Ranjith Sankar, the Malayali director of Amazon Prime Video’s stunning new film Sunny, featuring the redoubtable Jayasurya as a broken man quarantined during the pandemic struggling with his demons, has come in for a huge amount of praise.
The prolific and versatile director says he is surprised and relieved. “The film started streaming at midnight on September 23. I received nearly a 1000 messages during the night, and many of them from young viewers who were already planning a repeat viewing. It’s a relief because when we were making Sunny we didn’t know how it would turn out for the audience. There is no parallel to this film in my own career as a director, or in anything that’s been done in our cinema.”
Sunny is the story of a heavily drinking suicidal man, played by Jayasurya who looks back at the futility of his life during quarantine.
Says Ranjith, “It’s just one character all through the film. The rest are all voices, fleeting glimpses and glances. We did the voices after the shooting was complete. All done by seasoned actors whom I knew and who were sporting enough to do the voices. While shooting we made sure there were professional actors giving Jayasurya the right cues.”
Voices aside, Jayasurya was on his own in that posh hotel suite on the Floor 4 of the Hyatt Kochi which the director had booked.
Says Ranjith, “I wanted to make a one-character film for the longest time. For years I toyed with ideas and finally gave up. Then Covid happened. I came up with an idea which I started working on. I knew the screenplay was the essence of this film.I wrote and rewrote the screenplay 6-7 times. Only then did I start thinking of which actor to cast.”
The director’s first choice was Jayasurya who has done seven other films with Ranjith Sankar. “We are friends now and understand one another’s craft instinctively. When I met Jayasurya he looked like my Sunny. He had put on weight during the pandemic and grown a beard. Physically he was right for the part.”
However, when Ranjith narrated the script Jayasurya was not convinced. “He had some reservations about the script and he felt he couldn’t do it. So I went to another actor, a name in his own right, and he agreed immediately. However a week later Jayasurya called me to say he was ready to do the film. Luckily the other actor was very sporting about it. In Malayalam cinema there are several very good lead actors, and they are all busy.”
Once shooting started there was a shroud of uncertainty about the project. “We had no idea how to go about this. With just one actor, Sunny was the biggest challenge of my career. The first day’s shooting was a disaster. We scrapped the chosen style of shooting, and took another approach. Since there was only Jayasurya on camera there couldn’t be too many cuts in the scenes. We treated every sequence in a choreographic style.Till the end we didn’t know whether the audience would be with us.”
Amazon’s OTT platform has proven to be liberating for Ranjith Sankar. “For the first time I don’t have to think about the autorickshaw driver and the student in the audience. Luckily for me the students love Sunny, though I’ve yet to hear from any auto driver. It doesn’t matter.This time the producer in me did not have to look anxiously over his shoulder at the director.”
Ranjith Sankar is already planning his next film. “It’s going to be a thriller with two leading stars.”
By stars he means male actors. “Not that I haven’t made films with female heroes in the lead. Molly Aunty Rocks and Kamala were heroine-oriented films,” Ranjith Sankar says as his phone buzzes repeatedly with congratulations for Sunny.
Image source: Instagram/ranjithsankar