Men Of The Year 2020: Lijo Jose Pellissery On His Own Terms
While Lijo works primarily in Malayalam cinema, his is a name that will always crop up when Indian cinema is discussed. And now, Jallikattu as India’s entry for the Oscars only goes on to show what the unconventional film-maker can achieve.
When you talk about non-linear storylines, the controversial depiction of violence as an art form in cinema, and long takes that would make Alfred Hitchcock and Jonas Mekas blush, you’re actually just talking about Lijo Jose Pellissery. The recipient of god-knows-how-many awards, Lijo loves breaking rules, and doing the very opposite of what supposedly “works”. For some odd reason, it always works out for him, however. Lijo started off his career by being the assistant to an ad film-maker, and then eventually making his own short films. His debut as a feature film director came in 2010 with Nayakan, followed by City of God. While both these films didn’t really make their mark on the box office, his third film, Amen (2013), got his talent the recognition. But his biggest breakthrough came with Angamaly Diaries (2017), a gangster dramedy set in the town of Kerala’s Angamaly. The film garnered critical as well as commercial acclaim and cemented Lijo’s name in the Malayalam film circuit.
While Lijo worked with the likes of Prithviraj and Fahadh Faasil in his earlier films, he changed gears in 2017’s Angamaly Diaries, when he cast 86 new actors. The unpredictable characters led to fascinating results. In an interview with MW in 2018, Lijo said, “I wanted all actors to be freshers because I did not want predictability. We wanted to go all out with the film, and make it as candid as it can get.” The film served as a kind of cultural survey by combining the uniqueness of the place with boldness — the project seethed with a “daring energy and spirit.” Perhaps, what allows the film-maker to accomplish such feats, is the fact that he has never had professional training in this field. He studied management at IIPM Bangalore, and then worked as a copywriter before he began to make films. Lijo agrees that this gives him an advantage because he “doesn’t need to know why something won’t happen”.
While his influences have been cited as ranging from Akira Kurosawa to Quentin Tarantino, Lijo emphasises his inspirations are too far-ranging to narrow down. “I don’t have a favourite director. We are in the mysterious phase of art, and you cannot gauge or lightly analyse anyone’s art, basically because every single piece of art has a perception. And, so, I’m attracted to anybody who has a cool and interesting thought.” But believe it or not, Lijo is trying to find a middle ground between his brand of revolutionary cinema and the mainstream. “It’s all about finding the middle ground between good cinema, and the ones people watch in theatres. I’m trying to find a balance between both,” he says, adding: “Everyone is a film-maker in themselves because when you read a story, when you go through something, you visualise it. Anybody can make a film if they really try.”
In 2019, he directed Jallikattu which, surprise surprise, received high praise. Lijo received the Best Director trophy at the 50th International Film Festival of India, besides earning plaudits at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and the 24th Busan International Film Festival. His next, titled Churuli, is an upcoming Indian Malayalam language sci-fi film, which follows two people in a search of a third, and eventually finding themselves lost in the woods with no concept of time. The film was allegedly completed in just 19 days, but you wouldn’t glean that fact if you watched the trailer for the film. It’s classic mindfuckery, and utterly delicious.