Alphonse Puthren is one of the most interesting people in the business today. Interesting not just because of his work, but also because of his off-work persona, all of which radiates a genuine love of the art that is cinema. He seems to be brimming with fresh ideas and thoughts, and yet we hadn’t seen the man in directorial action for years, since Premam (2015). Fans of the man had to make do by rewatching his films and jumping at his occasional edits for other films (do check out the “Ding Dong” video he edited as a promo for Super Deluxe). So justifiably, when the Gold teaser dropped earlier this year, the excitement was massive. There was, of course, Prithviraj, Nayanthara, and a whole bunch of recognizable faces in the cast list, but nothing excited audiences more than this slide:
Gold was planned as an Onam release, and was touted to hit theatres in the first week of September. The teaser gave nothing away, but sources suggested that it was going to be another fun thriller in the Neram zone (which I absolutely enjoyed). And given Alphonse Puthren’s strategy of marketing a film by giving away zilch of the plot, I was mentally prepared – and excited – to go into the theatres with a clean slate. But, but…a few days before Onam, we were subjected to this news:
Even this update feels like it happened ages ago. Onam poyitt Diwali kazhinju, and there’s still no update about the release of Gold. I couldn’t help but wonder why this is so. Ultimately, I arrived at two broad questions:
Could there be a real technical issue?
Now, if we take the value chain of film production, we can classify it into three stages: Pre-production, mid-production, and post-production. When a film is said to be “languishing in production hell”, it most commonly refers to a roadblock the film enters into at one of the above stages. Taking the case of Gold, we know (and we trust the makers here) that the shooting of the film was wrapped up in June 2022. So it definitely can’t be a pre or mid-production issue.
Also Read: Are We Witnessing The Rise of Jayaram 2.0?
This leaves us with post-production – which in my opinion, plays a crucial role in delivering the best version of the film. Even within post-production, the issues can be purely technical (let’s say, the system indefinitely hangs during the rendering of the film), or there could be problems between various stakeholders in the team (most commonly, this happens between two of three: director, producer and lead actor). When Listin Stephen was recently asked in a press conference about the status of the film Gold, he sardonically said the exact technical issue I cited – System hang aay irukkua – to which people laughed. Now, this could denote the presence of an actual technical issue (if we take his words literally) or it could suggest some tension brewing among the makers. I’d still give these possibilities the benefit of the doubt because my suspicion lies in a more rationally digestible root cause, which is…
Is Alphonse Puthren chomakkal-ing the unbearable weight of massive overnight success?
POV: You’re a middle-class boy from Aluva who dreams of making films one day. You enroll in a film course in the most accessible film city – Chennai. And soon enough, you rope in some local friends – such as one Mr. Vijay Sethupathi – and start making short films on limited budgets. The short films help you garner attention, and you land your first feature film opportunity. The Malayalam-Tamil bilingual works decently well at the box office, and there’s praise directed at the novelty in the making of the film.
Suddenly you are hired by a prominent producer to work on your next. You make a sweet little rom-com with pretty much the same team as last time, along with a bunch of newcomers. But between your first and second films, your lead hero has transformed into a star. The ‘small’ project gets a huge response at the theatres and becomes a runaway blockbuster. The success is so huge that people outside of Kerala are suddenly thronging to cinemas to catch the film with subtitles.
The biggest names in Indian cinema are mentioning your name in interviews, expressing their desire to work with you. Chennai, the city where you learned the tricks of the trade, smothers you with extra love – the film runs for 250 days. All this for just your second feature film!
You thought you were just starting out, but the World of Cinema seemed to have already put you on a pedestal. Umm.. Now what?
The high penetration, unanimous acceptance, and thundering success of Premam is not one that comes around too often. The film inspired a bunch of filmmakers to go the realistic route, and we saw an influx of rooted, simple stories that were performed in a raw fashion by mostly new faces. And yet, not a lot of these spiritual successors have been able to replicate the success of Premam. It just happened to have the right mix of everything – a highly sumptuous five-course meal spearheaded by Chef Puthren. I’m sure the team expected the film to be a success, but THIS level of success? I doubt.
My colleague Marwan wrote an article in 2020 about the perils of overnight success, and though he focused on the happiness aspect of things, I’d like to take a diversion and talk about the mental makeup of a person who is an overnight success. One day, life goes as-is, and the next, you are flooded with texts and calls from all corners of the world. Is one actually prepared for that transition? And even so, if they do live up to the challenge of adapting to the sudden dynamism in their life, can they go about their work in the same vein as before? Because now, they are bound to be observed by more eyeballs, which could either work greatly in favour or against your goodwill.
Take the case of YouTuber Arjyou, who legit blew up during the lockdown thanks to a couple of roast videos. He hit a million subscriptions in record time, but I’m sure he would have been crying inside about how he was going to continue creating the same content with the awareness that thousands of new visitors are taking sharp note of his content. And let’s be honest, whether or not he had a robust content strategy in place, he couldn’t really live up to the hype in the long run. No artist likes to get burnt out or suffer from a steep low after a roaring high. And this is why I think artists who are “overnight successes” tend to tread lightly. They strive to ensure a good (rather, greater-than-previous) quality product in order to stay on the ‘pedestal’. This would mean work, more work, scrapping, rework, work… you get the gist.
After Premam, Alphonse was in talks with Kalidas Jayaram for a Tamil film, which failed to take off. After which he was in talks with Fahadh for Paattu (for which he spent a year learning music, by the way) which again didn’t take off. And when he finally went ahead and made a film with Prithviraj, it got delayed indefinitely. From all this, it seems to me that Alphonse desperately wants to rise above the hype and deliver something that once again blows our minds. And considering that he’s an astute editor, it’s highly possible that the film is being polished at the editing table. A more far-fetched possibility is that he isn’t happy with the way the film’s turned up and wants to reshoot a few portions. Check out Alphonse’s response to an FB comment about the Gold delay, and keep the above theory in mind while you do:
Until the man is completely happy, Gold could be on hold. (Sigh) Practically speaking though, I wonder how long this could be, considering the pressure from the producers to release it ASAP. Anyway, here’s hoping that the dish is cooked to the Chef’s specifications and ready to serve soon.