Sudev speaks to TNM about how he's always told he's more suited for Bollywood, getting typecast in Malayalam films, and his role in 'Sleeplessly Yours'.

Mohanlal was a big influence on me Sleeplessly Yours actor Sudev Nair
Flix Interview Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - 12:07

In Sleeplessly Yours, this year’s IFFK-screened feature film, he plays Jessy, a gentle, besotted lover who proposes a madcap sleep experiment to his hyperventilating girlfriend and gets caught up in the aftermath. For actor Sudev Nair, who won the State Award in his very own first film My Life Partner, where he plays a gay lover, this has been one of his best outings. Everything about the man (think grey eyes, 6 packs, heavily accented Malayalam) suggests he is better suited in the Bollywood terrain, yet he seems to have made a space for himself in Malayalam cinema. Never mind that the character is often tailor-made with that “Bollywoodised” image—the brother of the North Indian heroine in Anarkali, the Jewish boy, Abraham Ezra in Ezra or the recent cameo as Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma in Kayamkulam Kochunni.

It goes without saying that he is an actor to watch out for and in the hands of the right director, he can easily step out of the niche that he has been forced into. We caught up with the actor post a screening of Sleeplessly Yours.

How did you get interested in cinema?

I wanted to be an actor from when I was as young as four. Every Saturday, my father would bring video cassettes of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and Batman. My aunt once got me a few cassettes of Amitabh Bachchan films and I remember watching Amar Akbar Antony 27 times. When I got bored, I would relive the film in my mind.

When did Malayalam cinema seep in?

The first Malayalam film I saw was Nirakoottu and it affected me a lot. Then I watched a lot of Mohanlal films. My parents had a video cassette of Malayalam songs and I would watch it repeatedly. Again, mostly Mohanlal films. He has been a big influence during my growing up years.

When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?

The day I discovered cinemaEven at the age of four, when I was asked about what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always ‘actor.’ Even after growing up, it was a happy co-incidence that I still wanted to be an actor.

You have learnt break dance, parkour, Kathakali, Boxing, Karate, Judo, Kalari Payattu. Was it a sort of preparatory class towards your journey as an actor?

For me, sports were a way of life. It was always independent of my acting career. It’s something I have always been inclined towards. I would still be doing all this even if I weren’t an actor. It helps me as an actor immensely.

Can you explain how?

It helps you be aware of your body. It’s very easy to pick up any character’s mannerisms. Helps in manoeuvring your body language more easily. If you must pick up a specific skill as a martial artist for a character, I would probably pick it up faster than an untrained artiste. Also, if I am not trained in Kung Fu for a film, I would pick it up convincingly in about 2 months training.

Is it easier being a trained actor?

I believe acting has to be learnt. I don’t believe that anyone is a born actor. Okay, so it’s a bit complicated to explain—it can’t be taught, but learnt and practised.

You dont think there is something called instinctive acting?

No, you might possess certain faculties that make it easier for you to access those skills. If you want to be a piano player and you have long slender fingers, it becomes easier for you. Some are more intuitive, and it helps the process along with intelligence. But still, you have to learn and practise your skill sets. Nobody can teach you acting. Either you can learn it by observing other good actors or practising on your own… the ability to constantly correct your flaws, being critical as you watch yourself on screen. Most of the greatest actors get better with each film, they continuously update their process with the changing grammar of cinema. Consistency is the key.

What was the process at FTII?

They had all the resources needed to groom the actor in me. I had good teachers, great workshops which helped break inhibitions, and a lot of experience acting in student films. You keep fine-tuning your skills.

You have the 'Bollywood' look. Yet you havent done anything beyond Gulaab Gang, your debut film. Was it because you never tried enough?  

I did try. As soon as I came out of the film institute, I came to Kerala to try my luck in Malayalam cinema. I spent about 3 months in Kerala, meeting a lot of directors and film people. But everyone said what you just said— “Your looks are more suited for Bollywood. We don’t have the space to use it anywhere. So, you better try your luck there.” So I shifted base to Mumbai. I started getting work in ads and Gulaab Gang happened in the first month itself. But then, that was just beginner’s luck. After that no offers came my way. So I kept shuttling there and here. In 2014, I got my first Malayalam film—My Life Partner.

Were you apprehensive about playing a gay character?

Not really. That was my first film and I came without any baggage of image. But now, probably, I would think again if such a character were offered to me. Having said that, I am all for experimenting with genres and roles.

Does it worry you that you have been pigeonholed as this quintessential North Indian face in Malayalam cinema?

I agree about the typecasting, but that has also helped in a way as people feel, if I am in it, it had to be a special role.

What kind of preparation went into playing this character who forsakes sleep for four days in Sleeplessly Yours, the feature film which was recently screened at IFFK?

Nothing much, as they had done all the research and homework. I just needed to probably multiply a day’s lack of sleep into two more. I am open to acting in short films and I primarily look for the content.

Mikhail is your next release

Yes. There is also a big Bollywood project which I am not allowed to talk about.

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