For someone who started as an assistant director in Malayalam cinema, with the hope that it will eventually help him find his way through, Shine has come a long way.

Man with a microphoneScreen grab of press meet by Shine Tom Chacko
Flix Films Wednesday, June 22, 2022 - 14:52

A few days ago, as Shine Tom Chacko faced the media for the promotion of his latest movie, flanked by its cast and crew, he faced questions on the recent state film awards. Ever since the awards were announced, some social media conversations revolved around the actor’s brilliant performance in Kurup and how he was denied a mention

What followed was an open show of defiance from the actor who questioned the integrity of the award committee and wondered loudly and animatedly, how it is humanly possible for anyone to watch 150 films in five days. He also cast aspersions on the logic of roping in a non-Malayalee to head the jury panel. Many felt his behaviour to be odd but it wasn’t different from what a section of audience thought was true. “When someone doesn’t speak the way we expect, we tend to box them as rude and insane. Our problem might be that we want them to fall in line with our way of thinking,” observes Kurup director Srinath Rajendran.

When actors usually gush about sharing screen space with superstars, Shine made it clear that he was “lucky to act in a Tamil film” and not because “he was acting with Vijay.” During the two occasions when this writer interviewed Shine, his forthrightness, clarity of thought, and perceptiveness made sure the conversations were never dull. Take for instance his reasoning as to why he found it difficult to enact romance, despite loving the genre. "In our land, romance is always something private. Everything else is done in the open — killing, fighting. We aren’t conditioned as a society to openly express love, so that kind of holds us back even when we perform romance. I haven’t seen my parents doing romance. I have seen them fight. Blame it on wrong education. Having said that, I love doing romance. It’s important to feel love — that cannot happen if we don’t vibe well with our co-actor,” he said.

The actor was also precise when it comes to explaining the nuances of acting or its process. “I was keen on acting very early in life, although I had no idea about the technicalities. I used to take my dad with me behind the screen to see actors. It was only later that I came to know the “deceptions” behind it. I think an actor will always have his own understanding and observations about a character. Acting is when you perform the nuances that catch your eye subconsciously. And as for preparation, it’s more about learning to drive an auto to play an autorickshaw driver or dancing to play a dancer. I don’t think you can learn to act. If a director asks you to follow certain things, the studied aspects of it can foil your craft,” he told this writer in an earlier interview.

Professionally in the last few years, Shine Tom Chacko has grown as an actor. For someone who started as an assistant director in Malayalam cinema, with the hope that it will eventually help him find his way through, Shine has come a long way.

Redefining character roles

His first notable role (though brief) was in Rajeev Ravi’s Annayum Rasoolum in which he played Rasool’s dodgy pal, Abu. This came five films after an inconsequential debut in his mentor’s (Kamal) film Nammal. But Ithihasa was a revelation. In this fantasy comedy directed by Binu Sadanandan, Shine played Alvy Benedict, a small-time crook who wakes up in a woman’s body one fine day. Shine easily transitions into the inner complexities and struggles of a woman trapped inside a man’s body. It was a character that could have easily fallen into a caricature, but Shine brings a surprising sensitivity, nuance, and mellowness to the character when he does the gender switch.

Shine thinks supporting actors don’t always “get many great stories written for them.” But then he is one actor who can add layers to transitory roles, like the small-town thug Suku in Ann Mariya Kalippilaannu or Johny who is the leader of the rival gang headed by Dulquer Salman’s Krishna in Kammatipaadam. There were subtle shades of comedy as Kidilam Feroz in Godha, or as the local thief Pratheesh in Varnyathil Ashanka. “

His career suffered a setback in 2015 when he was arrested for allegedly possessing narcotic substances. But surprisingly Shine’s comeback turned out to be momentous.

Undoubtedly Ishq (2019), directed by Anuraj Manohar, which is a fascinating but twisted commentary on moral policing was a turning point in his career. Enacting grey shades clearly brought out the best in the actor. Shine plays Alwin, a lecherous, creepy stranger who gets sadistic joy out of harassing a hapless young couple who were caught kissing in a car. Shine towers over the rest of the cast as he absorbs all the distinct attributes of a creepy man into his body language — his perverse and greedy curiosity to know more about the kiss they exchanged, the lascivious look he darts at her or that arrogant, intimidating tonality of his voice. And he is as solid when the tables turn in the hero’s favour as he takes his revenge — the cockiness slowly dissolves as he fights to save his reputation and family. The actor simply owns the film. He once spoke about “lessening the drama in his performance.” And his evolution shows he has consciously tried to address it. 

