On January 4, 2023, the Kuttanad-based Malayalam lyricist and poet Beeyar Prasad aka B Rajendraprasad passed away owing to complications from a brain haemorrhage. Had he been around, he would have been proud of how a short story that he had shared with Sanjeev Sivan fructified into a feature film that is now awaiting release.
“In 2021, Prasad narrated the story in a nutshell to me. At that time, his health didn’t allow him to develop the subject, but knowing my penchant for universal themes, he suggested I take it forward. I wrote my version and went ahead with the shooting. He had seen most parts of the film but, unfortunately, he’s not with us anymore,” says Sanjeev speaking to us over the phone from Kochi.
The 90-minute feature film Ozhuki ozhuki ozhuki is a significant film for Sanjeev, the youngest of the Sivan brothers — following Santosh and Sangeeth — as it marks the acting debut of his 12-year-old son Sidhanshu Sanjeev Sivan, though the script was readied long before the decision to cast him was made. “When the story was narrated to my mother-in-law, she suggested that we cast Sidhanshu in the role of the young boy, who is pivotal to the film. It was her dream to see Sidhanshu as an actor,” says Sanjeev.
Life by the water
The story is of a young boy Paakaran, a daily wage worker in a fishing cooperative who lives with his mother. He lives by the idyllic backwaters of Kuttanad in Kerala and develops a special bond with the flowing water and dreams of becoming a boatman like his father who had died in a boat capsize. The discovery of a floating body in the water changes Paakaran’s life.
Anticipating the challenge of casting his son in a role where the character appears in every frame of the film, Sanjeev and his wife, actor-filmmaker Deepti Pillay Sivan sent him for a couple of acting workshops in Mumbai. “He worked hard, prepared himself well and presented himself to me. Only then I was convinced. He earned this role,” says the proud father.
Dreams and determination
Joining in the conversation, the 12-year-old describes the feeling when he was first told he would be part of the film: “ I always wanted to act and would nag my parents but when it happened it came as a huge surprise and I was super excited,” he says adding he realised the value of the opportunity and wanted to do his best. “I used to practice my dialogues in front of the mirror. Not wanting to disappoint my dad drove me to give my best.”
With an impressive crew like Resul Pookutty (sound engineer), Sreekar Prasad (editor), Manoj Pillai (cinematographer) and Tuomas Kantenlinen (music) the film also has Kumbalangi nights-fame Soubin Shahir, Baiju, Anjana, Devu and Tamil actor Narain is its cast. Sanjeev pulled off a surprise by casting a neighbourhood woman Sarita who had no acting experience, in the role of Paakaran’s mother. “Sidhanshu is quite friendly with Sarita and when I noticed their bonding I felt it will work well for the film. Needless to say, their chemistry was an asset to the film,” says Sanjeev.
Describing the first-day shoot with his son, Sanjeev says he was not happy with the outcome and found his son to be too nervous. “I talked to and explained that Amma had put money into the film and we cannot afford to waste time and he had to perform without getting overwhelmed in the presence of big actors. On day 2, I found a change in him. Every shot was okayed in the first take and the film, meant for a 28-day shoot, got completed in 15 days,” says Sanjeev.
“It was like sitting for a Board exam,” laughs Sidhanshu. “Trying to understand the character and looking at the world from his perspective helped me perform better and kept up the confidence throughout,” says Sidhanshu who’s the third generation Sivan and the first one to be in front of the camera. “My mother is a big inspiration and I like Mammootty uncle… actually in different films I like different actors,” he says. Sidhanshu has now set his goals on becoming an actor.
In 2004, Sanjeev stepped out of his admin role in his family studios to direct Aparichitan with Mammootty. Its success, however, didn’t lure him to the path of commercial cinema. A filmmaking graduate from New York University, he made 30 short films and 85 documentaries, including a few for National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel and Al Jazeera, which won him international awards. His documentaries Achtung Baby on the Indo-Aryan tribe in the Himalayas, Underground Inferno on fire accidents inside mines and After Life, a poignant film on a parents’ fight for the possession of their deceased son’s semen were some of the remarkable documentaries he made.
With Ozhuki...’s trailer out, the team is waiting for the Kerala Film Festival’s notification to enter its competition, apart from a few international film festivals.