Photo: Vineeth Sreenivasan (right) with cinematographer Jomon T John
By Shevlin Sebastian
In December 2013, scriptwriter-director Vineeth Sreenivasan, 30, received a WhatsApp photo from his friend Gregory Jacob. It was an image of a family get-together and the caption read: ‘Finally’.
The Jacob Zachariah family—husband, wife, three boys and a girl—lived in Dubai. A financial swindle by a business partner made Zachariah lose millions and the family went into a crisis. He went to Liberia to explore work opportunities, while his eldest son, Gregory, along with his mother, tried to clear the debts by running businesses of his own. It took five years for the family to re-unite in Kerala.
“When I looked at the photo I realised how much Gregory had wanted this meeting,” says the director, who knew the back-story. “Because of our busy lives, many of us may not find the time to call or go home. This forgetfulness happens unknowingly. I felt that it would make a good film.”
Released last month, Jacobinte Swargarajyam has become a superhit, with a box office collection of `22 crore and rising. It stars Nivin Pauly, Renji Panicker, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, Sai Kumar and Sreenath Bhasi. It is a film that a smiling 12 year-old Subin liked, just outside the PVR Cinemas, at the Lulu Mall, Kochi, as well as his 90-year-old grandfather.
Asked how he could make a film that appealed to youngsters and the elderly alike, Vineeth says, “Each character has a unique behaviour. Take Abin Jacob (Bhasi). He is a rebellious 19-year-old, who likes to have a drink and move around with friends. Many teenagers, who saw the film, told me they could relate to Abin.”
Nevertheless, during the shooting in Dubai, Sharjah and Kerala, Vineeth had doubts. “When I am making a film, there is always a battle within myself,” he says. “One part of me says, ‘This is a good film and I have to do it’. But another part says, ‘This may not be entertaining, and not the type of film that people will expect from me’. These doubts persist till the end of the first show when I am able to get the audience reaction.”
So far, the audience response has been mostly positive. His films like Malarvadi Arts Club and Thattathin Marayathu have done well. He also wrote the script for the hit, Oru Vadakkan Selfie.
Meanwhile, during the shoot of Jacobinte Swargarajyam, there were moments of serendipity too. There is a scene where the mother tells Gregory that she had a dream where angels rested on his shoulders. “Both Jomon (T John, cinematographer) and I felt there has to be a magic in the scene, but we not could not find a solution,” says Vineeth.
As they were conversing on the 15th floor of a building in Sharjah, the sun began setting. “Through a gap between two buildings, the sunlight lit up our faces,” he says. “We instantly realised how the scene had to be shot: Sherly facing the camera and Gregory behind her, with the sunlight at the back. And we played ‘Latika’s Theme’ from Slumdog Millionaire, in the background.”
But, rather than Latika, it is Vineeth’s theme, in the film, that is a talking point among the cinema-goers of Kerala.
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)