Once upon a time, a man fell into a pit and his friends helped him get out.

This seemingly-simple storyline was the base around which recent Malayalam film Manjummel Boys revolved. But as with most of Malayalam cinema, which makes the ordinary charming and the everyday epic, Manjummel Boys too weaved in enough thrill and tension into its script, leading to much excitement in cinema halls.

In Tamil Nadu, where the film has been a blockbuster, a crucial sequence featuring Soubin Shahir, Sreenath Bhasi and the rest of the actors — peppered with a song from Kamal Haasan’s 1991 Tamil film Guna — met with rapturous applause, something largely reserved for the entry scenes of the superstar.

While the ‘Kanmani Anbodu’ melody made a comeback, Manjummel Boys made history, becoming the first Malayalam film to collect ₹200 crore at the global box office. The motley team behind this successful film discusses it all during a recent visit to The Hindu office in Chennai. Excerpts:

The team of ‘Manjummel Boys’ at The Hindu office, Chennai

The team of ‘Manjummel Boys’ at The Hindu office, Chennai
| Photo Credit:
Thamodharan B

Chidambaram, Director

The response Manjummel Boys got from Tamil Nadu has been overwhelming; we were really not ready for this!

The writing process was tough; I had it in my mind that the film had to start with the Tamil song from Kamal Haasan’s Guna. For the climax, as the situation was claustrophobic, the melody would help calm things down. The lines perfectly fell in place; I think that it was made for me 30 years ago.

When I first met the real-life Subash [the film is based on a real incident], I realised that the story is about an atheist becoming God. Because, someone who has almost seen death and come back is equal to God; from my first interaction with him, I decided to write my screenplay around this. I also decided to cast many directors as actors in the film — Soubin (Parava), Lal Jr. (Driving License) and Khalid Rahman (Unda), and that worked in my favour. They knew the value of time and understood what was going on.

In terms of business, the success of Manjummel Boys might eventually pave the way for bigger films in Malayalam cinema.

However, as writers for Malayalam films, we usually do not dare write a big spectacle, because we know we will not get that kind of budget. So, we weave in more drama in the dialogues and focus on domestic interactions, and things that happen in a confined space. When we write, we keep thinking about the budget. That limitation, I believe, is our superpower.

Currently, even as we are thrilled about the love the film is receiving everywhere, we are releasing its Telugu and Hindi dubbed versions on April 6. Personally, I do not want it to release on any OTT platform soon!

Director Chidambaram and actors of Malayalam film ‘Manjummel Boys’

Director Chidambaram and actors of Malayalam film ‘Manjummel Boys’
| Photo Credit:
Akhila Easwaran

Abhiram Radhakrishnan, Actor

The entire shoot of Manjummel Boys was a lot of fun. We were so happy being there that we did not want to leave the set after the shoot; the director actually had to tell us that the film was over and that we could all go home!

The placement of the Ilaiyaraaja-Kamal Haasan ‘Kanmani Anbodu’ song is so perfect. When we first saw the song during the spot-edit phase, we were all moved and started crying, which is why we didn’t cry in the theatres. It is delightful that it is being sung so often these days, more than 30 years after its inception.

There were many other memorable moments. Like the tug of war sequence that featured in the beginning of the film. We were up against professionals and so all actors underwent training. I skipped that session and Chandu (Salimkumar) actually fainted!

A still from ‘Manjummel Boys’

A still from ‘Manjummel Boys’

Ajayan Challisery, Art director

Initially, I was told that Manjummel Boys was the story of a man who falls into a ditch. I had no idea what kind of a ditch it was. Later, I realised that the story was about Kodaikanal’s Guna Caves. So, we went on a search for places that share a resemblance with Guna caves. But we all know how much of a beloved space this is for people in Tamil Nadu, so it was challenging to show a mere copy.

We realised that it was going to be difficult to shoot a 11-member core cast for 30 days in a space like this. When we went to the real location, it was difficult to even spot the ditch as it was covered in 16 years of soil and moss. Moreover, the 80-feet depth had to be taken into account.

In Kerala, there was no space of such scale where the cave could be recreated. After a long-drawn search, we found an old, abandoned godown in Perumbavoor which was converted into the Caves. It was 50-feet deep but the platform was designed in such a way that water seeps into it from every direction.

During the Kodai schedule, we studied the rocks and made their moulds, which were casted in Kochi for recreation. It took us two months to do this. Three five-floor-high ditches were stitched together to create the final cave [into which Subhash falls]. It was extremely dangerous to shoot the scenes inside because of the depth. We shot there for three months, thankfully without any injuries or unfortunate incidents.


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