Malayalam cinema

A film about an eight-year-old boy who thinks he is invisible is a moving study of loss

In Prasanth Vijay’s ‘Athisayangalude Venal’, an eight-year-old boy comes up with a unique way to deal with his missing father.

Eight-year-old Anand’s father, a journalist working in conflict-torn Chhattisgarh, has not returned home in months. The family is not sure if he is still alive, but hangs on to a forlorn hope.

But Anand (Chandra Kiran) has a different theory. He is convinced that his father has finally cracked the code to becoming invisible, a feat he believes his father was hinting at when he gifted him HG Wells’s novel The Invisible Man on his birthday. “Never stop dreaming,” Anand’s father had written inside the book. Desperate to keep his father’s memory alive, Anand is ready to do all it takes to become invisible himself, including tying himself to a transformer, believing that the current will jolt him into disappearance.

Anand’s mother and elder brother are disturbed by his dangerous experiments. A nod and a wink later, they pretend that every time Anand walks into the room wearing his father’s watch, they cannot see him.

Will that convince Anand though?

Prasanth Vijay’s Malayalam-language debut feature Athisayangalude Venal (The Summer of Miracles) beautifully moves between imagination and reality, science and faith, and knowledge and ignorance in its quest to understand the effects of the absence of a loved one. Screened at the Mumbai Film Festival in October and scheduled to be shown at the International Film Festival of Kerala in December, Athisayangalude Venal was co-written by Vijay, a management graduate, with Anish Pallyal, a psychiatrist working in Calicut and an aspiring writer.

“Cases of people going missing and not knowing anything about them for years are not rare in our country,” Vijay said in an interview. “When we began, we had invisibility as a motif which is a common boyhood fantasy and would make for a good Disney movie. But we wanted to do something with it. Anish and I share this belief that a film should reflect the times that we live in. Wherever possible, we should smuggle pieces of our reality into our narratives. We needn’t be preachy or give out a message always but we believe a film should address the times we live in. That’s when we came up with this back story – of a journalist suddenly gone missing.”

Athisayangalude Venal (2017).
Athisayangalude Venal (2017).

A self-taught filmmaker, Vijay says he chose cinema because he couldn’t write. “My first instinct was to write and I did write my first script at the age of nine, but soon, I discovered that I wasn’t good at creating something from scratch, out of thin air,” Vijay said. “I was familiar with the world of films and scripts from a young age since my uncle was a script writer. But cinema wasn’t the most appealing option for a career according to my family. So, I pursued engineering, worked for a while, completed an MBA course and worked again. All along, circumventing the real plan.”

It was on the internet that Vijay first came across Pallyal’s writings. “In 2014, we met and I learnt that Anish had a whole bank of one-liners with him,” he said. “We discussed many of them and decided we should work together.”

They eventually picked up a one-liner that Pallyal had written about a child who wanted to become invisible. Athisayangalude Venal plays with the idea of invisibility at several levels. For Anand, it means gaining the power to be invincible, like the hero he believes his father to be. For his mother (Reina Maria), the power to disappear from view means an escape from the grief and monotony of life. For Gayatri, Anu’s teenage cousin who comes to live with them, a chance to vanish is offered by the internet, where she spends time chatting with a stranger whom she believes is in love with her.

Chandra Kiran’s delightfully oddball performance leavens a narrative of loss. Kiran infuses his scenes with warmth and humour even when he is brooding about not being invisible enough. After a point, becoming invisible isn’t enough for Anand. He feels that he needs to put his special power to some use. Should he play pranks on his family members, or try his hand at something more noble, perhaps?

Athisayangalude Venal (2017).
Athisayangalude Venal (2017).

“We were lucky to get the right crew and cast for this film,” Vijay said. “For the role of Anand, we struggled to find the right actor because the casting call didn’t leave us with many options. A friend referred us to Chandra Kiran who didn’t have any inclination or idea about acting. Kiran’s father told us only one thing: that he can speak good Malayalam.”

Kiran is nothing like the character he plays in the movie and often had reservations about being in every scene of the film, which helped his performance, Vijay said. “Kiran likes to play cricket and his mind was not in the movies at all,” he said. “In some of the scenes, Kiran is actually pissed off with us for writing a script that has him in every scene, and we have shot that too. But on a serious note, he is an extremely bright kid and responded to us like an adult. So we spoke to him too like an adult.”

Prasanth Vijay.
Prasanth Vijay.
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