Home Entertainment Malayalam documentary ‘Thespians of Aattam’ is a fascinating look at the cast of Aattam film

Malayalam documentary ‘Thespians of Aattam’ is a fascinating look at the cast of Aattam film

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Malayalam documentary ‘Thespians of Aattam’ is a fascinating look at the cast of Aattam film

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A still from the documentary Thespians of Aattam. (from left, standing) Vinay Forrt, Madan Babu K, Sudheer Babu, Jolly Anthony and Sijin Sijeesh; (sitting, from left) Prasanth Madhavan, Sanosh Murali, Aji Thiruvamkulam, Nandan Unni, Anand Ekarshi and Santhosh Piravom. All of them are actors of Lokadharmi in Kochi.
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Malayalam film Aattam has been making waves since its release. It was a story created for the cast, its director and writer Anand Ekarshi has stated clearly in several interviews. Even as the movie bagged laurels at all the fetes it was screened, it was the unusual cast that was the cynosure of all eyes.

Sudheer Babu teaching dramatics in a still from Thespians of Aattam.

Sudheer Babu teaching dramatics in a still from Thespians of Aattam.
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Members of the Kochi-based theatre group Lokadharmi, the actors come from different walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds. What unites them is their passion for theatre and the art of acting.

Just after its Indian premiere at the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) fete in Mumbai and before the cast and crew left for Goa, where Aattam was the opening film of the 2023 International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Anand roped in Ananthakrishnan Gopinathan to shoot a documentary on the making of the film, its cast and their experience of working in the film. 

Ananthakrishnan explains, “Anand ettan wanted to do a documentary on the lives of the actors and how it led to Aattam. I know that all of them became part of Aattam through Lokadharmi. So, I wanted to get into their personal lives and their struggle to make a mark as actors. That is how the documentary happenned.”

Anand Ekarshi with some of the actors of Aattam.

Anand Ekarshi with some of the actors of Aattam.
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Thespians of Aattam, a 65-minute documentary, uploaded on YouTube, takes viewers through the journey of the actors as they make their way from the stage to the screen. Candid takes during the shooting enhance the conversations as each actor explains what brought them to Lokadharmi and their organic growth as actors in theatre and Aattam.

It is also a deep dive into the craft of filmmaking and the dynamics of the cast and crew on a set. Watching how a frame is planned, the way a director visualises a scene written on paper and how the actors translate that into action is a captivating look at the teamwork behind a film.

Although there are many documentaries on the making of internationally renowned films, such works are rare in Indian cinema. For instance, The Shark Is Still Working is an interesting work on the making of Steven Spielberg ‘s iconic Jaws.

Vinay Forrt leads a brainstorming session during the making of Aattam.

Vinay Forrt leads a brainstorming session during the making of Aattam.
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Ananthakrishnan says although the shooting of Aattam was completed in 2022, it premiered in 2023. “Once the film started getting good reviews, the cast became confident. Just before they left for IFFI in Goa, in 2023, Anandettan came up with the idea of a documentary,” says the director.

As the actors attend the grand premiere of their film, the excitement is palpable on their faces as they walk the red carpet with other celebrities. The documentary also maps their confidence by the time they are in Goa.

Zarin Shihab in a still from Thespians of Aattam.

Zarin Shihab in a still from Thespians of Aattam.
| Photo Credit:
MP

Although the shooting of the documentary commenced only in November 2023, the actors themselves had been shooting the process of the film to document it and remember the landmark film in their lives. Ananthakrishnan has used the clips to give viewers a close encounter of the actors’ preparation for the film.

The documentary has Anand explaining how it was Vinay Forrt who motivated him to think of a script that would accommodate all the 11 actors in the troupe. Right from the time Anand develops the story idea and the scripting to the casting, auditioning for the female actor and the rehearsal camps, it is evident that this is a movie that celebrates the camaraderie of the actors.

“When I talked to them, they were very open and welcoming; all of them gave me an idea of what unity in diversity means,” observes Ananthakrishnan.  The lack of a hierarchy came as a revelation for the director. Right from the senior-most actor to a newbie, each of them had the same space to talk, discuss and share their ideas. “They interact on equal terms; age and social constructs don’t intrude into that space. That was unique to the troupe.”

Selvaraj Raghavan VR, a former headload worker, is the senior-most of the lot. His deep interest in theatre brought him to Chandradasan, the founder of Lokadharmi. He talks about the rigorous acting workshops and how they honed the actor in him. The freewheeling discussions reveal how the actors had to learn and relearn to act for the camera.

Sanosh Murali, a percussionist and member of Lokadharmi, is one of the actors of Aattam.

Sanosh Murali, a percussionist and member of Lokadharmi, is one of the actors of Aattam.
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Jolly Anthony is a tile layer; Aji Thiruvamkulam works as a painter; Santhosh Piravom has a vegetable shop and also drives an autorickshaw; Sijin Sijeesh runs a motor winding workshop; Sanosh Murali is a percussionist in a temple; Prasanth Madhavan is a tour operatorl; Sudheer Babu is a teacher of drama, Madhan Babu K is a senior government employee and so on. Writer-director Anand was Sudheer’s student in school and that is how he came to Lokadharmi.

The actors of Aattam get-together for a break.

The actors of Aattam get-together for a break.
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

“But once they are together, it is their camaraderie that is noteworthy. And it is not that they discuss only theatre. They are like any group of friends hanging out. Their lives and their struggle are integral to their evolution as actors. That struggle is not unique and it is relatable,” believes Ananthakrishnan.

Thespians of Aattam is also a tribute to Lokadharmi and its school of acting that has shaped the actors.

Towards the end of the documentary, it is heartwarming to listen to the actors talk about how Aattam has given them the hope that they might be able to make a living from cinema and also aspire to make their name as film actors.

Ananthakrishnan Gopinathan, director of documentary of Thespians of Aattam. 

Ananthakrishnan Gopinathan, director of documentary of Thespians of Aattam. 
| Photo Credit:
SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Ananthakrishnan says depending on how the film is received, the team plans to send it to festivals. Although documentaries on select films from Hollywood have a wide audience, not many documentaries have been made on the making of a Malayalam film.

Hopefully, Thespians of Aattam might inspire other filmmakers.

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