Sreenivasan for creative feedback. Noble recalled that the three narrated the story to Vineeth. “After the narrating the story till the interval block, we paused to know his opinion. However, his reply was unexpected; he asked us if he could produce the movie and we were blown away,” Noble said.


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A post shared by Mathukutty Xavier (@mathukuttyxavier)

The team said that Vineeth’s support to produce the film was a ray of hope. The project, which was completed in five months, released in November 2019 and garnered a positive response from the audience. 

Asked about their bond and merits of working as a team, Mathukutty said that working together helps maintain discipline.

“We stop giving excuses as we respect the teammates time and effort. That apart, working with a team enhances the writing as there is a scope for multiple perspectives. I believe that a strong script is a foundation for a good film. For Helen, Kurien and Noble worked hard and the achievement is because of our collective efforts,” Mathukutty said.


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A post shared by Alfred Kurian Joseph (@alfred_kurian)

Noble, who co-produced the movie under the banner Big Bang Entertainment, essayed the role of Azhar in Helen. Speaking about his association with the film, he said that it was his debut as an actor and a screenwriter. “Being part of the writing team helped me understand the character better. I used to perform while writing the scenes.” 


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A post shared by Mathukutty Xavier (@mathukuttyxavier)

Upcoming projects


The trio are working together on another project, which will be directed by Kurien. He said that his movie is yet another small budget family-oriented film that will be different from Helen

After completing Kurien’s directorial, Mathukutty will helm a film written by Karthik and produced by Suvin Varkey and Prasobh Krishna.

Asked about his film releasing on OTT platforms, Mathukutty said, “In the wake of Covid-19 induced lockdown, cinema viewership among audience has increased as many of them have subscribed to OTT platforms. So I feel this is a great opportunity for content creators. Our job is to entertain the audience irrespective of the medium. I think both OTT and big screens will co-exist and it is our responsibility to adapt to the change. “