‘Even Mohanlal asked me about Puzhu’: Ratheena PT

The trailer of upcoming Mammootty movie Puzhu has generated a lot of excitement among movie lovers. After a long gap, Mammootty will be seen playing a negative role in the film helmed by debutant director Ratheena PT, who has worked in various departments of the film industry in the past ten years. Ratheena has worked as an assistant director, production associate, poster designer and executive producer among others before donning the hat of a director.

In this interview with indianexpress.com, Ratheena talks about her first movie Puzhu, her experience of working with Mammootty and more.

When we first heard Mammootty is teaming up with Parvathy, everyone was excited to know how that combo worked out, especially when they have a history starting with the Kasaba movie controversy. How did Mammootty and Parvathy become part of the project?

Harshad wrote this story with Mammootty in mind. After Mammootty said yes to the story, we started to develop the screenplay. We were having discussions in a flat in Kozhikode and that’s when the question about the female character came up. There were many suggestions and then Parvathy’s name popped up. We contacted her and she heard the story and accepted the role. Mammootty was also fine when we said Parvathy will play the female lead. That’s it. There was no drama, no further confusion. It was that easy. Both these artists are professionals and they don’t have any issues between them.

There was a lot of speculation about Mammotty’s character after the release of the trailer and teaser of Puzhu. Is Mammootty playing a negative character? What can you tell us about Mamoootty’s character at this stage?

Yes, Mammootty is playing an out-and-out negative character after maybe Vidheyan. We haven’t seen him playing many negative characters other than say in Paleri Manikyam in which there was negative and positive characters played by Mammootty. And there is Munnariyippu, where we don’t know he’s a negative character until the climax. It’s not a new thing for him. The new generation is seeing Mammootty in a negative role for the first time. Whenever we see him in a negative role, it stands out.

Why choose the title Puzhu?

There were few titles we thought for this movie as the story progressed. I liked the title Puzhu the most. The title is apt for this movie and you’ll understand why once you watch the film. There might be many interpretations, different meanings for different people , but ultimately that title is perfect for the story. It’s up to viewers to interpret the title in their own way after watching the movie.

Does Puzhu discuss a socially relevant theme?

Yes, we can say that. This movie is narrated in a socially committed manner, blending it with family drama. We have used a very subtle and matured narrative style. We have tried a narrative style which we don’t usually see in Malayalam cinema and I think it has worked well for this movie. Music is also a very important factor in this movie.

What was Mammootty’s approach to the character in Puzhu?

If you look at Mammootty as an actor, there won’t be any traces of Mammootty in any of his characters. He’s well aware about the timeline in which the character is presented, the language used by the character, the culture from which the character comes from etc. So he’s someone one who is aware of the minute details of the character. Mammootty is adamant about not repeating himself. Even a small smile or an expression, he makes sure he’s not repeating it.

During the shoot, Mammootty asked, “What kind of human is this?” Such is the toxic level of the character he plays.

As a debutant, how was your experience directing an experienced actor like Mammootty?

I know Mammootty personally for more than ten years and Parvathy is one of my close friends. So that made things easier for me to be honest. But the funny thing was many people were passing unnecessary comments when they came to know that I was directing Mammootty. People were like “He’s like this when he comes to set.” So, I used to think about that dialogue from Kumbalangi Nights – “Yeshu is not someone we don’t know (laughs).” Mammootty and Parvathy are two of the best artists we have, and their output will always be better than what we expect. So my effort was minimum because I was surrounded by the best in the industry.

What was the response you got after the release of Puzhu’s teaser and trailer?

Many people from the film fraternity called me and said positive words about the teaser which was very exciting. Many senior filmmakers called me or texted me after the teaser released. Even when I went to Mohanlal’s Barroz set, he asked me, “When is Puzhu releasing?” To know Puzhu is being discussed everywhere makes it a very exciting wait.

Many movies post-Covid have told stories that happen inside a home or a family, especially films like Joji, The Great Indian Kitchen, Bhoothakalam, Home, Arkariyam. Does Puzhu also follow such a template?

I think this is the kind of movie which needs to be discussed right now. Every movie has a time to be discussed. The content of all these home based movies is very important and relevant to our times. The content of these movies is strong. If the content is strong, even if the movie is told in a limited setting or with limited characters, it will be discussed. Now it’s the time of content oriented movies.

Do you think it’s more challenging for women to get into direction and other fields of cinema?

Irrespective of gender, everyone does the same job. But as a woman, I have many roles in society. I am a mother to my children, a daughter to my parents and I am the one who takes care of them. This is the case for most women. Any working woman would have to perform these roles other than their profession. These roles are assigned to us by society and it’s an added responsibility. That extra effort assigned by society on women is the only difference I see.

Do you think more women directors and writers should enter the film industry?

Many women want to become a director or a technician. There are opportunities and we should use those opportunities. When I started as an assistant director, I was send away from many movie sets because there weren’t other women in the industry to share rooms with. But now there are lot more women coming up. The number of women working in the industry is increasing and it will be a normal scenario soon. This curiosity that ‘oh, a woman is directing the movie’ will change. If that curiosity changes, then everything gets normalized. So, I am looking forward to progression into that space where there’s no more curiosity or discussion about women working in films. And of course, if we think the way or the perspective from which a character or story is presented in a movie changes when a woman is directing, there should be more women coming into the field.

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