The ballads of North Malabar or Vadakkan Pattukal have been a favourite of filmmakers in Kerala for long. They formed a major source of interesting stories and characters for movies like Thacholi Othenan, Palattu Koman, Unniyarcha and such.

One of the most admired among them is ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha’ written by M T Vasudevan Nair and directed by Hariharan. It tells the story of warrior Chandu who had to leave his home after having misunderstood by his relatives and friends.

The lengendary character, however, is making a strong comeback with director Jayaraj’s new venture Veeram. The storyline of the movie, which was the opening film at the BRICS film festival, is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which like Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha, tells the story of betrayal. In a free-wheeling chat with Mathrubhumi.com, Jayaraj opens up about Veeram, the fifth movie in his ‘Navras’ series.  

The response from BRICS

The response was heartening. Filmmakers from five nations were present at the fest. They said though there were numerous interpretations of Macbeth, it was new experience to watch ‘vadakkan pattu’ and ‘kalari’ (martial art of Kerala) being fused with the Shakespearean tragedy.  

Macbeth and Chandu

This is a project I have been longing to do for a long time. Macbeth is a work which has influenced filmmakers across the globe. It was a favourite subject of renowned directors like Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski. Macbeth is a work which creates a lot of internal conflicts. For the known part of the history, Macbeth and Chandu are traitors. While Lady Macbeth sowed the seed for the treachery in Macbeth, it was Kuttimani in Vadakkan Veeragadha. When Aromalunni and Kannappanunni come to revenge Chandu, in Macbeth, the king’s children are those who take revenge.

If we carefully examine both the works, we find many striking similarities between the two.

Have you ever felt burdened by the Navras series?

No, never. I enjoy every film I make.

The journey to Veeram

The story of Veeram took shape five years back. When I went to Kottakkal Arya Vaidysala for treatment, I happened to discuss my story with M R Warrier, the publication division head there. He is a historian and well-studied about Vadakkan Pattu. His contribution to the script is huge.

The target audience is not just Keralites. The movie is made in three different languages. I view this as a medium to take our Vadakkan pattu and kalari to international audience.

Why did you choose Kunal Kapoor?

One of the most important part of a movie project is choosing the right artiste. Since Veeram is a story of warriors, the responsibility is very high. Chandu is an exponent in the martial art of Kalari and therefore, he needs to have a strongly built body.

I noticed Kunal Kapoor in the 2006-movie Rang De Basanti. He has a universal appeal. While many faces flashed in my mind, Kunal’s was the one I wished for Veeram.

Other artistes in the movie

Most of the artistes were selected through audition. Therefore, there are many new faces. Kuttimani’s role is played by Divina Thakur and Unniyarcha is played by Himarsha Venkatswami. Shivjith Nambiar will don the role of Aromal Chekavar and Aaran will play Aringodar.

From Kaliyattam to Veeram, your movies have been influenced by Shakespearean plays. Why is it so?

I admire Shakespearean works so much. Though they date back to centuries, they are relevant for each period. Selfishness, treachery, jealousy and distrust are all part of a society. There is a famous sentence in Macbeth which reads “life is a tale told by an idiot”. It is extremely philosophical. Almost all the works of Shakespeare are very close to real life.  

The Hollywood team behind Veeram

Extra care is needed when we are introducing a warrior of our country to the outside world. Experts from Hollywood were called in as I wanted to make the movie on par with international standards. We have invested more money in the technical side. Many people from Hollywood are part of Veeram.

The action scenes are directed by Allan Poppleton, who was the action choreographer for Hunger Games, Avatar and Lord of the Rings. Oscar-winning makeup artist Trefor Proud is also part of the movie. Music is composed by Jeff Ron who had worked for Phantom, Traffic and Prince of Egypt. Visual effect composer and colourist Jeff Om who had worked for Titanic and Spiderman is part of Veeram.

The challenges

Yes, of course. It is quite natural for a project to face challenges. Veeram is the result of five years of hard work. The movie is produced by Chandramohan D Pillai and Pradeep Rajan. Chandramohan is my friend for the past 25 years. This kind of friendships give us strength to overcome challenges.

The songs

The film has two songs. The lyrics were written by Kavalam Narayana Panicker and Sreekumaran Thampi. The music is composed by Arjunan Master. For the Hindi version, Achu Rajamani composed the lyric penned by Shelly.

What is your movie equation?

My movie equation is my wish to take movies which are completely different from each other.