Film director Johnpaul George is over the moon. With the teaser and songs of his film Ambili going viral on social media and the irrepressible Soubin Shahir in the title role, expectations are high as the film reaches cinemas today. Johnpaul admits that he wasn’t prepared for the hype around the film. “The build-up has been similar to that of the release of a big flick whereas Ambili is a small film,” says the 31-year-old who made his mark with Guppy, which also had reached theatres in an August, three years ago.
So, is he nervous? “Not at all. We didn’t do anything to create the buzz. We made a good film with an amazing cast, that’s all,” he says.
But for the floods last year, the film would have reached the theatres long ago. “Soon after we finished our first schedule in Kattappana, the rain began and the flood followed. We somehow managed to escape from there! By the time the State limped back to normal, Soubin got busy with his prior commitments, mainly Trance and Kumbalangi Nights. The second schedule was pretty long as it involved travel across India, covering Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan,” he says.
However, Johnpaul never expected the second schedule to be tough while writing the story. “If we shot in blistering heat in one region, we had to move to a snowy terrain for the next shot. We were a small crew and everything was done in a cost-effective way. I am grateful to each member of my team for making it happen,” says Johnpaul.
Moving on to his protagonist Ambili, Johnpaul says he is that endearing guy one comes across in every neighbourhood. “Ambili is a simpleton who spreads joy. The film zooms into his life and the world around him. There is a lot of laughter and some bitter-sweet moments,” says Johnpaul.
Surprisingly, Soubin was not his first choice for the role. “I had two other actors in my mind. But as the writing progressed I had my doubts about whether they would be able to pull it off. Later, when I approached Fahadh [Faasil] he suggested that Soubin would be a better choice. By that time Soubin had got his big break with Sudani from Nigeria. Now I feel that no other actor other than Soubin could have done justice to the character. [Costumer designer] Mashar Hamsa perfected his look,” he adds.
The film marks the debut of Naveen Nazim, actor-producer Nazriya Nasim’s brother. He plays Bobby, a celebrity cyclist, whose relationship with Ambili is the key to the narrative. Tanvi Ram plays the female lead.
- A native of Kollad in Kottayam, Johnpaul was introduced to music by his mother, Reethamma George, a singer. An alumnus of Sree Swathi Thirunal College of Music in the capital city, Johnpaul says he was drawn to cinema because the city gave him the opportunity to watch classic films from across the globe at film festivals and on DVDs provided by cinephiles.
- He started his career as an assistant to Rajesh Pillai in Traffic. Later he worked as an associate of Sameer Thahir in his movies.
- A fan of feel-good movies, Johnpaul is a huge fan of Majid Majidi. “He made me a director. I love his Children of Heaven. I make it a point to watch his films when I plan my project,” he says.
Music is integral to the movie and Johnpaul has collaborated with Vishnu Vijay, Guppy’s composer, and his close friend from college. A musician himself, Johnpaul often uses music in his script to convey emotions. “When we sit together, Vishnu keeps on making tunes and I select what I want! Even though he got a lot of offers after Guppy, he decided to take it slow because he doesn’t believe in doing too many movies,” John avers.
Ambili is produced by the same team of Mukesh R Mehta, AV Anoop and CV Sarathi who made Guppy. The director says he wants to make up for the loss they suffered on account of Guppy.
Guppy’s failure at the box-office still upsets him. “I was holed up in a friend’s home for nearly three months when it didn’t do well. Although I was getting positive reviews, the film was taken out of theatres. It is unfortunate that the theatres decide the fate of a movie based on the collection of the first three or five days,” he observes. But when the film got widely appreciated after it was released on Torrent and when the DVDs came out, he was relieved. The film had a re-release last year.
“Eventually whenever a film didn’t do well, people started referring to Guppy. It became a promotion word. However, I don’t want to promote Ambili with the help of Guppy. I am sure that those who have seen Guppy will watch Ambili as well. It feels good now when theatres are looking forward to release my movie,” he says.
Like other film buffs, he is thrilled that it has been a wonderful year for Malayalam cinema with several hits and directors trying out new narratives and themes. “I am not promising the moon but the movie is sure to make the audience happy!” he says.