The Reel Life of Mr and Mrs Sambavam
You can never really take the Kerala out of a Keralite, they say, no matter where they go. It is evident in the Malayalam web-series, Singappooram (Celebration in Singapore), in which the protagonist Sooraj asks for the delicacy pisang goreng at a shop because it reminds him of the deep-fried snack payamboli of Kerala. The entertaining web-series, made by Singapore-based technology professionals Sooraj Jayaraman and Ann Sooraj, details the life and nostalgia of Malayali expatriates in the country.
Drawing heavily from their own experiences, the couple plays the protagonists, named Sooraj and Chinchumol.
It didn’t quite start out that way. The first two episodes of Singappooram, of around two minutes each, were largely about the different stages of married life. Speaking to Little India, Jayaraman elaborates: “These two videos were very easy for a married couple to relate to and were widely accepted. After that we decided to take it forward, include more characters and develop a storyline that can be accepted by everyone without any age bar.”
The gears of story being pushed up a notch are visible from the third episode, Thepu Patti, which clocked a little over eight minutes, and received over 33,000 views. The episode introduces Chinchumol’s cousin Ikru Mon who comes with an enormous bag full of goodies from Kerala, and Tittu, the family man who lives alone. With the fourth episode, Thallu Jeevitham, there was no looking back.
Singappooram had arrived. There are running jokes that go through the entire series — Ikru Mon’s quest for chicken biryani, for example. In one of the numerous fourth wall-breaking moments in the web-series, Ikru Mon laments: “Does that mean I won’t get chicken biryani in this episode also?”
There are times when Jayaraman addresses the cameraman and asks him to film in slow motion — the web-series is peppered with clever movie referenced jokes, and colorful recurring characters like Sooraj’s ex Mary Kutty, and true to Singapore’s multi-cultural vibe, the Japanese Mokoto.
There have been nine episodes so far in the series, which has been uploaded on their YouTube channel, We are a Sambavam.
The Deepika Padukone Connection
The channel was started in April 2015 with a spoof of Deepika Padukone’s “My Choice” video. After the spoof, the couple did a dubsmash compilation with popular Malayalam comedy dialogues of the ’80s, which got them some fame as the Sambavam couple. The two then did a video titled Premam Hangover, which was about the after-effects of the popular Malayalam movie, Premam. The video went viral instantaneously.
“People started liking our chemistry and the simplistic comedy we had in our videos,” Jayaraman says.
Juggling Work and Video Production
Singappooram was conceived next. While most of the storylines are threads from the experiences in their or their friends’ lives, some of it is spontaneous. “When some thread strikes us, we discuss how we both feel about it. Within 30 minutes to 1 hour we decide whether to go ahead or not,” reveals Jayaraman, talking about how he writes the rough script during his lunch breaks, transit, etc. Ann helps to coordinate with the cast and crew. “I’ve developed a semi-automated spreadsheet application for this, which really helps in speeding up things and monitor the progress,” says Jayaraman.
Since Jayaraman works as a director of a software company and Ann is an electronics engineer, they usually do the pre-production work during lunch breaks or after office hours and keep shooting for the weekends. “Once we had to shoot one of our episodes from midnight to 6am for four consecutive days,” Jayaraman recalls. “It was very tiring but I am thankful that everybody kept the same spirit and made it happen. Doing comedy when you are worn out is difficult, but we try to cheer each other up and try to keep it as fun as possible.”
Being working professionals is not the only challenge they face. Neither of them is a trained filmmaker. The wide acceptance of their craft, however, prompted Jayaraman to learn video editing, color grading, and other technical aspects. “Internet was my only guru,” he says.
Art Mirrors Life
Jayaraman and Ann are as livewire off-screen as they are on-screen. In fact, an exaggerated version of their off-screen dynamic plays out in Singappooram. Before work took over, Jayaraman was an active blogger (I am a Sambavam, which later got changed to We are a Sambavam after their marriage), who was fascinated with how comedians could change the mood of people in an instant. Ann, on the other hand, is interested in singing, dancing and acting.
The rewards of the web-series are high. They get recognized when they are in India and abroad, a feat that they say humbles them. Last year, people came up to them at Singapore airport when they went to drop their parents and handed them compliments in front of their family. They are not resting on their laurels though, says Jayaraman. “The ultimate goal is to make it to the big screen one day.”