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Biju Viswanath is a renowned screenwriter, director, producer and cinematographer who has won a lot of international acclaim for his work in films like Marathon and Déjà vu. He will be making his foray into Tamil cinema with Orange Mittai which will be the maiden production venture of Vijay Sethupathi.

Having made films in Italian, Irish, Japanese, Hindi and Swahili, Biju discusses about his first Tamil film Orange Mittai, his journey, Vijay Sethupathi in a tête-à-tête with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar.


Your entry into film world


My father Cheri Viswanath was a screen writer in Malayalam films. The day I got introduced as a child actor in one of his films, I was hooked on to the technical part of film making and was more interested in what was happening behind the camera. Events in front of the camera did not excite me. I also used to accompany my dad during his script discussions. It was through him, I entered into the world of cinema.

Events in front of the camera did not excite me




Like every other parent, my dad dissuaded me from taking up a career in films. I completed a Masters program in literature and researched for a doctoral degree on Film Adaptation of Novels. I started my professional career as a lecturer in Calicut University, but my heart was into making films. This compelled me to take the plunge completely into film-making as I did not want to be in a state of ‘neither here nor there’. I resigned my lecturer job. 


A Voyage and M T Vasudevan Nair


My first project was a short film with M T Vasudevan Nair called “A Voyage”. It narrated the relationship between a writer and his character. It was based on his movie “Nirmaalyam”. We were celebrating the 25th year of that film and people wanted me to make a documentary on it. But I was not comfortable in that format.


I discussed with M T sir. He said that his first story, first novel and the first movie he directed was about oracle and admitted that the character continues to haunt him. In my film, I communicated whatever he told without any commentary with just the visuals and music. M T acted as M T in my short film.


The film went to a lot of festivals and won acclaim. That’s when I realized the potential of this area.

Character continues to haunt him


Déjà vu


I did “Déjà vu”, a feature film, which was a thriller, partly produced by Editor Sreekar Prasad and a friend of mine. Déjà vu was set in a light house with just two actors and they were British artists. My film was selected for Loarno Film Festival and in their fifty three year old history, only two Indian films were selected. Déjà vu and Lagaan were the two films.  It was quite an experience being there with Ashutosh Gowariker (Lagaan director). 

Déjà vu and Lagaan were the only two Indian films




I made Marathon and it won the award for Best cinematography and Best Screen Play at the New York Film Festival which promoted my work and helped its release.


Production House


In the interim, I was travelling overseas. In 2006 I set up a production house and we produced three films. Later I came back to India for personal reasons.


Orange Mittai and Vijay Sethupathi


Orange Mittai was in the pipeline for some time. I have known Vijay Sethupathi before Pizza. I had a script and wanted him to play the lead. But that did not happen. Meanwhile we both were tied up in our respective commitments and could not work together. All the same we used to discuss about stories, one such story was Orange Mittai which he found quite interesting.


At this juncture, I would like to state that Vijay Sethupathi is a very good human being and selfless. He is one actor who will go out of his way to help other actors. He had no involvement in the movie (at that stage) but he used to send me actors. It is actually unusual. Meanwhile I was also finding it difficult to get producers and that’s when Vijay Sethupathi hopped on and decided to produce the film.

Vijay Sethupathi is one actor who will go out of his way to help others


Vijay Sethupathi’s role in Orange Mittai


During the times when Vijay and I used to discuss the script in which he was to play the lead, he asked if it was okay if he wrote it. I agreed and he narrated a scene to me. It was quite brilliant. It was completely different from the English version that I had written. Being an actor he had an advantage as he used to perform and tell the lines. We used to record them and that’s how he has come to write dialogues in Orange Mittai. He has also co-written the screenplay. Of course, there were additions, deletions and they all had worked out well for the story. 

Vijay Sethupathi has written the dialogues in Orange Mittai


Orange Mittai


It is a bitter sweet story. It will have the sweetness about life. Most of our lives are ridden with pressures but in all these, we forget to live in the ‘moment’. That’s what we would be conveying in Orange Mittai. I believe that all the movies should be entertaining and my film would also satisfy that quotient. But in the name of entertainment, it will not be a crass comedy. Entertaining is the key idea and it could come in different ways. I also believe that there is hope in the worst case scenario and one needs to see the positive side even then, because life is beautiful. Orange Mittai will convey this.

We forget to live in the ‘moment’


What’s the genre of Orange Mittai?


It is drama/comedy. It is tough to pin point. It will be comedic but not what you usually see as regular comedy. Good comedy will happen out of situations and you can’t make comedy.

You can’t make comedy


The title suggests that it could be a children’s film


Well! If I explain that, it would amount to divulging the story. The main knot is ‘savor or taste the sweet moments of the present. Be in THE moment’. The present is sweet. There could be something sweet in every moment of our life. Like how an orange mittai will have a sweet-sour taste, we are going to tell that aspect of life in a slightly unconventional way. It will be a mainstream film and it is NOT a festival film. 

Savor or taste the sweet moments of the present. 




Ramesh Thilak of Soodhu Kavvum plays the male lead and Aashritha from Hyderabad is the female lead. Aru Bala who played the bus driver in Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum also plays an important role in Orange Mittai. There are four main characters and many supporting characters. We don’t have a big star cast. I believe that script is the star and this movie will work on it. A lot of people can relate to Orange Mittai. We are trying to tell in a slightly funnier way. 


Camera and Music


I am doing the camera in Orange Mittai and Justin Prabhakaran of Panniayaarum Padminiyum (PP) is doing the music. I liked Justin’s RR in PP because it was unusual. There were areas where it could have gone the wrong way especially when you are trying to do funny things. But he did a good job in the film.


Justin has finished with the tunes in Orange Mittai and they have all come out very well. Vijay Sethupathi was the one who suggested Justin to me.


I told Justin that the tunes should not be like PP. My story is on the move but it is not a road movie. There is a lot of travelling and there are different locations. It is partly set in a village. I wanted the tunes to be very peppy and lively.


We have four songs and it is difficult to make all the four songs in a peppy way. Generally, in a movie, you will have one love song, one melody, one pathos, one kuthupaattu and one gana. There is a clear distinction in all these. Orange Mittai does not follow this pattern and hence it was difficult for the music composer. Nevertheless, Justin has done a good job. He is a talented music director and I am quite happy with the results. The music will really help the film a lot. 


Vijay Sethupathi was the one who suggested Justin to me.


Contribution of Vijay Sethupathi as a producer


Pre-production is the stage where a movie can get made or lost. Production is only about the logistics. We are shooting only for 35 days. Vijay Sethupathi has been very supportive in every stage and is quite international in his thoughts. He had faith in the script. We have a good rapport and I have never felt he was a producer. He makes me feel very comfortable and it is quite helpful as there is a kind of warmth and genuineness in him. 

Pre-production is the stage where a movie can get made or lost


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