Malayalam film director Atmabodh is quite elated that his debut low-cost 72 minute independent feature film, My Lucky Number is Black has been nominated to be premiered at the prestigious 73rd Cannes Film Festival, the cinema being discussed in the industry for shooting in just ten days during COVID-19 Lockdown.
With a frugal investment and filming in just days, the first Malayalam cinema, My Lucky Number is Black, which went all the way up to the 73rd Cannes Film Festival goes to show that this is just the kind of films that is going stay, especially during and post COVID-19 Lockdown. The Indian News met up with the creative film maker. Besides being elated, he was quite modest and his foot firmly grounded too.
In a freewheeling chat, Atmabodh speaks to the Editor of The Indian News, Jayashankar Menon about how he managed to make a movie with such a low budget and too short a time and yet earned global recognition and more. Excerpts:
TIN: Congratulations for your film being selected to be premiered at the Festival De Cannes. True to the title, My Lucky Number is Black, do you think that Lady Luck had embraced you?
AB: Of course, I am feeling quite upbeat about my maiden movie being chosen to premiere at the Marche du Film Cannes. For, it is every film maker’s dream that his or her movie being premiered at the world’s biggest film festival, I am no exception. The strategic planning, tight rope walk on the budget and quick pace with which the cinema was made, did the trick. So, I would say, it is a combination of our hard work and the powerful theme fetched us rich dividend. The word ‘Lucky’ is purely coincidental. When we named the movie, little did we realise, we will be lucky enough to realise our dream of showcasing our movie at the Cannes. That way, we are lucky to have termed Lucky at the title.
TIN: Can you give insight about the plot line of My Lucky Number is Black?
AB: The story narrates the traumatic, abusive and isolated childhood of half a dozen characters in the movie. To tell this story, we needed as many as six characters only, so I handpicked just the right cast who could translate our thoughts in an effective way. To narrate the horrendous experience of these people whose lives get tossed away and in the process, also to bring the attention of the audience about the social maladies including abuse, rape, terrorism and communal riots, our biggest challenge was to complete this movie with an investment of just Rs.10 lakh that too within ten days! We also didn’t have choice to look for ex-station location. So, we chose the shoot location in my hometown of Thiruvananthapuram itself and we managed to execute our plans quite successfully.
TIN: Completing the filming in ten days with Rs.10 lakh. How did you manage?
AB: My biggest challenge was to hand pick six actors for our characters. With the kind of budget we have at our disposal, we cannot dream of casting the seasoned faces. At the same time, we were confident that given the strength of the script, even novices acting in this movie do not make any difference at all. So, I decided to go in for six new faces. Our next challenge was to make them emote and act the way we wanted the characters to do their respective jobs. After intense interactions with these six selected debutant actors, their confidence level grew and collectively, they pulled up their socks and did their jobs quite professionally to the utmost satisfaction. In order to address the location demand, we chose the forest range in Thiruvananthapuram itself, thus saving our time and energy. We deliberately planned the shoot to happen only after dawn as the whole plot happens on a single night. So, the story line, location and limited number of actors helped us to sail through the hardships with a frugal budget and very limited days as well.
TIN: Were you confident enough to think beforehand that your movie will be chosen at the Cannes?
AB: Yes. The way the script was made, the intensity of the story line and the sensitivity of the ordeals these characters had undergone, we were pretty sure that My Lucky Number is Black will be premiered at the Cannes. But when the Festival itself was postponed after the outbreak of COVID-19, we were really disappointed. Mercifully, we had finished our filming before the outbreak of the pandemic that too with a restricted crew of 20 members, much before the State Government imposing lot of restrictions. It was only when we received intimation from France that our movie will be premiered at the Cannes, did we feel at cloud nine. Also, I am happy to share the good news that our cinema has been registered for six other film festivals as well.
TIN: How much ever you cut cost, with just Rs.10 lakh, how could you make a complete movie with global outlook?
AB: As all the actors were debutants, they were all excited for the fact that their maiden movie will be premiered at the biggest film festival in the world. So, it was a golden opportunity for these youngsters, who didn’t consider money as a pivotal part of this film. Secondly, apart from direction, I did handle the cinematography, so the major expense was cut on this count as well. Added to that was the single location in the city limits itself, which meant less spending on logistics. Besides the actors, the crew of the film, which was produced by Anil Kumar L under the banner of Lalithambika Productions was Shamlal Chacko, the debutant Editor, Jishnu Dev and Rakesh Janardahanan, who handled the sync sound and sound design respectively.
TIN: Can you elaborate on your life before this film?
AB: Well, before becoming an independent film maker, I had to tread to uncharted terrains and I had my share of hardships. A decade ago, I began my career as a freelance photographer. Over the years, I got attracted to cinematography. I experimented my future career by making short films to start with, along with documentary movies and music video albums. All along, I met with limited success. Subsequently, when I got a break to make a short film Vriksharha, the meaning of tree. This film fetched me instant recognition that gave me a niche and an identity as an independent film director.
TIN: A first generation filmmaker, how could you reach this height that too with a debut film?
AB: I belong to a middle class family. I don’t have anyone in my family who is remotely connected to the cinema industry. As I have not worked under any professional directors or cinematographers. Being a self-taught man, life was pretty difficult and riddled with humongous challenges. I approached many investors to fund for my film project, while most of them shown the door, as they would not consider rookies like me. Without losing hope, I kept on making short films and made a name for myself in that genre. After Vrikshartha created a distinct identity and announced the arrival of a filmmaker, I could rope in this production house for my pet debut project, My Lucky Number is Black.
TIN: What is the learning curve from the success of this film?
AB: This film is the corroboration of my conviction that independent film making is an intensely personal ambition. Unless an individual has overriding passion and obstinate dream, it would rather be difficult to succeed as a filmmaker. Perseverance is the key. Also an undeterred and unperturbed mind too are quintessential, devoid of which, it would be rather difficult to succeed as the celluloid world is replete with insecurities. Till you get that elusive break, you will have to keep going sans any financial or any kind of expectations.
TIN: Can you throw light on the gist of the storyline and the actors in this film?
AB: To put it in a nutshell, the story line narrates the saga of two abused girls in the backdrop of terror attacks and communal violence. Pournami Gopan and Divya Das had portrayed the roles of the abused girls, while others in the cast includes Anilkumar, Karthi Sreekumar, Arun Bhaskaran and Rajaram Varma.