The official writing credits of Abhayakumar and Anil Kurian, including the new film Priyan Ottathilano is running in theaters, appeared on the screen only after 2012; however, their contributions, albeit to a lesser extent, had begun to seep much earlier. Having started their careers with Ranjith Sankar – with whom Abhayakumar worked in a software company – the two inspired the filmmaker in the form of small ideas which the latter developed into full screenplays such as Passenger (Abhayakumar) and Molly Auntie Rocks! (Anel). They were okay with not having credits for these, and both had their reasons. For Anil, he was unable to tell people in his office that he was seriously considering a career in film. Abhayakumar, too, was not quite ready yet. He was just – in his own words – “helping a friend”.
The two recall taking screenwriting seriously after seeing their ideas successfully brought to life on screen. “It was so encouraging and exciting at the same time,” says Abhayakumar, who like Anil was pushed by Ranjith Sankar. The three found the opportunity to work together in Jayasurya-starrer Punyalan Agarbattis. After the duo went independent, they started working on a horror thriller, Chathurmukhamwhich marked the directorial debuts of writers Ranjeet Kamala Sankar and Salil V, who had written Kohinoor (2015).
The writers stress the importance of having a healthy working relationship with the collaborating filmmaker at all times. “We shared good rapport with Ranjith Sankar, and later when we worked on Chathurmukhamwe became close friends with Salil and Ranjeet,” says Abhayakumar, who laughs as he remembers Manju Warrier calling the four buddies collectively. chathurmukham on the decorations. “She used to say, ‘This is the chathurmukham.”
Interestingly, Abhayakumar honed his writing skills as a blogger whose posts were noticed by Ranjith Sankar, while Anil, then based in the US, wrote movie reviews on forums. They eventually left their full-time computer careers to devote more time to screenwriting. Anil, however, is currently engaged in freelance IT consultancy work. “I still love computing,” he says. “I happen to be a movie-obsessed technical person.” Abhayakumar agrees. “Anil watches a lot of movies. It’s a movie database: this guy who watches about four movies a day. Whenever I came across a unique story idea, I threw it back at him, and found our thoughts to be the same game.
The duo found the transition from IT to cinema quite difficult at first. “The problem with IT is that you follow a disciplined routine. There’s good planning and teamwork and all that, whereas in the film industry things don’t work out that way. punctuality is a rarity. It took us time to adapt. But we managed to bring this systematic approach to our current line of work, which also involves production-related tasks. We are learning the strings of all the other directing departments. Since it’s a passion, we don’t see it as taxing,” Abhayakumar shares.
Come Priyan Ottathilaanu, the idea first sprouted in 2015. “It’s a very personal subject, inspired by similar people around us. And it took us a long time to find a sponsor and the right cast”, explains Anil. They eventually found a director in Antony Sony and the lead role in Sharafudheen. Interestingly, the latter wasn’t their original choice, but they later realized the Arkariyaam– the actor was perfect for the role. “It’s a funny story. Our first meeting with Sharafudheen was for a role in Chathurmukham, and throughout the narration we observed that he was a bit hyperactive – he couldn’t sit in one place. On the way back, I said to Abhay, “Why not introduce him to the character of Priyan?” Sharaf read the whole script, liked it, and told us our comments about it were on point. He told hilarious stories where people used to ‘lock him up’ to stop him from running away, including one case on Premam when Alphonse Puthren did the same,” he laughs.
As for the film’s integral female character, Priscilla, the writers managed to introduce her to Nyla, with whom they had worked in Punyalan Aggarbattis. “We had some slight difficulties telling the character to others because it’s not a role that everyone would immediately like,” says Anil. “A couple of names we first approached had concerns. Later, during a zoom interaction with Nyla, she listened intently to the script. She understood all the little nuances. She would call them back later exactly as she had heard them before. No one has had the character like she did. She was quite emotional towards the end, and we initially assumed she was bored. Usually the cast would take about 2-3 days to brainstorm, but when Nyla confirmed on location, it was a major goosebumps moment. She told us it was the story she loved the most; she was heavily involved. Nyla not only got the character right, but also treated the film as her own. She used to go the extra mile for a schedule that only required 15-16 days, but she stayed for about a month. She also promoted the film fervently on social media, which is very humbling and rewarding for writers like us. She was one of our pillars.