“The film is more about spirituality than rebellion,” says debut director Kavya Prakash, whose film Vaanku, an adaptation of Unni R’s 2018 popular short story by the same name, is all set to release in theatres on January 29.
Shot largely in Ponani of Malappuram, Vaanku follows four college girls — played by Anaswara Rajan, Nandhana Varma, Gopika Ramesh, and Meenakshi Unnikrishnan — their dreams and how they pursue it. Although the film’s lens trail the four women, it focuses mostly on young Razia [played by Anaswara] and her desire to recite the Azaan, better known as vaanku in Malayalam, to the shock of her family and society.
Kavya, who admits that she has been a bundle of nerves over the upcoming release, says that the seed for shooting Vaanku as her directorial first was planted by Unni. “Unni sir had dropped by my father’s [filmmaker VK Prakash] office and began narrating various stories of his. It was love at first narration when I heard Vaanku,” she said, adding that there is a point in everyone’s life where you have something that you really want to achieve. “That very emotion attracted me to the subject. Unni sir, who noticed how my eyes lit up when he narrated the tale, suggested I turn it into a film. As I was fascinated by the tale and its characters I didn’t have to think twice.”
The scripting for the movie took over two years as Shabna Muhammed, who penned the screenplay and dialogues, wanted to handle “the sensitive subject subtly without hurting anyone’s sentiments or sensibilities”.
According to Kavya, Razia’s desire to recite vaanku is not an act of rebellion or a means for her to challenge the community. “It comes from her desire to bring out her Sufi nature. The film does not challenge gender disparity. It focuses on her innocent desire to connect to a higher force through a simple means. We are talking about the emotion behind her desire rather than the constraints placed by society,” says Kavya, who was hands-on in all aspects of the move, “even the music composition and the final mix of the film.”
The choice of the cast, most of them newcomers, was a joint effort by Kavya, Shabna and Unni. Shabna, who makes her scripting debut through the film, plays Razia’s mother, while Vineeth plays her father. According to Kavya, Unni was personally involved with the project from start till end. “While the film is based on Unni sir’s short story, we have adapted it to suit the cinematic format. He was there as a guide at every step of production.”
Kavya, who grew up watching her father work on various sets, be it commercials, music videos or films, says she knew even as a child that she wanted to become a director. A graduate of visual communication from Manipal University, she is fascinated by each and every aspect of direction. “I enjoy the entire process right from scripting and casting to shooting and editing.”
Although VKP, a two-time National Award-winning director and maker of films such as Beautiful, Trivandrum Lodge and Praana, is an executive producer of the film, Kavya relied on her father for “just emotional support”.
“I didn’t ask him for any guidance. The film is my baby and I was clear that I would give it my all,” says Kavya, who doesn’t believe in having things handed to her on a silver platter. She has worked in the corporate sector and the advertisement industry before joining her father’s office in Bengaluru. “Even then, I started from scratch. I didn’t want to be treated differently just because I am his daughter. I started as an assistant director at my dad’s company — Trends Adfilm Makers Pvt Ltd — and had worked with Mridul Nair on his film BTech.”
Much like many projects in 2020, Vaanku was also a victim of the Covid-19 pandemic, as it was supposed to have reached theatres on March 2020. Theatres in Kerala, which were shut from March 2020, reopened on January 13, 2021, with the screening of Tamil Superstar Vijay’s movie Master.
Although the Vaanku team did get quite a few offers to release it on OTT platforms, the producers — Shabeer Pathan and Sirajudheen KP — were keen on screening it in theatres since it was both Kavya and Shabna’s debut film. Kavya says, “Also, they strongly believed in the film and felt that it had to be screened in theatres so that everyone could watch its beautiful content. It’s almost a year’s wait but I think it’s worth it. I am excited to see what people think of the movie my team and I have poured our hearts and souls into. The film not only has a beautiful message, it also explores a myriad of emotions that are associated with family, friendship and so on.”
Kavya, who personally prefers watching movies in theatres rather than on OTT platforms feels that “there is something charming about going to movies and experiencing the sights and sounds surrounding it. Also, I feel emotions on screen come out better in theatres.”
Delighted that her movie has been selected for the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), the ardent festivalgoer says, “If not the International Film Festival of India, I make it a point to attend IFFK every year. It’s both a privilege and an honour to be a part of the Kerala Film Festival as it is known for picking films that have substance. Vaanku will be screened in the Malayalam Cinema Today category, which is also the competition section.”
Kavya, who started work penning a script during the Covid related lockdown, says she has also managed to develop two other stories “during the rest of 2020”. She says, “You can hopefully hear an announcement soon. There are also a couple of other projects in the pipeline this year.”