In Khalid Rahman’s Unda headlining Mammootty, his Jojo Sampson, is one among the 11 cops from Kerala posted at a rundown polling booth in the Maoist-held Chhattisgarh forests. Personally, Jojo is also going through a marital discord owing to an adulterous affair. And in spite of being part of such an ensemble, Shine leaves his mark. There is a cracking scene when a chastened Jojo attempts to patch up with his estranged spouse over the phone, her hostility only succeeds in bringing back his toxicity. Shine had this theory about fitting into multi-starrers. “An actor is naturally and psychologically selfish — it’s always about I, me, and myself. We love looking at the mirror … constantly thinking of ways to get ourselves noticed everywhere. We are always performing. At least for us, conceit isn’t a bad word. Naturally, actors who feature along with us all come with these issues.  We do have that conflict about who gets more screen space. But this conflict will never be about belittling each other.”

In the same director’s third directorial, Love, which is a psychological dark thriller revolving around a couple who have fallen out of love in their marriage, Shine skillfully shoulders the complexities of Anoop, who cheats on his wife and wants to get out of the marriage.

But if one were to pick two characters that underlined his verve and versatility, then it has to be Bhaskara Pillai in Srinath Rajendran’s Kurup and Peter in Amal Neerad’s Bheeshma Parvam. One of the most spectacular passages of Kurup, in which Dulquer Salmaan plays the titular role of fugitive Sukumara Kurup involves Shine’s Pillai who is ordered to bump off a Kurup lookalike in cold blood. It’s almost frightening to watch an intoxicated Pillai being dragged away by an angry Kurup, when he tries to persuade a man to be his prey. “Will it hurt if you get a fresh corpse?” he asks Kurup without batting an eyelid. The stretch where Bhasi and his men pick their prey, forcefully shove alcohol down his throat and strangle him can only be watched with bated breath. More so as Shine brings a deliriousness to his body language and voice timbre that convinces you that the actor was living the part. “I like how he adds those little things. While lighting a flame torch, it takes the third match stick to light up and Shine has this ecstatic smile on his face although he is about to commit a heinous crime. That was amazing to watch,” recalls director Srinath Rajendran, who admits that Nawazudin Siddique was their reference for that character when they wrote it.

Srinath said on the first day of the shoot Shine Tom showed how to live as a character. “He will be comfortably sitting while makeup is applied. But once he slips into the costume, he will give a long hard look at the mirror, slowly loosen one button, and realign the mundu. The transformation happens then and there.”

A few months after Kurup, Shine traded his crumpled shirt and mundu for a pair of bell-bottoms and shiny shirts to play Peter in Bheeshma Parvam, which was once again set in the 80s. Peter’s wayward junkie is a more refined and less ominous variation of Pillai. There is no love lost between his wife and there are hints that he might be a bisexual. Perhaps that scene during the middle of a song (“Rathi Pushpam) when Peter stares longingly through his coloured Rayban at the male dancer will always be a striking symbol of gay desire on celluloid. Amal Neerad had said in an online (Manorama online) interview that Peter’s lascivious dance step was Shine’s choreography.

“Once he is in the costume, there is no stopping him. And even when his shoot is over, he will hang around so that he will give the correct reactions to the other actor’s close-up shots,” Neerad had said.

A similar incident of the actor’s generosity and collaborative spirit is echoed by Srinath. "There was a combination scene between Indrajith and Shine. Since we wanted to shoot during the cloud patches we would shoot in the morning. Then I realised that Shine Tom was dedicatedly watching the cloud patches. I haven’t seen another actor who works in tandem with the technicians to this effect. Maybe it can be that he previously worked as an assistant director. I would say, he is one of the easiest actors to work with.”

He has some interesting projects lined up, including Khalid Rahman’s Thallumala, Sidharth Bharathan’s Djinn and Aashiq Abu’s Neelavelicham. And within a short span of time, Shine has earned the appreciation and trust of the hard-to-please Malayalee audience. As for the person behind the actor who loves telling it as it is, maybe it is that he has only learned the fine art of “deception” on screen.



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