A calm face tucked between unruly curls and a beard. It opens into a smile as a man swims ashore on a dark night. The swimmer asks the man with the calm face something. In reply, he lifts his fingers and moves them around. The swimmer understands him. No one else does, Calm Face says in sign language, ‘only you do’.
Calm Face’s name is Amir. A beautiful character in Geetu Mohandas’s new film, Moothon. Played by Roshan Mathew, the actor who was last seen as a dreadful antagonist in Vinayakan’s Thottappan.
A week after the release, Amir and Moothon both got written about much, and celebrated by sexual minorities in Kerala.
Roshan appears for about 20 minutes in the movie and leaves a bewitching impression. For those 20 minutes, he prepared much, and he loves preparing. “Anytime someone offers me a character where there is a lot of work to be done, I am super excited. Amir came with a few restrictions -- the sort of things which can be extremely liberating for you when you perform, if you prepare for it. In this case, it was speech impairment. He can’t speak, he doesn’t have a voice,” Roshan says for an interview he finds time to do on a Friday evening.
He learnt sign language a little more than just-enough to play Amir ‘so it doesn’t look like I mugged it up only for the role’. Babu, a sign language coach from Thiruvananthapuram helped, so did a couple of his students, Shamnad and Santhosh, both deaf persons with speech disability and proudly so. There was also an acting workshop by Atul Mongia for Nivin, Geetu and him.
Geetu, Nivin and Roshan
‘I was a nobody, Geetu trusted me’
In between every few lines in the interview, Roshan tries to chuck a line that says how much of a ‘small’ or relatively new actor he is. Fact - Roshan has been acting in films for more than three years, if you start counting from Adi Kapyare Kootamani, doing an uncredited role as the cheater Premraj. He got noticed for playing the confused musician in a college band in Aanandam. But it is his short and really thorough act in Anjali Menon's Koode that brought him bigger recognition.
And then came Amir.
Amir is a dream character for him, Moothon a dream project. He is surprised that I should ask him what made him say yes to Moothon. He doesn’t see a reason why anyone would not. A year ago when the announcement poster of Moothon popped up, Roshan had shared it and written something on the lines of ‘This is one Malayalam movie to watch out for, look at that dream team’. He doesn’t possibly realise that for many who watched it, he too has now earned a place in the dream team.
He speaks whole essays – yes speaks them, and when it’s transcribed, it comes to several hundred words – about Geetu. “After I met Geetu, just the energy and vibe I got from her was extremely positive. She treated me with a lot of respect also. I was a nobody (told you he’d chuck that one in). A name Geetu didn't know. It was only two weeks before we met that Geetu had heard of me and she still gave me the respect of asking me if I would be interested in being part of the project. I was blown away.”
Geetu does more than respect her actors, she becomes their friend, Roshan says. It is sometimes ‘super intimidating’ for a newcomer to walk into a sets with big stars. “Just the amount of confidence that Geetu had in me is what gave me confidence. She is very talented at getting the most genuine performance from an actor. I have never worked with a director who's trusted me this much.”
Working with Anurag Kashyap, the mad genius
Of course it is a dream team, so it’s not just Geetu. Roshan has plenty to say about Rajeev sir – Rajeev Ravi – the man who stands behind the camera and gets every last portion of every last shot right. “It was with the kind of people that I would have dreamed of working with much later in my career. Be it Geetu or Nivin or Rajeev sir (Rajeev Ravi) or Anurag Kashyap,” Roshan says. A pause here to tuck in the explainer for why Roshan mentions Anurag here. Someone’s once described him a maverick director of Hindi films. He’s a lovely counterpart to Geetu, writing the Hindi version of Moothon. That's not all, Roshan’s just acted in Anurag’s new film, Choked, ready and being sent off to film festivals, waiting for a Netflix release in January.
“It is about a couple suffocating in a really bad marriage. Saiyami Kher, who acted in the Hindi film Mirzya, is playing my wife. Working with AK – I call him AK – has been an amazing experience. He is such a mad genius. He is so unconventional that there was a lot of inertia from my part. I had this idea a film is not to be made any other way (remember, this guy loves to prepare). The first 2-3 days, we really struggled. Then he asked me to forget the process I had in my head - not prepare, not read the script, just follow what he wanted me to do and then improvise. That was so much fun,” Roshan says.
Roshan with Anurag Kashyap and Saiyami Kher
It is Geetu that sprang the surprise on him one day. Anurag had not watched him act but he saw the ‘edits’ and loved Roshan’s Amir. “Where were you, why did I not know you before, Anurag called one day and asked. I said I was in Mumbai for a while but I guess our circles never crossed because you know, you are you, you are Anurag Kashyap. Ok I didn’t say that last part aloud, I said it in my head,” he says.
Roshan couldn’t believe it when AK spoke about working together, till Anurag got the script sent to him immediately after the call, and then a few months later, called again to ask him to make time for June-July, 2019. “I didn’t want to tell anyone. I am a bit superstitious with these things. I don’t speak about the good things until they happen because I have had a lot of experiences with things that had almost happened and then they didn’t. But then the shooting began in June and in 35 days it is done,” Roshan says.
If I don’t do theatre, I think I will suffocate and die
It is a surprise he gets this all out, structured and neatly packed, like reading out a sheet of prepared answers. But then this man is a writer, he has just finished seven or eight shows of the first play he directed – A Very Normal Family.
Theatre is what he began with, and passionately goes back to every now and then, between movies. “I feel like if I don’t do some theatre every once in a while, I suffocate and then I die. We (there’s a team of friends with him) have now begun brainstorming for the next play. Circled in on a script. Thinking about what to do with it. That’s happening on the side. One also needs to make money and try and make a career in film for the sake of security and for the love we have for cinema.”
He doesn’t have to prioritise, it is clear for him. You do what you have committed to do. If it is theatre you’ve committed to and given the dates for a show, then ‘whatever else comes your way, you say no. Too bad if it was a big film’.
It is easy to believe that. About how committed he could be. Moothon showed that. Roshan knows it too -- how satisfactory it had been to him, being Amir. It is the most he has been satisfied with, and it is not because the movie is big or making lots of money, it is the joy of working with a brilliant team. “I am equally happy that it is an important film. If you consider the history of Malayalam cinema, art and culture in Kerala and with what’s happening in our country right now, it is a very important film.”
He, of course, has to end the interview with his dream boat.