Director Pawan Kumar has been praised by critics for his June release Dhoomam, produced by Hombale Films. With the shy and reticent Fahadh Faasil delivering a stellar performance as always and a talented cast and crew, the film has a very strong message on the harmful effects of smoking. We catch up with the young director, Pawan Kumar, who is known for his Kannada films and has stepped into the Malayalam film industry for the first time on his adept direction, and his journey in the industry so far. Although the film features one of the top Malayalam actors Fahadh Faasil alongside Aparna Balamurali, Koushik Mahata and Joy Mathew as lead characters, it did not manage to become a blockbuster hit at the box office. It is a must watch, as it comes with a social message of how smoking is injurious to health weaved around all the suspense and drama.

What inspired you to become a director?
Very early on, right from my college days, I had the habit of ideating. I always used to put up street plays and ads and would come up with the idea of what should be in the script. Invariably, I got dragged into converting the script into a form. So it started as that, wherein I was doing theatre as an actor, writer and a director. When I moved into movies, I was not really planning to be a director. I was planning to only act and write. But when you write your own scripts, you tend to feel that there’s nobody else who could translate the ideas that you have from script to screen. Hence, the directorial bug takes over. The experience of having done short films and plays earlier in life helped me step in to feature films as a director.

Please share some of your experiences working on Dhoomam?
Working for Dhoomam has been interesting from Day One. I wrote the script long ago and it’s been with me for many years. I’ve been trying to make the film for many years. Then it got mounted by Hombale Productions, and Fahadh picked it up, and a lot of great talents came into the film. So this vision of mine came true. It was shot in a language which I’m not familiar with – Malayalam and also a new crew, as a lot of them were from the Malayalam film industry. We had brilliant actors like Fahadh, Aparna, Roshan and Anu who are great at what they do. It was a long-awaited script coming on screen and there was a lot of newness, a learning to deal with, a language that I’m not familiar with, new crew and also to put this complex script out translating to what should come on screen. I also had a DOP, Preetha Jayaraman who is really good at how she brought the film out. I love how she’s brought the script to life with her cinematography. I like how the film has shaped up and has garnered good reviews with the critics and serious film goers.

Please share some behind-the-scenes special moments from the sets of Dhoomam with Fahadh and Aparna?
There was a scene when Fahadh and Aparna are supposed to rush to their car and Fahadh is holding a gun and walking to the car. We shot it from multiple angles at the same time. It looked great and when we saw it after the whole shot was over, Fahadh asked if we could shoot it one more time and I was wondering why because, lighting, angle and his acting everything looked perfect. So we reshot it because he wanted to. Then he came and saw the monitor and said please use this one and not the previous one. I was still wondering why because both looked the same. I asked him and he said – in the previous shot I’m holding the gun properly, I look like a big hero who has practiced how to hold a gun, whereas the character I’m playing shouldn’t know how to hold the gun so well. That was shocking because any actor would like to appear extremely heroic, holding a gun and walking, but this is Fahadh, who would rather stick to his character instead of looking heroic. I’ve always experienced big stars asking for heroic moments and this was Fahadh who was actually asking for another shot not to look heroic.

How do you approach lighting and colour when on the sets?
Usually the colour of the set is predetermined while we do our recce. Our art director Anees was with us, and we blocked and staged all the sequences and we would tell him what would happen and where. We also had a colour palette prepared. He picked up a lot of reference shots and told us how he wanted the light on the sets. It was mostly dependent on the mood of the scene and the art department and the cinematographer play a key role in making sure it looked good.

How do you collaborate with the other members of the crew to achieve the desired visual style?
I give my script to everyone on the team so that they can add their own unique touch to it. I make it extremely transparent and keep it all clear, so that if there’s anything that I would have missed, others can add to it. The art department and my assistant directors, they all have the copy of the script and they all collaborate in making sure that every scene looks the way it has been planned. Sharing the script and having early and long discussions on what your vision is really helps the crew get to know how you’re looking at the film.

How do you keep up with advancements in technology and incorporate them into your work?
Technology is always a tool. Just because there are advances in technology, doesn’t mean you have to use all of it. If the film is asking for it then it’s worth. We have a lot of friends and people in the cinematography department or post production who we collaborate with. They come and tell us how they can use a certain technology, and make it better or faster. Just being open to discussions and innovations is the way forward. It’s not necessary to go and study the subject yourself. Being friends with people in the field and being open to suggestions helps, and you’ll yourself realise when and what to use.

How do you balance artistic vision with technical demands in your work?
Film making is an art where many art forms come together – be it music, light, cinematography and art department, costume and create the final shot. It is important to meet the heads of all these teams, have a clear communication on how you have envisioned a scene and finally try to get the right picture. Sometimes an art department may need a VFX collaboration so we have to make sure all of it is preplanned and in place before going to the set. Once the team has prepared all this then as a director you can work with the actors with an artistic approach on how to shoot and stage it and how to make them perform the scene.

Can you share any tips for aspiring directors and film makers?
Don’t jump into it too soon. Spend a lot of time assisting and being in teams of other directors as there’s so much to learn, observe and participate. Direction is actually 10% creativity and 90% people management. It is important that you connect to your team. All the filmmakers cannot be on the set just having a clear artistic vision. They should also know how to execute it the right way as there are over a 100 people on the sets waiting for instructions. So, knowing how to handle people with the right vision is important and that comes by working for another director for a couple of years and understanding how they do their job and then it slowly becomes a part of you.

Who are some of your favourite directors and your favourite films that have influenced your work?
Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and I also like David Fincher.
All the top movies like Fight Club, Schindler’s List, Social Network, and so many more as there’s always something new to learn everytime you watch these kinds of films. A lot of these works have influenced many of the film makers.