Exclusive! Minnal Murali takes off in style, ready to fly to the next level

Exclusive! Minnal Murali takes off in style, ready to fly to the next level

They say lightning (minnal) never strikes twice, but Basil Joseph’s Minnal Murali can strike twice, or even thrice. Having stolen the festive thunder, the makers are now planning to take the film/franchise to the next level.

Released on Netflix, the Malayalam film, starring Tovino Thomas, Guru Somasundaram and Shelly Kishore, has opened to rave reviews and huge social media buzz, fuelling speculation about its sequel possibilities and other franchise spin-offs.

So, what’s brewing? Here is its producer Sophia Paul talking from her Kollam (Kerala) residence. Over to her.

The obvious first question. Going by the terrific response, it looks certain the film would have stormed the box office. Probably, you could have waited for a theatre release. Any regrets?

Certainly, no. What the OTT release opened up (released in over 150 countries) instead was something we all never anticipated. The response has been mind-boggling and frankly, it took some time for us to realise the impact the film had made on a worldwide audience. We have been flooded with calls across industries and they are amazed at how we pulled a local superhero off. With a theatre release in such a small industry like Kerala, we would never get the attention and limelight we got with the Netflix release.

In fact, I must thank Netflix for its marketing blitz which insiders say is the highest for any OTT release/film in India. Obviously, I can’t share the details, but it has had its impact — more than what a producer like me or anyone else could. So, answering your query, no regrets whatsoever.

Still, a theatre release could have fetched you larger returns, possibly, even ₹100 crore…

(Laughs) Maybe, maybe not, but let us not go back and analyse the what-if situations. Let me tell you it was not at all a hard sell to Netflix and I am really happy that it paid off. It’s a win-win situation. We conceived, planned and executed Minnal Murali for theatre release (even after all the controversies and the pandemic first wave), but as they say, every film has its destiny written all over it.

Obviously, money is important, but sometimes the vistas something opens up can’t just be quantified under any yardstick. The opening we got through OTT is phenomenal, giving us enormous possibilities for our next projects. That way, it’s even bigger than the ₹100 crore you just mentioned.

Sophia Paul has earlier produced films like Bangalore Days and Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol

Are you hinting about a possible sequel?

It is too early to talk about what lies ahead. I can’t talk about what we have in mind, but it’s going to be a hell of a ride. But I am sure our audience would want to know what Minnal Murali would do next.

Do you think the first part could have been (even) bigger?

We always analyse every product/work like that, don’t we? At the edit table, we have the liberty to always look back and make things better. At the preview, we might want something tweaked, but by then it would be too late. That said, we have made every effort possible to make the film look as splendid as it can be, irrespective of all the restraints our small industry has.

Frankly, in all the back-of-the-envelope calculations, I never looked at the possible returns it could fetch. All that we (including my two sons) wanted was to fulfill our dream of making a local superhero film. Just to add, my sons are huge fans of all superhero films.  Just for the record, it’s our most expensive film yet. That way, Basil and the team pulled off a miracle, starting from scratch.

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How and when did Basil Joseph walk in as the director? It’s an interesting, if not a surprising, choice.

Basil has been part of the whole process ever since we started it from a one-line thread by Arun Anirudhan (one of the writers). Basil and the writers (the other being Justin Mathew) spent months together and made the film better at every stage. And finally, when Basil flew to Dubai and narrated the sequence of events, I was really stunned. There and then, I knew what Basil can do — and did and how!

At any stage, did you toy with the idea of making it in 3D format?

Initially, yes, we did discuss that, but dropped the idea after some serious deliberations.

As a producer, I hear you are involved in every stage of the project.

Oh, yes, I need to be as I don’t consider myself a financier, but a producer. My sons, who are businessmen, fly down whenever we have a project rolled up. It’s our passion and you can say I am an ‘interfering’ producer! (chuckles)

Rolling out Minnal Murali was a nightmare of sorts. Your sets were vandalized, then the COVID outbreak…

That’s why I believe in destiny. The vandalisation of our sets in Kalady, fuelled by mere speculation, was really unfortunate, but again that led us to a serene location in Karnataka (near Hassan), where we discovered (to Basil’s credit) a beautiful village to shoot many important sequences. It was a blessing in real disguise! Again, the 20-days shoot in Karnataka during the COVID wave was a really excruciating experience.  We were tense and on our toes, shooting with hundreds of junior artists, with all those COVID protocols.  I must thank the Karnataka police for all the cooperation and security arrangements. Even for the villagers there, it was like a carnival-like experience.

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