“Thespians of Aattam” – A Behind-the-Scenes Celebration of Artistry and Unity

The Malayalam film Aattam has notably caused a stir with its unique approach to storytelling, which has been crafted specifically for its ensemble of actors. Its creator, director, and writer Anand Ekarshi, has openly discussed in various interviews how the narrative was intentionally molded to fit the cast, a dynamic group that has become the focus of attention at every festival the film graced.

Casting a spotlight on the actors hailing from the Kochi-based theatre group Lokadharmi, the film showcases individuals from diverse socio-economic backgrounds who share a common thread—their fervent love for theatre and the craft of acting. This united passion forms the backbone of their extraordinary journey from stage to screen.

The film’s journey is equally remarkable, having premiered at the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) fete, shortly before the cast and crew were scheduled to venture to Goa for the prestigious International Film Festival of India (IFFI), where Aattam had the honor of opening the festival in 2023. It was during this bustling period, thriving on the momentum of their Indian premiere, that Anand Ekarshi commissioned Ananthakrishnan Gopinathan to produce a documentary that would delve into the making of Aattam, the cast’s backgrounds, and their collective experience of the filmmaking process.

Ananthakrishnan embarked on a cinematic journey to shed light on the personal lives, hardships, and artistic struggles of the actors that ultimately led them to Aattam through Lokadharmi. The result is “Thespians of Aattam,” a 65-minute documentary now available on YouTube, which provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of the actors as they transition from theatrics to the cinema.

This visually-engaging documentary also explores the intricacies of filmmaking, capturing the interactions between cast and crew on set, and the process of transforming a scene from script to screen—a testament to the collaborative spirit and craftsmanship of filmmaking. This behind-the-scenes exploration is a rare occurrence in the context of Indian cinema, with Hollywood counterparts such as “The Shark Is Still Working,” which delved into the making of Spielberg’s “Jaws,” standing as anomalies rather than norms.

“Thespians of Aattam” artfully captures candid moments of the shoot, with actors discussing their origins with Lokadharmi and their evolution in the acting world. Anand Ekarshi himself is featured detailing the emergence of the script, brought upon by actor Vinay Forrt’s inspiring suggestion to develop a story suitable for the entire 11-member troupe. The documentary offers a window into everything from story conceptualization to casting, auditions, rehearsal camps, and ultimately, the tight-knit togetherness of the actors both on and off-set.

Ananthakrishnan’s documentary unveils a lack of hierarchical structure within the group; open dialogues and equitable interactions are the norm, regardless of age or social constructs—a truly distinctive aspect of the troupe discovered by the filmmakers. Selvaraj Raghavan VR, a former headload worker and the most senior actor, shares his theater experiences, while others, such as Jolly Anthony and Santhosh Piravom, reveal lives marked by seemingly unrelated professions, from tile laying to running a vegetable shop.

Engaging in activities beyond theatre, their group dynamics exemplify unity; their camaraderie shines through as they prepare for roles and handle everyday struggles, demonstrating that their challenges transcend acting and are relatable to a broader audience. This is made evident through the actors’ dialogue on their craft, their ways of life, and the strength found in shared experiences.

“Thespians of Aattam” extends beyond the candid highlights to stand as a sincere homage to Lokadharmi and its influential school of acting. It resonates with a powerful message of hope conveyed by the actors, as they express that Aattam may not only represent financial stability through cinema but also offers an opportunity to establish themselves as recognized film actors.

The documentary charts the actors’ confident strides down the IFFI’s red carpet and paints a portrait of their shared anticipation for Aattam’s reception, aspirations for festival entries, and the broader impact it could have—potentially inspiring other filmmakers to document their journeys, solidifying “Thespians of Aattam” as a significant piece in the evolving narrative of Malayalam cinema.

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