Director Biju Viswanath on how the protagonist of Orange Mittai was inspired by his father
With its quirky name, Orange Mittai, the Vijay Sethupathi starrer had our attention right from the word ‘go’. Biju Viswanath is making his directorial debut in Tamil with this feature—a father-son story set in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Also Sethupathi’s maiden production, it sees him playing an old man in the film, while actor- RJ Ramesh Tilak plays a parademic who sees his father in him. “Sethupathi’s character, Kailasam, is partly modelled on my father. He keeps eating orange candy whenever he feels life is geting a little sour, much like my father,” smiles Thiruvananthapuram-based Viswanath, son of veteran screenwriter Cheri Viswanath.
Language no barrier
A professor-turned- ad film maker, Viswanath migrated to the US and made his first English feature, Deja Vu, in 2001. The thriller, which was partly produced by editor Shreekar Prasad, went on to be selected at the Locarno International Film Festival, one of two Indian films to make it in 53 years. The other film was Lagaan. Viswanath then relocated to Florence where he set up his production house. Over 15 short and feature films later (in English, Italian, Japanese and Irish), he returned to India for personal reasons when Orange Mittai happened. Though many of his previous films—like Marathon and Parwaaz—have bagged honours, Viswanath insists he does not make films for the festival audience. “I like to make films that are entertaining and reach out to the masses. It is only a coincidence that most of my films have made it,” he reveals adding that he cannot even speak half the languages heard in these films “Language is never a barrier. I always have a co-writer. In Orange Mittai, it is Sethupathi,” says the filmmaker, who is already planning his next film with the actor.
With a PhD in film adaptations (Kerala University), he takes inspiration from real-life incidents and novels. He has adapted O Henry and MT Vasudevan Nair’s works previously, but considers this the toughest form of storytelling as one is recreating what’s already been told. The director, who wants to turn Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist into a feature some day, says he feels most at home with Tamil cinema. “Even when I was directing films abroad, I came to Chennai for the post production work. I am a self-taught filmmaker and I have great friends in the industry, like Shreekar Prasad and Balu Mahindra. So it was natural to come to Tamil cinema,” he says, adding that the Tamil industry is also one of the most accommodating he has come across in India. “We have a Paapanasam, a Baahubali and my Orange Mittai being accepted.” Viswanath feels that overall Indian cinema is undergoing a shift, because 10 years ago, “a film like Lunchbox would not get a theatrical release.” He hopes to experiment with more genres and push the envelope in Indian cinema.
Orange Mittai releases today.