From Kerala, a mystery in the middle of a pandemic: Anupama Chopra
C U Soon, set entirely on computer and smartphone screens, proves that even in a pandemic, cinema can persist. Is Bollywood paying attention?
How keen are you to watch a screen on a screen? Director Mahesh Narayanan and producer and leading man Fahadh Faasil are betting that if the story is gripping enough, viewers will be willing to watch a feature film that’s set entirely on computer screens and smartphones. Their new film C U Soon is wholly made up of lives lived online.
The format isn’t new. C U Soon closely echoes the 2018 Hollywood film Searching, directed by Aneesh Chaganty, in which a father is trying to find his missing teenage daughter. In fact, the found-footage movie, the cinematic ancestor of the only-screens movie, has been a legitimate subgenre since the blockbuster success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999.
But Mahesh, along with his actors (Fahadh, Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran), uses the blueprint to tell a distinctly Malayali story that is absorbing and emotional.
C U Soon is the story of Jimmy (Roshan), a bank employee in the UAE who falls in love with Anumol (Darshana), a woman he meets on a dating site. Jimmy’s mother asks his cousin Kevin (Fahadh) to dig into Anu’s background because she’s worried about her son. Jimmy is so besotted that he’s decided to marry the woman before they’ve even met.
Then Anu disappears, leaving a distraught message that suggests she might commit suicide. C U Soon starts out slow but builds to a taut and surprisingly affecting last act. The film can get visually tiring but the narrative twists and performances keep you hooked.
Mahesh also taps into our latent fears about technology, how much of our lives are lived online and how hard it is to tell what is authentic and what is fake. C U Soon is, in equal parts, moving and unsettling.
What’s additionally exciting is that the film was shot entirely during lockdown. A 32-member crew made the movie over 22 days. Six flats were rented in Fahadh’s residential building. The team moved in and lived there for the duration of the shoot. In addition to directing, Mahesh wrote the screenplay and was in charge of the editing and the virtual cinematography.
Interestingly, C U Soon doesn’t acknowledge our current circumstances. In an interview with me, Mahesh said that even if it had been made Before Covid, it would have been created more or less in the same way. Fahadh added that throughout the shoot, he kept asking Mahesh if the director could create a better film if they did it post-pandemic. And each time Mahesh replied, no. “We thought we were doing the right thing at the right time,” Fahadh said. Which is why the format feels organic rather than gimmicky.
C U Soon was designed as a straight-to-streaming film and is currently showing on Amazon Prime. I don’t know the budget but I’m assuming, given the bare-bones production process, it was a profitable venture. Which proves that even in the restrictive conditions of a global pandemic, cinema can persist. It just takes innovation and artistry, both of which abound in the Malayalam film industry.
I hope Bollywood is paying attention.