The Priest, the Mammootty starring horror thriller has revived the Malayalam cinema business with its exceptional run at the theatres. The Jofin T Chacko directorial is on its way to becoming one of the biggest box office successes of the industry in recent times.
In an exclusive interview with Filmibeat, Shyam Menon, the co-writer of The Priest opened up about his experiences working for the Mammootty-starrer. Here is what the scriptwriter has to say...
1. The Priest has been opened to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Did you expect a success of this magnitude?
The team members were confident that The Priest will be a good film that enjoys a decent theatrical run. Especially after watching the final copy, the team felt that this film will emerge as a success. But a success of this magnitude was not expected.
2. How did you develop the story and script of The Priest?
The story of The Priest was developed by director Jofin T Chacko, around 5 years back. Jofin narrated this story to me and we decided to proceed with the script around two and a half years back, precisely before the first Kerala floods. The first draft of the script, which dealt with a different crime had to be discarded, as it had some striking similarities with the Tamil film Ratchasan. Later, we reworked the script, but the second draft also had to be discarded as it had similarities with some other contemporary films.
Jofin T Chacko is a perfectionist, so we worked on the script as a team until the director got what he exactly wanted. The Priest is the film that I've worked on the most when it comes to the script and scene order.
3. Was Mammootty the first choice for the film?
Director Jofin T Chacko is a huge fan of Mammootty and wanted to cast the actor in his directorial debut. Later, we concluded that Mammukka is indeed the best choice for the character Fr. Benedict after the script was fully developed.
4. What were the biggest challenges you faced while scripting The Priest?
As a writer, my biggest challenge was to get the approval of director Jofin. As I mentioned before, Jofin is a perfectionist and he made Deepu Pradeep and I rework the script until he got what he wanted.
On a serious note, the biggest challenge was the gear shift to the horror mode from the initial thriller mode. The biggest challenge was to make the audience accept this sudden shift in the flow of the film.
5. The Mammootty-Manju Warrier combo finally happened with The Priest. How did that happen?
We always wanted an actress with a powerful image and on-screen persona for the character Susan. From contemporary cinema, Manju Warrier is the best choice for that role. When director Jofin T Chacko and producer Anto Joseph approached the actress for the role, she immediately said yes.
6. Baby Monica, who played Ameya, outshined all senior actors with her performance. How did she become a part of The Priest?
Initially, Theri fame Baby Nainika (actress Meena's daughter) was considered for the role. But director Jofin wanted a Malayalam-speaking child artist for the role. Kaithi released around that time, and the director felt that Monica is perfect for the role. Later, Jofin went to Chennai to meet the child artist, and she came on board for the project.
7. Right from the beginning, it was confirmed that The Priest is not going the OTT way. Was it difficult for the team to make this decision amidst the pandemic?
Absolutely not. In fact, the long lockdown break has helped The Priest. Firstly, the team was able to complete the post-production activities of the movie peacefully, thanks to the lockdown. Secondly, this is a film that is strictly made for the theatres. Akhil George, the DOP, and sound designer Jayadevan Chakkadath had worked hard for this film, so it deserves to be watched in the theatres. The Priest cannot be watched on a TV screen or mobile.
8. There are audiences who feel that the character Fr Benedict deserves his own franchise. Are there any chances of a sequel or universe building?
Yes, Fr Benedict is a character that has a scope for a franchise. However, director Jofin T Chacko has to decide on the franchise building, as The Priest is entirely his brainchild. If a sequel happens, I would love to be a part of it.
9. Was it difficult to create a character that completely stays away from Mammootty's star image?
No. Right from the beginning, the team had decided that the character Fr Benedict should stay away from the star image of Mammootty. We wanted to create a film and characters that stay true to the main plot without making any noise. Otherwise, it would have ended up as just another film.