Like you have Prithviraj Sukumaran in Thiruvananthapuram, there is Shalin Sukumaran in Kochi, says a man who has made his acting debut in the just-released Valiya Perunnal. He is joking, he adds soon enough. He is one of the main characters in the movie that is based on a bunch of people living in Mattancherry, Kochi.
“There are 16 new actors in the film, including me,” says Shalin, who has been doing social work in Kochi for 12 years. Director Dimal Dennis has chosen mostly local people who had not even thought of acting in a movie before this.
“I don’t even watch movies all that much. After Arabikkatha in 2008, I hadn’t watched a single movie till Udta Punjab and Kammattippadam came out eight years later. But now I’ve started watching again,” says Shalin who plays Chekko in the film, the man with a gun.
Shalin as Chekko
Shane Nigam plays the lead in Valiya Perunnal but his character is closely associated with the many other characters of Mattanchery trying to make some quick money, played by the newcomers. They have all seen him come to Fort Kochi earlier, but couldn’t quite place him. “It was the time Annayum Rasulum had come (Shane played a small role as Andrea’s brother in the film). He used to talk to us, this really young chap. Perhaps he was studying us,” says Abdul Kalam, who plays the character Pacha in the film.
Thasreeq Abdul Salam, who co-scripted the film with Dimal, has been the mutual friend that brought some of the new actors on board. Abdul knew him. Thaha Hussein who played Sanno knew him too. They call him Thakku.
“I knew Thakku was writing a story and he had told me jokingly before that I might have to act. I said I’d do any other help but I can’t act. So when it was time for an audition I got four of my friends to go for it and attend the acting workshop too,” says Thaha.
Thaha as Sanno
But when Dimal saw a photo of Thaha’s on Thakku’s phone, he was sure that should be Sanno. “One day the two of them came to talk to me, telling me they were looking for a location. I would later come to know that Dimal chettan had come to see me in person. He was then very sure that I should play Sanno and asked Thakku to ask me.”
Thaha was still unsure but after his wife and friends suggested he should give it a shot, he went ahead.
There was an audition of theatre artistes earlier but Dimal had not found the face or form he had in his head. That’s when Dimal and Thakku began scouting for the local people of Kochi. Abdul Kalam has been a head load worker and Thaha is into plumbing work, occasionally working as a porter at the railways.
“The term audition itself was new to some of us. But now when people stop me at places and ask, aren’t you Pacha, I freeze. It’s something I have never thought of before – acting and all this attention,” says Abdul.
Abdul as Pacha
Thaha on the other hand had tried his best to stay away from acting. “Only because I didn’t think acting is something that everyone can do. It needs talent. I am someone who has not even gone on a stage in school! But the acting workshop changed all that for me. They’d remove the masks of our faces, make us free and give us to the director,” Thaha says.
All 16 newcomers attended an acting workshop for a month, conducted by Acts Lab. That’s been a big help, says Abdul. “Everyone was so supportive. I had difficulty facing the camera for the first time. Especially when it was shot in the place I grew up in. But Dimal chettan (director) and the cinematographer Suresh chettan (Suresh Rajan) would be full of encouraging words. They will say, ‘Just do it, you will get it’.”
For Shalin, it is his friend Jayakrishnan, production designer for Valiya Perunnal, that put him up for the audition. “I was living my character. It is so similar to my life, growing up in Kochi and everything,” he says.