Ashraf Hamza, director of ‘Bheemante Vazhi’, says he draws inspiration from regular folk leading regular lives
Director Ashraf Hamza is straightforward when it comes to the kind of films he wants to make. “I want to tell a story that can be told simply; one that at eight out of 10 people in a gathering would listen to,” he says. He sees himself as a storyteller. Bheemante Vazhi, which was released on December 3, is one such story about a group of people in a village trying to negotiate a problem.
His first film was Thamasha (2019) about a man fighting baldness and a woman who is not bothered by what people thinks about her weight. The characters are imperfect, regular folk dealing with insecurities and complexes.
Such regular folk and their stories are his ‘comfort zone’ and the point of reference is always life. He says, “These are easily accessible. I write stories about people I know and circumstances that I am familiar with.”
The writer of Bheemante Vazhi is Chemban Vinod Jose, friend, actor and producer [co-producer of this film too]. Their friendship goes back to 2016 when he came to Kochi with writer-director-lyricist Muhsin Parari from Malappuram. Moving in the same cinema circles brought them closer.
Chemban, Ashraf says, is a very visual storyteller whose stories are laden with details. “When he recounts an incident, he doesn’t miss anything. These could be about an everyday thing, but listening to him narrate is absorbing. And Bheemante Vazhi is culled from his many stories.” Chemban wrote the script of the now-iconic Angamaly Diaries. He had also prodded Ashraf into making Thamasha.
The cast members of Bheemante… too are drawn largely from that circle of friends. A surprise choice is actor Jinu Jose as Kosthep, a pivotal character in the film.
“Actually Chemban suggested Jinu for Kosthep’s role and I immediately agreed. We were confident that he would deliver, and he has. Jinu is flexible as an actor and he didn’t disappoint.” Shaped by his relationship with his friends, Ashraf draws confidence and strength from them.
Equally surprising is casting Kunchacko Boban as ‘Bheeman’. Kunchacko is considered a gentleman in the industry and by the roles he has essayed. The lecherous Bheeman is a departure, “Chemban and I met him for another project. During the conversation, Bheemante… came up. Chackochan expressed an interest in this film and Bheeman’s character. In my opinion, he is picking roles in the kind of films he wants to watch [as audience].”
The hook of the story is how transparent the people in it are, he says. “We all have certain thoughts, which we would never share with the world unlike the people in the film. Bheeman is also like that, as are the others.”
Since he mentions being comfortable with the familiar, the story of Bheemante… is located in and around Kochi where Chemban is from. While Ashraf hails from Malappuram. So, how did he find his comfort zone?
“Yes, but the film was shot in and around Ponnani, very close to where I belong. So there was the comfort of familiar geography. I know the life there — what daybreak is like and the activities during the course of the day. Art director Akhil Raj has done a great job of creating the location on a vacant plot.” The crew was looking for an area with narrow paths and a railway track. The crew used to call it ‘Filmcity’ as art director Akhil Raj built the entire town there. Since the story is about a road (vazhi), the crew was hunting for a location near a railway track and a water body, and so settled on Ponnani.
Choosing to release this film that does not feature many big stars close on the heels of the massive Mohanlal-starrer Marakkar – Arabikkadalinte Simham would not have been without its risks. But, Ashraf is confident. “There are people who showed their love for my first film, Thamasha… I trust them now too,” he signs off.