Indian Director Kavya Prakash begins her directorial career with VAANKU – Mythily Ramachandran interviews

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Indian director Kavya Prakash opens her directorial career with Vaanku, about a young Muslim woman’s wish to lead the Islamic call for prayer, Adhan, generally done by men. When a young woman, Razia, expresses her wish to lead the prayer, it sets rolling a ripple effect in her family and society around.

Well known Malayalam author, Unni R’s short story Vaanku, published in 2018, narrates Razia’s journey as she seeks to find her voice on a spiritual journey. Unni’s story now comes alive onscreen with debutant director Kavya Prakash’s upcoming Malayalam film, Vaanku, releasing theatrically in Kerala (India) on January 29. em>Vaanku also marks the debut of Shabna Mohammed as screenwriter and actor. Anaswara Rajan plays the lead role of Razia.

Kavya, daughter of noted Indian filmmaker V K Prakash – two times Indian national awardee – speaks with Mythily Ramachandran on Vaanku and her journey into cinema

Mythily Ramchandran: What made you chose this story for your debut film?

Kavya Prakash: The story chose me actually. I met Unni sir in Bangalore when he came to meet my father. While chatting with him, he narrated the story of Vaanku. I fell in love with the plot and its characters. He understood that I was excited about the story and suggested that I take it up for my directorial debut. I credit him completely for planting the seed in my mind.

Ramchandran: What is Vaanku about?

Prakash: Razia is the average 17-18 year old- highly intellectual, spiritual and caring. She shares a close bond with her mother and brother. She is a college topper and her mother’s dream is to see her as an officer of the Indian Administrative Services. Razia is not challenging religion when she says she wishes to make the call to prayer. For her, ‘Vaanku’ (Adhan) is an instrument to connect with the Supreme being.

As a child she heard it the first time when her father whispered the call to prayer into her ear. She wakes up to this call from the neighbourhood mosque every morning. The ‘Adhan’ is Vaanku around her all the time.

Vaanku speaks of an innocent love and does not make any rebellious statement. It is about Razia’s desire to communicate with the higher power.

Ramchandran: Tell us about the challenges of adapting this short story into a film.

Prakash: We wanted to do complete justice to this beautiful piece of prose and clearly not tamper with Unni sir’s story. And, we were very careful not to hurt religious sentiments.

After my mother read out for me the original story in Malayalam, I translated it into English. Then Shabna (screenwriter) came on board. It helped that my writer is a Muslim. Dialogue writing and screen building are her strengths. We had regular discussions and Unni sir was present in all our meetings. We went through eleven editions of writing. After two years the script was ready.

Being a larger canvas than the short story we could develop and build on the characters. Shabna did research on the community beliefs and met couple of religious leaders to flesh it out and add value to the screenplay.

Fortunately there were no hurdles while filming, much to my surprise. We had not announced its title, yet people became aware of it. Contrary to our fears we received love from the people of the Muslim community. In fact some from the neighbourhood of Ponnani (Kerala)-where the film was shot- were eager to join as supporting cast.

Ramchandran: How did you prepare Anaswara as Razia?

Prakash: She is a natural actress and quick at grasping things. Within two days she understood her character and became Razia. She was in constant discussion with us for any clarification. She bonded well with Shabna who plays her onscreen mother and that is reflected well onscreen.

Ramchandran: With a filmmaker at home was cinema a natural choice for a career?

Prakash: I recall being on the sets of my father’s film shoots from a young age. I was once visiting dad on way home from school and he was in a meeting. So, I picked up his handy-cam and went around shooting things. Later my parents told me that they felt there was something in those videos. They even tried getting me in front of the camera but I was not comfortable and they understood that.

After graduating in Visual Communications, I worked in the Corporate world in the marketing division for some time. I wanted to understand this aspect before venturing into films. I also got a work opportunity in the USA and despite a lucrative pay, I turned it down since my parents were not keen on my leaving home. During a phase when I was doing nothing much, my father suggested I join him on his sets. That experience made me realise that directing is what I want to do. I am happy behind the camera. So after assisting Mridul Nair (Malayalam director) on a couple of ad- films, I was ready to go solo.

Ramchandran: How different is it working on a feature film from ad films?

Prakash: In the advertising world you face short deadlines and the product is oriented with clients inputs. But a feature film offers a large canvas with no restrictions and you can be more creative.

Vaanku’ produced by Sirajudheen and Shabeer Pathan is supported by a cast that includes Shabna Md. Vineeth, Nandana Varma, Gopika Ramesh, Meenakshi Unnikrishnan

 

mithilyMythily Ramachandran, a Chennai based Indian journalist, is a regular columnist for Gulf News, a leading UAE daily. When this crazy film buff is not catching up with films, she is snooping around for those little-known stories of human interest, which eventually find a place in the Weekend Review of Gulf News.

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