Loved watching Malayalam superhero film ‘Minnal Murali’? Here’s the tough road that director Basil Joseph took to make it happen
The making of film director Basil Joseph’s third film MInnal Murali is as much a story of challenges and determination as the narrative of any superhero movie.
As the Christmas film soars high on Netflix, it affirms the faith Basil and his team had in the script written by Arun Anirudhan and Justin Mathew.
Also read | Get ‘First Day First Show’, our weekly newsletter from the world of cinema, in your inbox. You can subscribe for free here
In the making for nearly three years, Basil says they were aware of the hurdles they would have to overcome to make a film in the genre of a ‘superhero film’. He says, “It was the success of My Dear Kuttichathan (1984) that inspired me to dare dream of a film like Minnal Murali.”
The idea of a native superhero was scenarist Arun’s idea. He narrated a story about a youngster, a tailor called Jaison in Kurukkanmoola, a small village, who acquires superpowers after he is struck by lightning. On Basil’s suggestion, Justin was taken on board as co-writer. They worked on the script for nearly a year to come up with an interesting screenplay.
“It was not easy to come up with a hero like Minnal Murali, enacted by Tovino Thomas, a grounded, common man who could strike a chord with viewers. We knew that they would immediately compare Minnal Murali with superhero films from Marvel and DC,” points out the director.
Tovino was the first choice of the director and the scenarists to enact the lead character. As a close friends of his, Basil was aware of Tovino’s versatility and ability to pull of humour. “Physically too, he was apt for the role. The skin tight suit of the super hero needed some one with a lean, muscular physique,” says Basil.
Also Read | Actor Tovino Thomas on playing the desi superhero in ‘Minnal Murali’
The team was aware that though the budget was extravagant for a Malayalam film, it would come nowhere near the budget of a Hollywood film. VFX, action sequences and costume were worked out in detail in the script before the film went on the floors. “If the VFX had looked animated or cartoonish, the film would have fallen flat. The action scenes had to be different from the usual stunt scenes of stars in our films. There had be exaggeration but it had to measure up to international standards,” he recollects.
Another challenge was designing the costume for Minnal Murali. “Right from the time we were conceptualising and working on the storyboard, we were mulling over the costume for a new kind of native superhero. Graphic artist Pavi Shankar designed the costume in red and blue and it was executed by Mumbai-based costume designer Deepali Noor,” says Basil.
Overcoming pandemic challenges
The team’s challenges multiplied once the shooting began in December 2019. With the pandemic interrupting the shooting, the team was forced to cool their heels after the first schedule.
“The film included crowds, a large crew, night shooting and wide frames for the scenes. We wondered if we would have to compromise on some of the scenes,” recalls Basil.
Just as shooting resumed with curbs, a set of a church was put up at Kalady, near Ernakulam, for the climax of the film. Then the second lockdown was announced.
Also Read | ‘Minnal Murali’ movie review: Like a feel-good bolt from the sky
To make matters worse, for the first time in Malayalam cinema, the set was vandalised. “So much of money was tied up as shooting had to be stopped twice. Would be fair to expect the producer Sophia Paul to spend a huge sum on erecting the set again? Theatres were closed and there was uncertainty as to when the film would reach viewers. Would we be able to recover the costs?”
The questions haunted the team, especially Basil. But he had to stay cool to keep up the morale of the crew and the cast.
Finally, the location was moved to Hassan in Karnataka. A church near a water body was the requirement and the location team found such a place there. “But that did make the shooting any less challenging. Not knowing the local language made it difficult to control the crowd. The pandemic scare had peaked and there was constant checking by the heath department. In a 20-day schedule, if one of us turned positive, the whole shoot would have to be put on hold. It was like sitting on a ticking bomb!”
In spite of the pressure, the shoot was completed. Soon afterwards, Tovino, Basil and heroine Femina George came down with COVID-19. After they recovered, shooting resumed with curbs and the film was completed in June-July 2020.
The long gap in between the schedules created its own share of problems. “Children who had their teeth missing in the first schedule now had a perfect set of pearlies. Some actors had lost weight or gained some! I can now laugh at it all because we were able to complete the film the way we visualised it. My team stood with me. Minnal Murali was no longer a project; it had become an emotion for us. That helped us overcome challenges that came our way.”
Basil admits that it was heartbreaking when the decision was taken to premiere it on OTT as every scene had been conceptualised for the big screen. “The uncertainty exhausted us. We owed it to the producer who had invested in the project because she believed in me and the story.”
However, Basil firmly believes that everything happens for a reason. The Christmas release on Netflix gave the movie a global reach. “The delay gave the post-production team more time to fine-tune the film,” says Basil, currently elated with the success it is receiving.
‘Minnal Murali’ is currently streaming on Netflix