The murder of a political heavyweight unleashes an investigation that explores several facets of the man, as seen through the people close to him. His wife, sister, mistress, confidante and others close to him peel the layers of the man called Dharmarajan, alias Selvan, a local legislator. Rani, actor-director-scenarist Shankar Ramakrishnan’s sophomore film, zooms into the investigation of the murder that lays bare the life of the man and the politician.
“Rani is an investigative thriller that unfolds the story of Dharmarajan, enacted by Guru Somasundaram, a wily and hard politician, with a finger in many pies in the region. The investigation headed by Raju chettan’s [Maniyanpillai Raju] character, Deputy Superintendent Raghu, is assisted by circle inspector Soman, essayed by Krishnan Balakrishnan,” says Shankar.
He adds that women are the real stars in the narrative. “His wife, his sibling, his sultry concubine and keeper of secrets, an iron-willed head nurse, a docile domestic worker and an idealist-activist teacher drive the story forward.”
Written and directed by Shankar, Rani has an interesting multi-star cast that brings together actors such as Maniyanpillai Raju, Urvashi, Guru Somasundaram, Indrans, Maala Parvathy, Anumol, Krishnan Balakrishnan, Honey Rose, Ashwin Gopinath and Aswath Lal among others. Urvashi is Sheela, Dharmarajan’s sister and an author; Maala Parvathy appears as Maheshwari, the politician’s concubine; Anumol enacts Sona, the rich daughter of a wealthy liquor contractor. Niyathi Kadambi makes her debut in Malayalam cinema through this film.
Niyathi plays Rani, a domestic worker who works in several houses. Helpless and economically insecure, she becomes an easy suspect in the murder. “But then the people in the three houses where she works turn out to be the surprise as they rally around to support her. I believe there is a Rani in every woman; a strength that comes to the fore when she is pushed to the corner. She is Nature herself, the irrepressible force of nature that cannot be vanquished. This film celebrates her strength,” says Shankar.
The writer elaborates that he has always been intrigued by domestic workers who work in several houses. Their employers’ information about them is sketchy. Usually they do not have much information about their lives, families and addresses. “But these workers are privy to a lot of information about the homes they work in. They know the routine in the house and are often aware of family secrets, conversations and minute details about their employers. It is a dichotomy that has intrigued me.”
He maintains that all the characters in the film, have stories to back them up and the two-hour narrative has enough space for those stories.
Magictails Works Production is also involved in curating and setting up museums in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is a coming together of technology and storytelling.
“We are actively involved in setting up a museum at Adichanallur in Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu. It is believed that at one time, medium-sized vessels would move up the Thamirabarani river from the sea face and that there were about 150 to 160 settlements along the river. One of the burial sites excavated is being converted into an in-situ museum. We are designing and curating the museum that is being built from scratch under the direction of the Archaeological Society of India and the government.”
They have also been working on a museum being planned on the Marina Beach in Chennai in the memory of M Karunanidhi, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
Bhavana essays an idealistic teacher, who is pulled into a web of conspiracies when she comes up with a project to upgrade wastelands, where quarrying once flourished. “These wastelands found all around quarries, often turn into haunts of anti-socials backed by powerful lobbies who want those spaces to stay that way. Bhavana’s character comes up against such a lobby,” narrates Shankar.
He believes Indrans’ character, Bhasi, lends the story a different angle. During the writer-director’s conversations with police officers, he found that certain policemen with an innate intuition have given breakthroughs to investigating teams. “Bhasi is one such character. An elderly policeman, he has seen life at close quarters and has an intuition that comes to his rescue when it comes to interrogations. I feel Bhasi is someone who can be developed into a character for sequels as well,” says the director, a voracious reader of works by Agatha Christie, Grisham and Stieg Larsson.
Shankar was planning a big-budget project, Ayyappan, helmed by Santhosh Sivan when the pandemic struck. The film had to be postponed. In the meantime, Shankar began writing a small film, the canvas of which grew bigger as the writing progressed. “That is Rani,” says Shankar, with a smile.
Shot in southern Thiruvananthapuram and parts of Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu, once a part of Travancore, the film is set in the hilly tracts of the region, where a number of quarries used to operate. Although the movie was shot within 22 days, time was lavished on the post-production work.
“Many of these scenic and pristine locales are under-utilised and it is also budget-friendly. I am trying to bring shooting of films back to the city where it all began many years ago,” adds Shankar.
As with his debut feature film, Pathinettam Padi, Shankar has invested in debutants in Rani as well. Newcomer Vinayak Gopal is the cinematographer while the songs have been composed and scored by Mena Melath.
Shankar is producing the film with Vinod Menon and Jimmy Jacob under the banner of Magictail Works Production.