Jeo Baby interview: Mammootty’s performance stunned the entire crew - Hindustan Times

Kaathal director Jeo Baby reveals how Mammootty stunned film crew, lists new Malayalam movies to watch

Jan 10, 2024 05:37 PM IST

Jeo Baby tells us in an exclusive interview all about his acclaimed movie Kaathal, how empathy comes naturally to him and more.

Jeo Baby, director of movies such as Kaathal and The Great Indian Kitchen, has plenty of tags attached to him. Feminist film maker, politically inclined director and left-leaning story teller are some of the descriptions. He’s enjoying all of those tags but now wants to break the mould and try out new genres. His latest directorial venture, Kaathal, is a story about homosexuality which has received tremendous critical acclaim, besides commercial success. It’s currently showing on an OTT platform, continuing to impress the audience with its sensitive portrayal of the subject. Excerpts from an interview:

Jyothika and Mammootty in Kaathal The Core.
Jyothika and Mammootty in Kaathal The Core.

Kaathal deals with a tricky subject. Many have attempted the subject of homosexuality in movies with varying degrees of impact. Kaathal, however, has been a cut above all of them with its subtle treatment, outstanding performances and the sheer quality of storytelling.

In 2007, when I was in college, I had done a short film on homosexuality. I was asked to leave my college once the film came out as people struggled to understand why a youngster in college should attempt a film like that. During my research, I had come across many people who are homosexuals and I was introduced to queer as a concept very early in life. I was invited to many queer film festivals after I did that short film. I realised there was nothing unique about that community and that they were like any of us.

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So, I had a lot of knowledge about the subject and when I did Kaathal, all of that helped in its making.

Also read: The Great Indian Kitchen review: Powerful film on patriarchy and men-governed traditions

Why did you choose to cast Mammootty in the movie as the lead? Were you apprehensive about approaching him with the role of a homosexual man?

The role demanded a very good actor and a sensible human being who can understand and interpret the character well. Only if he didn’t agree to do the part, would I have gone to someone else. I approached him without any fear because I knew I would still do the film, even if I had to cast another actor. However, I was sure Mammootty would do it, provided I could make him understand the plot and character. Not only did he say yes to the role, he also decided to produce the movie under his banner, the Mammootty Kampany.

- Jeo Baby
- Jeo Baby

There were many scenes in the movies that needed high degree of acting skills and you had the right cast for it. Did Mammootty surprise you in any of the scenes with his craft?

We trusted him 100%. Every day, we would set up the shot and sit behind the monitor to watch him perform. We were all keen to see how he would emote in a particular scene. Even while shooting those scenes, we felt like an audience. It was a very exciting process. What would he do today? How will he deliver these lines? There was a lot of curiosity on the sets.

There is this one scene in the movie where his character goes to meet his daughter at a basketball court. I was shocked seeing his reactions in that scene. He was weeping inside. That scene had a lot of impact and to me that was Mammootty’s best scene in the movie in my view.

The day Mammootty had to leave the set, after we canned all his shots, he took the microphone to announce that he was among passionate cinema lovers all through the shoot. His manager George was of the view that it was a rarity, coming from Mammootty.

Jeo, you are known to be a very empathetic film maker. You are sensitive in the way in which you treat subjects and characters. In Kaathal, the homosexual relationship is shown subtly, while treating all other relationships in the movie with almost equal importance. The relationship between Mammootty’s character and the wife, his relationship with his father and then with his partner are all handled with care and sensitivity. You have received such feedback not only after Kaathal but also after you made The Great Indian Kitchen.

I think I’m sensitive and empathetic by nature. That’s not something that I developed over the years. I am always curious about why people get into certain relationships, what makes people happy, what makes them sad and what makes them depressed. I’m someone who shares domestic duties with my life partner. I’m in kitchen at 6 am whenever I do not have any shoots. We share all our kitchen responsibilities. So, I know what kind of hardships a woman goes through.

The load that women carry in our households has made me become a feminist. I have seen their suffering. It’s a huge task to run a home, without any help. Sometimes, I wonder why they have nail polish on. Is it to mask something? In many homes, they don’t get any free time to read or watch a movie. Even their sex lives are affected, in the sense that they have to think about what to cook in the morning and what preparations have to be done in the kitchen tonight for that.

In Kaathal, I could relate to Omana (wife of Mammootty’s character essayed by Jyotika) very well. I knew exactly what she was going through. I could literally hear her cry inside, having to accept that her husband was involved with another man.

- Jeo Baby
- Jeo Baby

Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino once said a director needn’t know everything about the movies. His view was that a director can always hire people to do sound, camera, editing, visual effects etc. He was of the opinion that as long as the director was capable of communicating effectively with his crew and actors, there was nothing to worry. How technical do you get with your movies?

I have always wanted to become a director and try to be as updated as I can in the technical aspects of a movie. I am aware of the lens, camera, editing and have done all these things myself at various points. But I do not claim to be an expert. Also, the software and technology get outdated so fast in our industry. Everything is changing all the time. These days I’m chasing details regarding the possibilities of visual effects and use of artificial intelligence in movie making.

Tarantino was right. A director has to be a good communicator and organiser. The rest will fall in place.

Malayalam movies are going through a high. Over the last 15 years, there have been numerous movies of a very high standard both in terms of story telling and performances. There’s this notion that the Golden Age of Malayalam movies belonged to the ‘80s when directors like Padmarajan, Aravindan and Bharatan made a string of classics. But I would say this current era is nothing short of a golden period, with many great movies getting churned out every year.

I totally agree. I would even say that we have surpassed that Golden Age in some ways. I was recently at the IFFK festival where they were showing movies like Thadavu, Family, Aattam and Neelamudi. I want to specifically mention these movies so that people recognise them. I was just blown by the quality of these movies. They are out there to shock the world with their craft. Just brilliant. Please watch them, if you can.

I don’t know about the future of Malayalam poetry or literature, but I can say that the future of Malayalam movies is indeed bright. These new directors are mastering the visual medium and the cinematic language is top rate.

Do you plan to break out of your mould and experiment with different genres?

Yes, I’m looking to do all kinds of films. While discussions are on, nothing has been finalised. I’m looking to do movies with a fresh feel. Right now, I’m acting in a few movies which is a luxury.

It’s great to see big budget movies come into the Malayalam industry. Movies like Prithviraj’s Empuraan (Lucifer’s part II) and Mohanlal’s Malaikottai Vaaliban directed by Lijo Jose are movies that could create a market for Malayalam movies outside Kerala with their sheer scale.

Jeo, you have had successes and failures in your career. What have you learned from them?

I’ve enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success. I’ve experienced failures too, for instance, the movie Sreedhanya Catering Service. Kilometres & Kilometres (starring Tovino Thomas) was an average hit. So, I’ve had all kind of experiences in the industry and learned from all. Sometimes, even if you look closely, there’s nothing to learn from a particular failure. So, just move on. Whatever happens in future, I’ll never be dejected with movies. I’ve struggled hard to reach here and now it’s about staying here. Film making is happiness. I’ve nowhere else to go.

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