Interview Malayalam

Put any religion’s name in Ee. Ma. Yau. you’ll find same issues: Lijo Jose Pellissery

On the sidelines of the 13th Habitat Film Festival, Pellissery spoke to us about his influences, some of the enduring themes of his films and his ever-increasing fan following.

Photo: Habitat Film Festival

Sukhpreet Kahlon

‘Bold’, ‘experimental’, ‘path-breaking’, are some of the adjectives often used to describe the films of Lijo Jose Pellissery. With each release, the Malayalam filmmaker makes it clear that he follows no rules other than his own.

His latest feature Ee. Ma. Yau., which won him the Best Director Award at the 48th Kerala State Film Awards and received rave reviews is no different, as he turns a solemn and serious occasion into something quite the opposite.

Beginning his career with Nayakan (2010), an unusual crime revenge film, Pellissery’s films explore crime and the underworld in ways that are unexpected.

In his 2013 film Amen, which starred the immensely popular Fahadh Faasil, he intermingled several genres to create an unconventional narrative. The film did very well at the box-office and won him a dedicated fan following.

His next, Double Barrel (2015) a gangster comedy, failed to impress critics, but a relatively unperturbed Pellissery bounced back with Angamaly Diaries (2017), another crime film which featured an astounding 86 first-time actors and was a big commercial success as well.

In his latest film Ee. Ma. Yau., the measured, ceremonious atmosphere of a funeral procession is disrupted in multifarious ways, as a son struggles to give his father the burial that he so desired. The film questions various institutions and the society as a whole as it deploys black humour to rip off the veneer of respectability donned by those in positions of power.

Ee. Ma. Yau. was the closing film of the 13th Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi. On the sidelines of the festival, Pellissery spoke to us about his influences, some of the enduring themes of his films and his ever-increasing fan following. Excerpts.

At the Habitat Film Festival, a retrospective of the films of auteur KG George has been organised. In the documentary on him screened at the festival, you have spoken about him as being one of your mentors. What are some of the elements of his films that have inspired you?

His films definitely stood out as he had a style which was completely different from what the other directors were doing. Maybe it was that he did not follow the same genres when he made a film. He never repeated a genre, that definitely impressed me.

My film Amen (2013) is definitely inspired by George sir’s Panchavadi Palam (1984). In his film there was a bridge in question and in Amen it was a church in question, but basically we were talking about the same thing. The ways in which his characterisation and script is shaped has definitely helped me in a big way and I would definitely consider him my mentor, or guru.

You are a lso shaking up conventional styles in your films and the audience doesn’t really know what to expect while watching your films. You have also shot your current film, Ee. Ma. Yau. in an incredibly short period of time.

We shot the film in less than 20 days.

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And you’ve also mentioned in an interview that you hope to make two films a year. So how do you keep up this frenzied pace of making films?

Well, I hope I can make two films in a year. See, it’s not about me trying to make two films a year. It’s not mandatory for me to do that, but I would love to make two or three films in a year because I want to tell a lot of stories. I’m not saying that taking 12 years to make one film is wrong, but if in 12 years I can tell 24 stories that’s much better for me. I should not have any regrets later.

Ee. Ma. Yau. is a strong comment on various institutions - be it the police, the church, religion, society, but it’s done quite deftly as the desire of the son to give his father the burial that he desired is paramount. Could you comment on that?

It’s about any establishment that is trying to make life and death difficult for every single human being, so you can put any religion’s name there and you’ll find the same issues. I feel that people are worrying a lot about unnecessary things, when you just need to dig a grave and put the body in. That’s all you have to do when someone dies but all the commotion is just for that ultimately. It’s a simple man’s revolution against the establishment.

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There is tremendous excitement every time your film is getting released, especially amongst the younger generation in Kerala. What would you say to all the young filmmakers who look up to you as a role model?

I wouldn’t want anyone to look up to me as a model because I don’t know whether I am doing right or wrong. Cinema or the way art is seen, changes with time so each time this will be defined differently. Now, this is what I see as being right but maybe after two years, if you ask me the same question, my answer may not be the same. The idea of cinema or the way of looking at it will definitely change for me in time.

I feel the only is thing is that you need to be genuine towards what you do. The moment you take out that genuineness and honesty that is in you, what you make will be insignificant. 

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Habitat Film Festival