Trust Jayaraj to come up with blending subjects that appeal to the masses without losing aesthetics. Over the years, movie buffs had to up the ante of their emotion and intellect when it came to watching a Jayaraj movie. From Desadanam to Ottaal and through the journeys he charted for the masses through Kaliyattam and Kannaki, Jayaraj never faltered when it came to creating cinema that played with nuances of human emotions. Today he is onto one of his biggest projects to date — Veeram. The movie and its theme have already become a talking point due to its unusual blend of ballads from north Malabar known as Vadakkanpaattu with Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The dearth of period movies in Malayalam also makes this one of the most anticipated films this year. With Veeram selected as the opening film for the BRICS festival, Jayaraj opens up about the movie and the effort that has gone into its making. “This is a prestigious moment because this is the first film festival of BRIC countries. Veeram is the opening film and that means a lot. What makes it all the more special is that this year marks Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary and Veeram is an adaptation of his Macbeth,” says Jayaraj. “It also gives me immense happiness that this movie which is a transcreation of a classic from another country will be showcased at a gathering of people from across the world,” he adds.
“It has been a longtime dream. I have been waiting with the script and the storyboard for the past four to five years. The most important point here is that Veeram is a combination of the vadakkanpaattu from the 13th century and 16th century Shakespearean Macbeth.” Explaining his choice, Jayaraj says, “Macbeth is a story that has been transcreated by a good number of movie making masters in the world. There have been Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of it called Throne of Blood and Roman Polanski’s Macbeth to name a few. So the challenge in front of me was to find out how much I can stand out from these masters with this subject.”
So how did Kalari and vadakkanpaattu find its place here? Jayaraj points out, “We have in front of us a cultural treasure in the form of Kalari, probably one of the first and the oldest martial arts in the world. Chinese and Japanese martial arts are said to have originated from it. The era of vadakkanpaattu and the lifestyle followed during those times was based on Kalaripayattu. Chandu, a most important character of this era, lives in most of their songs and is quite similar to Macbeth. That is a huge coincidence. This reduces the strain during the transcreation since many of the situations are similar. The main element of similarity comes in the form of cheating, an act committed by both Chandu and Macbeth. Macbeth is a Shakespearean tragedy of ambition and Chandu is at the zenith of this element,” Jayaraj explains at length.
“We are sticking as close as possible to the original vadakkan paattu. I had to put in a lot of preparation. We did in-depth research into these ballads. The biggest authority when it comes to vadakkan paattu history is M.R. Warrier, who penned the script for Veeram. The research began with him. And this is the first vadakkan paattu movie which will have the typical North Kerala accent.” Veeram was shot simultaneously in Hindi, English and Malayalam. All the actors took time and learnt the dialogues, language and kalari as well. On the casting process, Jayaraj says, “This might probably be the most expensive film in Malayalam till date. Nearly Rs 20 crore has been spent on it and we have given utmost importance to technicians from Hollywood. Instead of getting the date of a film star and then spending all the money on that actor, we chose talented technicians first. When it came to picking actors, we chose those who had physical resemblance to the characters.That is how we came to Kunal Kapoor; he had the willingness to spend months to learn kalari. Besides that, we have chosen a few newcomers.” Why the name Veeram? “I am trying to complete movies based on the navarasa (nine emotions); I have already covered karunam (sympathy), santham (peace), bheebatsam (disgust) and albutham (wonder). Veeram (courage) is the fifth.”