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Wanted ‘Nizhal’ to Break Traditional Template of Malayalam Thrillers, Says Director Appu N Bhattathiri

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Photo Source: Appu N Bhattathiri’s Instagram Handle

Director Appu N Bhattathiri’s vision behind his debut Malayalam film Nizhal was to set a new standard for making thrillers in Malayalam, inspired by David Fincher and foreign language thrillers. 

“The thriller films that I have seen in Malayalam had a particular tone and a set template. I wanted to break out of it and try the things that I wished to see on screen and that’s what I have done in Nizhal,” Appu told Silverscreen India

Nizhal, a mystery thriller starring Kunchacko Boban, Nayanthara in lead roles, released in theatres on April 9. It had a short run at theatres as cinema halls closed down due to the surging Covid-19 cases in Kerala. The film released on Amazon Prime Video on Monday. 

The film’s plot reads, “John Baby, who is recouping from a traumatic accident, meets Nitin, a young boy who interests him with murder stories. When Baby explores the possibility of Nitin’s stories by mapping the events, it matches with the real-time incidents.”

In conversation with Silverscreen India, Appu talked about the slow-burn filmmaking style he used in Nizhal, how he visualised and portrayed Kochi like the fictional Gotham city from DC’s Batman comics and his transition from an editor to a director .

Slow burn approach

Appu said that Nizhal’s narrative demanded a slow burn approach as the protagonist, played by Boban, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder which has taken a toll on his mental state.

“So to show such a phase of life I don’t think I could have adapted to a fast pace technique and hence the choice was natural. It is difficult for a debutant to try something new but I feel there is a need for low burn thrillers in Malayalam so that other filmmakers who want to explore this niche genre could derive ideas from it and communicate easier with the audience using this approach,” he said

Making the film

Appu and his writer Sanjeev had begun writing the story two-and-a-half years ago but the project took off only during the Covid-19 induced lockdown in 2020. 

“Sanjeev and I have been working together for almost six years and have written a few stories as well. But nothing materialised. And that’s when Nizhal seemed to be easy to make it during the pandemic. We pitched the story to one of the producers named Fellini and he suggested that we reach out to Boban to play the lead role. And when Boban liked the script, he suggested to rope in Nayanthara for the project. Everything fell in place and the film went on floors on October 19, 2020,” he said.

According to the makers, the film was shot mostly in and around Kochi and some parts in Hogenakkal in a 45-day schedule and another five days for patchwork with limited crew members abiding by the Covid-19 safety protocols.

Kunchacko Boban’s mask and visuals of Kochi inspired by Batman

In some scenes in the film’s trailer, Boban is seen wearing a black mask. 

Asked about the mask, Appu said that the character demanded two looks and instead of showing disfiguration they chose a mask that is used for a specific medical condition. “Also the mask is inspired from Batman’s nightwing,” he said. 

Some shots in the film had vantage points that showed Kochi like New York City. Appu said that he and his team of visual effect artists had referenced Batman’s Gotham City and wanted to bring that feel while depicting Kochi. 

Research and experts’ perspectives shaped the script

Since the film deals with the characters’ psychological issues, Appu said that there was an immense amount of research during the scripting process.

“Discussing with psychiatrists we understood how conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder  affect a person and to what extent we could add fictional elements to the idea when it is depicted visually. We also bounced off the film’s ideas to professionals from different fields to find their take on it. These opinions and perspectives helped in shaping the script,” Appu said.

Working on visual effects 

According to the director, they made complex creative decisions for the film. “There are many rain shots in the film and we have blended real sequences with some creative visual effects,” he said. 

Being a graduate in visual effects, he said that his knowledge in the field helped him understand the need and usage for visual effects better. 

Transition from editor to director

“I believe every director is an editor themselves. Usually when I edit other directors’ films I don’t show them the edit version until I’m ready but here I have that privilege to see my material as I edit. And having experience in editing, unlike other directors I don’t see myself attached to my film when it comes to cutting off some unwanted scenes,” he said.

Nizhal had a spot edit on the location. “Being a first time director it helped me a lot but as an editor I don’t prefer much,” he added.  

Cast and crew

The film is produced by Anto Joseph, Abhijith M Pillai, Badusha, Fellini TP and Ginesh Jose. The film’s technical crew includes S Sanjeev as the screenwriter, Deepak D Menon as cinematographer, Sooraj S Kurup as the music composer, Arunlal and Appu as editors. The film also features Izin Hash, Rony David, Saiju Kurup, Divya Prabha and Lal in the supporting roles. 

Appu included a novel statement in the end credit which read, “Behind this film there is more than 53,000 hours of effort by over 1,200 people and thousands of friends.” 

Appu won Kerala State Awards for Best Editor for Ottamurivelicham and Veeram in 2017. He began his career as an assistant director in Dulquer Salmaan’s debut film Second Show (2012). He debuted as an editor with Sanal K Sasidharan’s Oraalpokkam. His editing works include Anugraheethan Antony, Maniyarayile Ashokan, Theevandi and Lily

Asked about upcoming projects, Appu said that he was focusing on editing some of the films that he had committed. 

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