Prasad and Sreeja, a newly-married couple, find their wedding gold chain missing while travelling by bus. A thief slyly and slowly cuts it. As he pulls it towards him, Sreeja wakes up to find him quickly swallowing it. The passengers take him to the nearest police station, where, after a medical examination, the chain is found in his stomach. The premise of the critically-acclaimed Malayalam film, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017), is simple, or is it not?
Screenwriter Sajeev Pazhoor, had written the story four years ago, with one question in mind — will she wear the chain again? As it developed, he topped the plot with caste displacement, financial crisis and a tryst with the “system”.
Pazhoor, who won the National Award for Best Original Screenplay this year, was in the Capital for the first edition of the Festival of Contemporary Malayalam Cinema, organised by Kerala State Chalchitra Academy, at Delhi’s IIC.
Pazhoor had planned to make a small-budget film in Tamil and Malayalam. After some roadblocks, he approached producer Sandip Senan. It was then that Dileesh Pothan, known for his award-winning directorial debut Maheshinte Prathikaaram, came on board.
The film, set largely in a police station in Kerala’s Kasaragod, can unfold in any state in India, says Pazhoor, adding that an underlying layer, which doesn’t come out as prominently in the film, is that of water scarcity. The couple migrates from the water-rich Alappuzha due to their inter-caste marriage, to Kasaragod, near the Karnataka border. They decide to mortgage the wedding chain to dig a bore well. “Survival is everyone’s goal, be it the couple, the thief or the sub-inspector,” says the Thiruvananthapuram-based writer.
Pazhoor spent weeks at different police stations in Kasaragod and nearby areas to observe the men in uniform. “We can get at least 10 film stories. Once a sub-inspector was beating a man, and that was his only punishment. He had sent some photoshopped images to the husband of the woman he was in love with,” he says. “Daily allowance for keeping an offender in jail is Rs 19, which is not even enough for breakfast. So, naturally, they will avoid registering such petty cases,” says Pazhoor, 44, who currently works with the Public Relations department of the Kerala government.
About 28 police officers acted in the movie, apart from actor Alencier Ley Lopez. The thief, played by Faasil, not only steals the gold chain, but also the husband’s name, Prasad. Throughout the film, his identity and life story remains unknown. “From the beginning, it was very clear that the thief will have no identity. Aadhaar and other identity cards are given, but there are people who are unaware of their identity. We have to address the issue in more films. Also, he is called a born criminal in the movie, which was used deliberately, to point out that there are no born criminals. Society tags them as one,” he says.
He laughs when asked about the formula to write stories. He comes up with one word — “relatability”. While he enjoys watching larger-than-life Tamil cinema, it is the slice of life stories that he wishes to pen and has a couple of scripts in the pipeline.