Actor Sudheesh, who began as a child in the late ‘80s, has played many memorable characters, but got typecast for years.

Sudheesh in a red and black striped t shirt smiles, in the background is a plant and behind it a white building
Flix Interview Saturday, October 23, 2021 - 15:04

The top of the stone steps was higher than he’d have liked. Sudheesh, aged 14, stood there, looking at the river below. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the famed director, was standing patiently, waiting for him to jump. In the days it took him to prepare for this day – his debut in acting – Sudheesh had learnt to swim. Adoor had asked him to, for Anantaram. But Sudheesh had not learnt to dive. From 9 in the morning to half-past three that afternoon, he stood in fear. And then he closed his eyes and jumped. He survived to tell the tale. Thirty four years later, Sudheesh would win his first Kerala state award for acting. 

“I never thought it was delayed, I hardly thought of awards at all. You don’t expect awards when you do your livelihood,” Sudheesh says on a day he is in Thiruvananthapuram. Originally from Kozhikode he happily shuttles between districts for his many films – around 170 of them in 34 years – for he takes on nearly every role that comes to him. It makes him happy that he could keep doing them and keep entertaining people.

In the earlier days of his career, when Sudheesh began with more prominent roles, people used to tell him he might get an award. If you watch a random scene from any of those movies, you’d catch him really young, barely sprouting a moustache, but very easily falling into his character. In KS Sethumadhavan’s Venal Kinavukal he is one of the four young heroes, in that age of curiosity and desire when things can easily go wrong. Sudheesh very comfortably gels into the role, the many mannerisms and awkwardness of an idle teenager flashing through his face.

“There were some really strong characters those days. I can’t tell you I feel completely satisfied with any of my performances. You’d always feel you could have improved some areas. But in Lohithadas’s Aadharam, I was really awed by the character. More than my performance, it’s the role that struck me as special. A young man living with his oppol (elder sister) and mother in a village, finding joy with what they have in life. Both the director of the film (George Kithu) and Lohithadas (scriptwriter) taught me every movement and dialogue delivery,” Sudheesh says.

There were more. In Cheppadividya (1993), Sudheesh played a young man in trouble with the law finding a home with an elderly woman and her adopted daughter (Monisha, in her last film). In Vendor Daniel, he played the rebellious son of a greedy moneylender. Even in the late ‘80s, when he had just begun with Anantaram (“I was very excited to be acting as Mammootty’s brother and skipping school for a whole month!”), Sudheesh’s roles were versatile. In Mudra, he had again teamed up with Mammootty, as one of the young inmates at a correctional prison – the paavam one, with a song to sing.

It was perhaps with Manichithrathazhu that his roles began to fall into a certain bracket. “I had just finished my degree – Bachelors in Science in Physics – and was preparing for MCA (Master in Computer Administration). I had good marks too. Who knows, I might have become a software engineer like so many in our land,” he laughs.  

But when Manichithrathazhu came, he happily accepted it, and then there was no going back. The film of course became known as one of the greatest in Malayalam and Sudheesh’s character of Chandu got a place among the memorable sidekicks of all times. He laughs when he talks about the “name that stuck”. That’s Kindi, what Mohanlal’s character (Dr Sunny) calls him, and what became a funny nickname later on. Sudheesh is happy that the “jumping into water” he picked up in Anantaram days came in handy for Manichithrathazhu when he makes a sudden splash into the pond and scares Dr Sunny.

For many years afterward, Sudheesh played a friend or brother of the hero, or else the nice neighbour. Long after his college years, he still played a college student. “I got to play an MBA student in Aniyathipravu with Kunchacko Boban (in 1997). Thirteen years later, both of us again played MBA students in Mummy & Me.”

But he didn’t worry that he kept playing a college student. He’d take on the role of a “peon, student or teacher” in a college. He loved cinema and found it hard to say no to people. “When a movie becomes popular, you end up getting many similar roles (like in Manichithrathazhu or Aniyathipravu). I can hardly say no to people. And if I decide that I am done playing the “friend” and should avoid them, then no one may call me anymore. Otherwise you should try (ask) for it and I am not a person who does that. So I did the best with the characters I got,” Sudheesh says.

It worried him when even these characters came with lesser length. He wondered if the roles would gradually fade out with a pop. That’s when Theevandi happened. Sudheesh, used to be seen as the harmless young man in the background, suddenly turned into an uncle with a bad influence. He was the chain smoker that influenced Tovino Thomas’s protagonist. “I don’t know what made them think of me. But director Fellini, producer Shaji Natesan and scriptwriter Vini said they wanted an actor, who is not used to such roles, to play it. They wanted an actor who wouldn’t be expected to be in that role. They asked me to grow a beard,” Sudheesh says, with something like relief.

He doesn’t spell it out, but it sounds like the character he had been waiting for. The image-breaker, as he calls it. After Theevandi, Sudheesh began getting offers for all sorts of characters, different from each other. “If I am a policeman in one, I am a politician in another, and the father of two in a third. That’s given some hope,” he says.

The two movies he won the best character (male) award for now are Ennivar and Bhoomiyile Manohara Swakaryam. The first hasn't been released and in the second he plays the father of the heroine.

He’s 48 but sounds happy to play characters older than his age, just as he didn’t mind doing much younger roles before. There are a slew of films waiting to be released, and others he is acting in. Padavettu, of the lot, is one he is excited about. “I play a barber who drinks a lot,” he says, not wanting to reveal more. Kanakam Kamini Kalaham that’s soon releasing, Lalitham Sundaram with a serious-cum-comic role for him, Sathyam Mathre Bodipiku where he will be seen in an equal role with Dhyan Sreenivasan, are a few in the list. Alphonse Puthren’s Gold, Minnal Murali and Aap Kaise Hain are others.

In all, it’s good times for Sudheesh. Though talking to him, you’d say it’s always been good times for Sudheesh, the kind of actor who’s happy with whatever’s in the bag. 

Also read: 'Almost became a Chartered Accountant': Vineeth speaks on acting journey and more

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