It was the year 2016 and I was watching Action Hero Biju. I noticed this man walking into sub-Inspectorâ€™s room to report that his wife was missing. It took me a while to digest that it was Suraj Venjaramoodu. His body language and voice were feeble. There were tears in his eyes. A few minutes later, when he realises that the girl whom he'd loved all his life was not his biological daughter, he walks away dejected. Suraj was hardly there for five minutes in the movie but no other story or character stayed with us more when the movie ended.
We knew that Suraj had won the National Award for Best Actor in 2013 for Perariyathavar. But most of us hadnâ€™t got a chance to watch the movie due to its limited release. It was in Action Hero Biju where most of us saw him in an entirely different role than what he'd in the past. And we were stunned.
Coming from a mimicry background, people started taking notice of Suraj after he assisted Mammootty with the Thiruvananthapuram accent in Rajamanikyam. In 2007, he got his first major supporting role in Mayavi. From then on, he slowly became a recurring face in Malayalam cinema.
Surajâ€™s brand of comedy was slightly loud and was often laced with the Thiruvananthapuram accent. It still found instant success. In some of his earlier movies like Chattambinadu and Gulumaal, he did evoke genuine laughs. But soon, most filmmakers made it a habit of having a sub-track just for him. In movies that followed like Christian Brothers and Mr Marumakan, he started getting on our nerves. His antics began to look repetitive and stale.
This was a phase where most felt Suraj would run out of options and fizzle out. It had happened to the likes of Baburaj. They would see short peak periods when they do several comedy movies in quick succession but then they would fade away. But Suraj didnâ€™t. Perariyathavar happened. Action Hero Biju followed. The actor in Suraj underwent a complete evolution.
Suraj Venjaramoodu 2.0 had immense range. In Karinkunnam 6â€™s, he portrayed a ruthless police officer with grey shades to perfection. In Oru Muthassi Gadha, he struck a chord with us when he went near his mother with tears and asked what more could he do as a son. The fact that the movie looked shoddy when he was not around in the second half proved how vital his presence was. In Aby, once again he left a mark as the selfish neighbour of Vineeth Sreenivasan.
In Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, Suraj matched the gifted Fahadh Faasil step by step in his wonderfully restrained portrayal of a young woman's husband. In a scene where Sreeja (Nimisha Sajayan) says nothing else in the world mattered to her than their love, he goes near her and holds her hands. They have a wide age gap between them, yet Suraj made the chemistry work.
Just 3 weeks later, Varnyathil Ashanka released this Friday. If in Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, he played a naive guy, here his character is crooked and smart. He nails it the same way nevertheless. His hilarious drunk act just before the interval is bound to leave you in splits. He plays the lead as a retired constable in his next movie, Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri and he already looks a different person in the stills.
Salim Kumar, another top comedy actor, also won the National Award for Best actor in 2010. After that, he became more vocal on issues concerning the film fraternity and otherwise. He also suffered from health issues. Somewhere down the lane, Malayalam cinema lost that fine actor we saw in Adaminte Makan Abu. Suraj Venjaramoodu, on the other hand, made use of the National Award to his strength. He stayed grounded and has been focused on his work than anything else.
Suraj still does a loud comedy role like Pulimurugan once in a while. It might be because he doesnâ€™t want to be typecast in limited roles. What is astonishing is how selective he has been recently. From 2010 to 2012, he acted in a whopping 90 movies. But since 2015, he has appeared only in 32 movies.
The Malayalam industry is known for its huge pool of extremely talented actors. These actors could play supporting roles or even the lead, carrying a movie entirely on their own. They could do comedy effortlessly or portray the bad guys without inhibitions .They could be the heroâ€™s confidant, father, neighbour, uncle or just about any character in the movie. Over the years, unfortunately, we've had to witness most of them leave the arena once and for all.
After a long while, if we can say with confidence that we have someone who can step in and fill some of that void left by the yesteryear legends, it has to be Suraj Venjaramoodu.