Vishu is a big day for Nivin Pauly, Malayalam cinema's young superstar. The actor's Sakhavu is due for release on Saturday.
Nivin's popularity is not limited to Kerala - the blockbuster Premam was nothing short of a phenomenon and won the actor fans across states, language no barrier. Since then, he has signed quite a few films and has turned producer, too.
The News Minute caught up with a busy Nivin, who is currently in Mumbai working on a project, to find out more about Sakhavu, his understanding of cinema and the audience, and the secret of his beard!
Why did you choose a film like Sakhavu which deals with communism?
It's not that I was particular about doing a film on communism. It was Sidharth who came to me with such a script. I was personally interested in playing the role of a communist in a film, it's something I've always wanted to do. The script looks at communism from all angles… Not just revolution... like everyone else, a communist is also a human being. He can be a father, a husband, a worker, someone who works for ordinary people… This film captures all those emotions. It's not just about one aspect of it. This was something that attracted me to the script a lot.
You've played the role of a communist in films like Malarvadi Arts Club and Om Shanti Oshana...
I didn't play a full-time communist worker in those films. It was part of the character. In this one, there's an in-depth story that Sidharth has written, he has created a very good script.
So does it also have something about violence and goondaism? And do you feel a personal affinity towards communism as an ideology?
No. Communists are not goondas (laughs). I'm not affiliated to any party but when I was working on this film, I heard so many stories about communists. Sidharth is a communist, he was the SFI chairman during his college days. There was no politics in my college. It was not allowed in FISAT. I have felt bad about missing out on it at times.
This is something very simple but this is their (the communists') greatest strength - to feel the emotions of the common people.
Recently you'd shared a status asking justice for Mishel, the young girl who died in Kochi. Previously, actors would stay away from commenting on such news. What prompted you to do so?
When I read that news, I felt the family's pain. It wasn't anything planned. I did it instantly. It affected me emotionally, thinking about the state of the family. I felt compelled to put up something about it.
Dulquer's next film Comrade in America is about communism as well. And both your last films, Jacobinte Swargarajyam and Jomonte Suivesheshangal also share some similarities. What do you think about the competition in Mollywood?
I don't see it as competition. It's not a 100m race (laughs). Everyone does films based on stories they like, directors they like… At one point, there were so many love stories which were being made. So it's not like I decide to do a love story only because of that. Communism is also like that - we don't do it because another is doing it. Everyone works with people they trust.
You've previously done Neram in Tamil and you're doing another film as well. There have been many Malayalam heroines who've been successful in Tamil but not heroes. Do you see yourself changing this?
I've done Richie in Tamil but haven't signed on other projects. I don't really have any future plans for the Tamil industry.
But you have a lot of fans in Tamil Nadu after Premam!
Yes I know. But I can't deviate and go like that. Malayalam films are my fan base. When I get an interesting script, I might do a film outside the industry but to entirely move there… I don't have such plans. I'll do films outside the industry only if they are exciting enough.
Premam was such a huge blockbuster. Do you worry that every film you make will be compared to it?
When a film is successful, it's natural for people to compare the next one you do with it. People will say it wasn't as good as the earlier one. This is true of all fields. If you write a report and everyone likes it, the next one you write might not get the same reception.
Premam became an unexpected benchmark. We didn't imagine that it would become such a huge success. We just thought it's a feel-good film that people can watch and enjoy. Its success was unexpected, and after that, to say ‘oh this film didn't run for as many days’ or ‘didn't do as well’ doesn't make sense. We can't predict a film's success beforehand or imagine it would run in Tamil Nadu like Premam did. It's a connection the film makes with the audience and we can get a sense of that only during previews. The film's fate depends on that connection.
Do you believe in reading film reviews? Many stars say they never read what people write about their films.
I read reviews. I like to read reviews that are genuine. The ones that have some agenda, you can make out from the headline itself. Genuine reviews will point out what were the pluses and the negatives correctly. We can then know what were the problem areas. It's a study for us. Before a film releases, I show my friends the film - I tell them to watch the films with a critical eye. I don't want them to say, "Oh it was very nice! Adipoli!" It's only if you watch it with a critical mindset that you'll know what works and what doesn't.
When we were making Premam, Alphonse used to do this. Every time he would edit a portion of the film, he used to ask us to watch it. This was a great thing he did. He's a brilliant director, a brilliant editor. Even a person like him used to make us watch the film's edited portions for our feedback. He'd give us a paper and pen and ask us to write what was good and what was bad. He'd show many of us the film like this, collect the papers, staple it and make us watch again after a week.
People watch films differently and their experience of it will be different. It's only when we read reviews that we get to know all this. It may not help this movie, but it will help with the next one I do.
There's an old album song of yours that Alphonse edited. How do you feel about it when you watch it today?
This was during our college days. There was a competition for albums and short films at that time. Whatever resources we had at that time, we used them and put it together. There was a band called Olive in our college and it was their song we used. When we watch it today, it does look funny (laughs).
Why did you do a film like Mili which is heroine-centric? It's not a choice most male actors would make.
One of the reasons I decided to be a part of Mili was because I was close to Rajeshettan. One of my most favourite movies in Malayalam is a movie called Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare. It is the story of a mother and daughter, and Mohanlal makes a guest appearance for 10 minutes. It is one of the best movies in his career. If he had thought that this was a woman centric movie and had said no, he would have missed one of the best movies in his career. When I heard Mili’s story, I knew I had a good role to play. I get movies that are hero centric, but I knew I had to do something different.
Do you believe filmmakers should make responsible cinema? Especially when it comes to how women are portrayed?
So many movies have been made with such good messages, but have those created a big impact? How can we blame cinema alone for the negativity, when people don’t emulate the positivity that movies show? A director should have the freedom to tell his story. But I believe there needs to be a limit and it is when they cross this limit that they are criticised. When it comes to the portrayal of women, I have watched certain movies and wondered what was the necessity to demean them. It is then that those movies anger us.
We all know that smoking and drinking is injurious to health. But can we expect a movie about a person who does both these, say in a biopic, to not show it? Certain things are necessary to make the character look genuine. But it should preferably be presented in a way that it doesn't hurt anyone.
In Sakhavu, you are beardless for one role and bearded for another...
I play two characters. There are two kinds of politicians. The first kind is a person who uses the party to stay away from other responsibilities, and then there is a true communist. The film is about the stories of these two people. Communism or party work is not something simple, there are comrades who've literally plucked their hearts out for it...there's a small message in the film about an ideal politician and how he should be to connect with the audience.
Nivin Pauly also told us that he loved the recent Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries but the question the nation wants to know - how does he grow his beard - will have to remain a secret. The young superstar laughed but refused to give us a straight answer!