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A heady brew

SANGEETA

‘Kerala Cafe,’ Malayalam’s first Portmanteau film, was premiered at the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi last week. Film director Ranjith, who captained the project, talks about the ingredients that went into the film.



Taste of Kerala: Stills from some of the films in ‘Kerala Cafe’ that showcase contemporary Kerala; top left: writer-director Ranjith.

The blueprint of ‘Kerala Cafe’ was drawn on the day director Ranjith and his crew watched the French Portmanteau film ‘Paris, je t’aime.’ It was done as part of a recce of his forthcoming film ‘Paleri Manickam,R 17; of which a schedule was designed in Paris. But more than the content, it was the form and novelty of ‘Paris, je t’aime’ that caught Ranjith’s attention. Being an adept storyteller, he took no time in conceptualising a Kerala-centric film in a similar format. And with his knowledge and leverage in Malayalam cinema, it took even lesser time in turning his idea into a film.

‘Kerala Cafe,’ Malayalam’s first anthology film, was premiered at the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi last week. The film opened to rave reviews. Many critics were reportedly impressed with the content that is much darker and more intelligent than its Francophile counterpart. The international film community present at the festival, including director Deepa Mehta, was impressed by the way the film used the idea of 10 individual journeys merging into the overall perspective of a collective journey.

The project director and compilation crew go into overdrive as they share their experiences of this unique venture, detailing the challenges the format posed and how they enhanced, truncated and somehow mediated through the 10 films to give it a cohesive structure.

Binding concept

“The 10 directors were told about the binding concept of the ‘Kerala Cafe,’ a railway cafeteria, during the pre-production briefings. They were told that the Cafe should be thematically associated with the individual scripts. So all the 10 stories, at some point or the other, touch upon the cafeteria, which functions as a transit to the next link.

“And once the scripts were over, we made a scene ordering, depending on the progression of events. This, eventually, had to be redone for the sake of editing, but it was helpful in forming the initial impression of the film in its totality,” explains Ranjith, who is all praise for his peers who supported him and each other during the process of making ‘Kerala Cafe.’

“I was fortunate to have assembled 10 of the finest minds in the industry to make these films. Their subjectivity and expertise is evident in their films. Almost all of them turned up during the shooting of the final sequence, which was done by me. It not only cheered me up but also helped me in gaining versions and perspectives to tie up the films. And though the films were edited and re-recorded individually, we all sat together for the final assembly,” he reminisces, lavishing praise on his compiling editor Vijai Sankar and sound designer Ajith A. George for the audio visual integrity of ‘Kerala Cafe.’

Vijai admits that he was a little sceptical about taking up the assignment because he thought he would not have much to do with films that were already edited. “But as Ranjiettan explained the concept of the eleventh narrative, I realised the enormity of the task involved. The most interesting feature about ‘Kerala Cafe’ is that the integration of the films has been done subtly. And each transition was generic,” says Vijai. He points out that linking each of the films was an value addition to the entire script.’ “The linking, though it happened at different levels in each story, worked to heighten elements of the plot. For instance, the climax of Revathy’s film happens at the cafeteria. It is a crucial, emotional moment of revelation in the film whereas Anwar’s film has just one shot at the cafeteria, but it is a crucial one. So the emphasis was not on how much of ‘Kerala Cafe’ each film uses, but how significantly it is posited in the script,” he adds.

Ajit is perhaps the only common technician in the 10 films. He was one of the first crew members to get onboard the project.

“The decision to have a single sound designer for the whole project was taken in the beginning itself. It was mandatory as the film would have sound in 10 different tones otherwise,” explains Ajith. ‘Kerala Cafe’ also has a song that hails the art of storytelling, starting with the celebrated verses of Thunchathu Ezhuthachan.

‘Kerala Cafe,’ which throws light on facets of contemporary Kerala, will open in theatres on October 29.

The top ten

‘Kerala Cafe’ is captained by writer-director Ranjith, who is also the script designer and director. The film, produced by Backwater Media and Entertainment Private Limited, has an ensemble cast and crew of writers, actors and technicians. The crew includes Manoj Pillai (director of photography), Manu Jagadh (production design) and Bijibal (music composer). The films, their directors, the cast and the one-line story are given in the box.


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