Kuruthi takes us into the communal issue with a fearless ferocity. How and why did you decide to be a part of this project?
It was too exciting project not to say yes to right away. I loved the story, characters and how everything happens organically in the script. Prithvi Raj who also produces the film gave me a narration. He also told me about the actors he intended to cast. Obviously I wanted to work with Prithvi, but the other actors also were people whose work I admired and had never had the opportunity to work with before. The only thing that I was uncertain about was whether I’d be able to do justice to my character Ibrahim. This was one of the most complex characters I have played. Once I was sure of that, I immediately said yes.
The issues raised here are political and cultural? How far do you identify with your character conflicted loyalties?
It is part of an actor’s job to understand the thought process of his character, his state of mind etc. I tried my best to empathize with my character Ibrahim. And that included the political and cultural context of the character. Ibrahim’s journey is very personal. His religious faith is a very personal pursuit for him. His politics is not as rigid as that of the other characters in Kuruthi. He is very confused about a lot of issues. He is trying to figure out all the complexities of existence only so that he could meet his daughter and wife in heaven. It wasn’t very difficult for me to access Ibrahim’s emotions. Like most of us, I am aware of what is happening around us. One can’t escape being politically aware.My own understanding of politics helped me understand Ibrahim , though his journey is way too personal to be generalized.
In Kerala, the Muslims and Christians are in fact a substantial population. Do you think the sense of isolation that your character feels is to an extent unjustified ?
I don’t think Ibrahim’s sense of isolation is a communal one alone. It’s also because of his personal losses. He lost his loved ones. He has been relying heavily on his faith since then. That’s relatable for me.His sense of loneliness and his unwillingness to go on living are due to his losses. I don’t think he feels as communally cheated as some other characters in the film.I agree with you.In Kerala, the Christian and Muslim communities are not as much of a minority as they are in some other areas. But that doesn’t take away from the way they feel .
How did you get into Ibru's character without judging him or by immersing completely into his feeling of persecution?
It starts from a place of empathy. I tried to understand him inside-out, his helplessness, his confusions. Whatever I understood of him finally reflected in the way I portrayed him.
This has been a busy year for you shooting for Annum Panum and Kuruthi and I think one other project.How difficult has it been to shoot in these pandemic conditions?
Anum Pennum was shot before Covid in 2019. Since the pandemic I’ve shot for Kuruthi, C U Soon and the Hindi film Darlings. And a couple of other Malayalam films.It has definitely been stressful to shoot during Covid. Suddenly you have to be mindful of so many things. In Kuruthi we had the advantage of a script that demanded physical isolation. We could be in our own bubble , of course taking all precautions even while shooting away from the crowds.So it was not as inconvenient as the other projects I shot during the pandemic. Also, Prithvi Raj Productions took care of everything..None of the extraneous problems were allowed to seep into our shooting.
What was the experience of working with Prithviraj?
It was lovely working with Prithvi Raj.I had a taste of the experience when I did Koode with him in 2018. I wanted to go back and work with him.It’s been a very rewarding experience for me . There’s a lot to watch in his approach to work, he has a lot of respect for his co-actors.He is very punctual . Although such a big star with a 100 films behind him ,he still brings the energy to the set that I had in my first film.The joy he brings in the process of shooting is so palpable and infectious. He energizes his co-stars. I’ve never seen him tired. It’s almost as though he feeds on his work. He creates a wonderful work environment. That’s one reason why we wrapped up Kurithi so quickly.
Where do you see yourself in Malayalam's star hierarchy ranging from Mohanlal to Dulquer?
I don’t think I feature anywhere in that hierarchy. Mohanlal , Mammootty et all are in another league altogether. Even some of the younger stars are way ahead of me. I don’t compare myself with them. I am busy with my own journey creating my own little path.
What are your forthcoming projects? Tell me about Darlings. I am Choked up with curiosity?
I am done shooting Darlings. It’s an exciting project for me. It’s different from everything I’ve done so far including Choked my last Hindi project. Just the way it was planned and shot was so unique.These were my biggest takeaway from Darlings. It’s a completely different experience from the way I shoot films here in Kerala. Then of course Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma are extremely talented actors. Just watching them at work was a lot of fun.
Finally as an emerging talent how do you see the future of Indian cinema? Is there hope of survival independent of the OTT?
Movies theatres and theatre will survive. Theatre has always been struggling. But not dead. Movies will continue to play in our movie theaters. It’s a valuable part of our culture. Too valuable to die out.It’s just a matter of time before we can go back to the theatres. Until then we have the OTT platform. It has dissolved so many boundaries. With good subtitles now,audiences watch film in all languages. Yeah, I am glad we the OTT platform. But I am waiting for the movie theatres to re-open.
Image source: Instagram/roshan.matthew