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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Dubai film Lailaa O Lailaa, with Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, aims for local premiere

The spy thriller Lailaa O Lailaa, a crowdfunded, Malayalam-language commercial film produced by Indian expats in the UAE and Kuwait, could be getting a red-carpet premiere when it opens here later this month.
Amala Paul and Mohanlal in the Malayalam spy thriller Lailaa O Lailaa. Courtesy Lailaa O Lailaa
Amala Paul and Mohanlal in the Malayalam spy thriller Lailaa O Lailaa. Courtesy Lailaa O Lailaa

The spy thriller Lailaa O Lailaa, a crowdfunded, Malayalam-language commercial film produced by Indian expats in the UAE and Kuwait, could be getting a red-carpet premiere when it opens here later this month.

The film – starring Mohanlal, one of Kerala’s biggest stars – was released in India last weekend and has been playing to packed theatres.

“We will bring it to the UAE soon,” says Bijou Antony, who lives in Dubai and is the director of Finecut Entertainments, the production company behind the film.

“It will have subtitles, so that even people who don’t speak the language can see it. We are in talks with a Dubai-based promotions company and we might do a premiere in Dubai.”

Lailaa O Lailaa, with a tagline of “the biggest risk of his life – his wife”, tells the story of Jai Mohan, an undercover intelligence agent whose wife (Amala Paul) helps him undertake a dangerous mission.

“There are many independent film projects [from India] that have been crowdfunded, but not many commercial films in India are produced this way,” says Antony.

“While I was working in Kuwait, I met Santhosh Kottayi, who is now managing director of Finecut. We used to watch a lot of movies, because in Kuwait there wasn’t much else to do. Then, in 2012, after I’d moved to Dubai, he called me and said that since we both love movies, why don’t we make one?

“So we called in a consultant from Kerala and I flew to Kuwait to work out a viable business model. And that’s how Finecut Entertainments was born.”

Kottayi’s wife, Preeta Nair, also a Finecut director, came on board and soon an introductory meeting was set up with Mohanlal, who said he would be interested in working with the company as long as the project had a good script.

With the support of the 54-year-old actor – who has appeared in more than 320 Malayalam films – the Finecut trio found that doors started opening for them.

“We also connected with scriptwriter Suresh Nair, who has done [Bollywood] movies such as Kahaani and Bang Bang!,” says Antony. “It turned out he had a story ready, which was a perfect fit for Mohanlal.”

Filmmaker Joshiy was then chosen to direct.

While the creative pieces of the puzzle were falling into place, Antony – a former banker – was keen to take care of the business side of things.

“From the start we had established that we won’t put all our own money into this project,” he says. “That’s when the idea of crowdfunding came in, and there was a lot of interest.

“As the project took shape, the number of people involved in it grew to 110 – each one a ‘shareholder’ in the movie. They are all friends with whom we’re connected with via phone or social media, so every stage of the way they knew exactly what we’re doing.”

Antony would not reveal the movie’s budget, but says it was “twice that of your average Malayalam film”.

“We wanted to do something really high-quality and we weren’t short of investors, so we decided to go for it,” he says. Mohanlal’s iconic status has ensured packed theatres, and Antony fondly recalls the first screening in Kerala last Thursday.

“People came with drums – it was like a funfair outside the theatre,” he says. “And the minute Mohanlal appeared on screen, you couldn’t hear a word of what was going on in the movie because the audience was shouting with excitement. It was quite an experience.”

So what’s next for the home-grown production company?

“We wanted to establish a good rapport with the people we were working with, industry experts who knew what they were doing,” says Anthony. “Lailaa O Lailaa was a huge learning experience and will help us immensely on our next project.

“There are talks to remake it in other languages, including Hindi. We may not be a part of the remakes, but for sure we’ll be working on more Malayalam films – and eventually even a Hindi film.”

artslife@thenational.ae