March 4, 2015 4:57:48 am
In February 2013, while working on the pre-production of his debut feature film in Mumbai, Manu Warrier wanted to take his time finalising the cast, especially the lead actor. But a sudden phone call from Coorg changed his plans.
The valley in Karnataka had received the season’s first rain showers, thus confirming the blooming of the coffee flowers exactly seven days from then. The delicate white flowers are the first signs of good coffee, yielding berries that mature and produce coffee beans over the course of the year. These flowers, however, would stay for only two days in the entire season. The owner of Elephant Corridor coffee estate of Coorg — where the movie was to be shot — further informed Warrier that if the latter wasn’t present at the time to film the phenomenon, the shoot would have to wait an entire year.
“This meant that the climax of the film — a crucial scene with the protagonist amid a valley full of flowers — had to be shot first,” says the director. Within three days of accepting the role, actor Arjun Mathur, along with the small crew of the film, landed in Coorg to shoot the film, which releases on March 5.
Much like how nature dictated its making, Coorg’s idyllic coffee plantations shaped the fates of the characters in Coffee Bloom. Even as the primary players of the plot, Dev (Mathur), Anika (Sugandha Garg) and Srinivas (Mohan Kapoor) go about their love, ambitions and philosophical enquiries, their lives dance to the whims of the coffee crop.
The film revolves around Dev and his relationship with his land. Warrier says that he and his co-writer Sharath Parvathavani had initially considered mango orchards or a tea estate as a possible setting. But neither could match the charms of Coorg’s coffee estates, which remain largely unexplored in cinema. The film shows the region’s landscape like never before. Almost the entire story is set in a particular coffee estate, in its Colonial-style bungalows, which doubles as homestays for tourists. In one sequence, it shows a breathtaking wide-angle view of the lake of the region. Warrier says people came up to him surprised that they didn’t know such places existed within Coorg.
But the natural beauty of the place aside, it’s the stories of the region’s coffee plantation owners that added nuances to the film’s characters.
“Talking to the plantation owners, we realised how many of them feel a strong connection to their ancestral land, an urge to not sell it off,” he says. This also became the key premise for the three key characters to come together — Mathur returns to the estate, once owned by his family that he had sold off against his mother’s wishes. To redeem himself after his mother’s death, he seeks employment with the new owner Srinivas, whose wife Anika he shares a past with. Throughout the film, Dev questions if the new owners’ passion for the land can match his own.
“So many young people with an entrepreneurial drive, who have ancestral property in Coorg, have relocated from foreign land to pursue their passion of organic farming. I have a cousin who did something similar,”says Warrier, who was born in Kerala and raised in Mumbai and has penned four episodes of Anurag Kashyap’s tele-series Yudh.
The director believes these “new-age qualities” represent the educated, English-speaking, urban youth that will make his film more relatable to his target audience. For instance, even though Dev is a reckless youth, he is an expert in coffee crops who listens to spiritual discourse with his earphones plugged in. Warrier says that he came across such people during research on the coffee estates.
Warrier doesn’t have a direct connection with Coorg but could relate to the space because of his experience of having lost his ancestral property in the past. “Despite being region specific, they all were very human, personal stories,” says Warrier, who shot the film over 22 days in Coorg and also filmed a small portion in Bangalore. It was finished a few days before the Mumbai Film Festival, 2014, where it premiered.
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