National awarding winning actor Mohanlal and JC Daniel award winner KP Kumaran came together after a gap of 21 years to make Aakashagopuram. An adaptation of Norwegian playwriter Henrik Ibsen’s Master Builder, the film was released to critical acclaim in 2008. And as the years have gone by, the film has become more relevant than ever.
“What attracted me to the play was its intriguing psychological insight into human nature and the experiences of the characters in situations of conflict. That is what lifts the play from the level of mundane,” says KP Kumaran. Written in 1892, Master Builder was first staged at the Lessing theatre in Berlin in 1893. “Adapting Master Builder is the greatest tribute I could pay to the playwright whose dramas have always inspired me,” he says.
Set in London among the Indian immigrant community, Aakashagopuram tells the story of Albert Samson (Mohanlal), a successful architect, and his wife Alice (Shweta Menon) who lead an unhappy married life because of Samson's ambitious and egoistic nature. His constant pursuit for glory leaves him a shell of a man until he meets the vivacious Hilda Varghese (Nithya Menon).
The film marked the debut of actress Nithya Menon and starred Bharat Gopi, Manoj K Jayan, Geethu Mohandas, Shwetha Menon and Srinivas. It was the first Malayalam film to be entirely shot and post produced in the UK.
“By 2004 a lot of the Indian film industry were shooting films abroad to avail tax credits. But that wasn’t the reason why our production company shifted base to London in 2006,” says Manu Kumaran, the producer of the film. “I wanted to shoot abroad not for tax credits but to bring together the best of technicians from India and the West and make films that were technically at par, globally,” he adds.
The result of this effort was Aakashagopuram, which boasted top technical talent from west, the kind which hadn’t been seen in any Indian film before.
The film’s music was scored by BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning British composer John Altman (‘Golden Eye’, ‘Titanic’, ‘Bhaji On The Beach’ and ‘Shall We Dance’). The sound design was done by Nigel Holland of ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Resident Evil’ fame. Rerecording mixers for the film were Robert Farr (‘Star Wars: Episode II&III’ and ‘Gangs Of New York’) and Matthew Gough (‘Harry Potter Prisoner Of Azkaban’ and ‘Cold Mountain’). Among other talents associated with the film were John Harvey and Jonathan Trussler (Kingdom of Heaven) who handled the visual effects of the film.
“The success we achieved in bringing talent from the west to collaborate in the making of Aakashagopuram set us on a path of becoming an Indian company with global footprint,” says Kumaran. Mediente which later went public as Medient Studio Inc, a 360-degree media studio with Manu Kumaran as its CEO and chairman went on to make Storage 24, a British horror film starring BAFTA winner Noel Clarke and Yellow an indie American film written and directed by Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) that starred Ray Liotta, Gena Rowlands and Siena Miller among other films.
“I have been a fan on Ibsen for many years and the idea of adapting Master Builder had been in my mind for a very long time,” told KP Kumaran in an interview with The Times of India at the time of the release of the film. “While I have had my creative limitations, I think had Ibsen been alive he would have been happy the way film has shaped,” he said in the interview.
Truer words were never spoken