Sreenath Bhasi, Leona Lishoy and other Malayalam supporting actors breaking the mould

It is an appreciable trend that actors of the newer generation seem to embrace any sort of role with joy.
Sreenath Bhasi, Leona Lishoy and other Malayalam supporting actors breaking the mould
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It's unlikely to be the image you would want people to have of you. A gigantic crown on your head, a hideous laugh, a chase on a rainy terrace, an assault to weepy background music and then the final smirk on the face. Roshan Mathew, a favourite with critics, had begun his film career with a forgettable rapist character, one among a few, assaulting a homemaker while proudly announcing that she’d be the sixth. Puthiya Niyamam, a movie with stars like Mammootty and Nayanthara in the lead, was remembered for other reasons.

It was a year later that Roshan’s face became more familiar even as he played one of the many young people — most making their debut — in a college romance called Aanandam. Just as you thought he might be shifting to lead roles (with movies like Viswasapoorvam Mansoor where he played Mansoor), Roshan appeared on screen as a menacing face that terrified you (Thottappan), or else an endearing one that disappeared too soon (Moothon).

If you draw a graph to match his character ‘types’, it’d be a zigzag line going everywhere. It is an appreciable trend that actors of the newer crop seem to embrace with joy. Sreenath Bhasi, another much appreciated actor, also belongs to this lot. Leona Lishoy, seen once as a vulnerable celebrity (Mayaanadhi) and next as a loyal homemaker (Ishq), too fits in. Saniya Iyappan, debuting with an all too typical college-girl character in Queen, made a surprising detour playing the daughter character in one (Lucifer) and dancing to an ‘item’ song in another (Pathinettam Padi).

Versatile male characters

Both Roshan and Bhasi came together for the recent release Kappela. One is the ‘good guy’ appearing like the bad guy and the other is the opposite. You could easily imagine them both as either of the characters, such has been their versatility. There is no fixed mould that they need to fit into.


Bhasi played smaller roles till he got noticed for Da Thadiya, where he played the little-guy sidekick to the lead who played the overweight politician. Before movies, he was more active in the alternative music scene, singing for a band called Crimson Wood in Kochi. Coming to movies with his accent, he could have been typecast as the sidekick from Kochi, there for the laughs. But Bhasi became unpredictable with the roles he chose – the indifferent brother (North 24 KaathamJacobinte Swargaraajyam), a random traveller (Rani Padmini) or a suspicious drug-addict (Allu Ramendran).

With every passing movie, even as his character's screen time was short, Bhasi’s performances were noticed. Especially so after his role as a man with speech disability in Kumbalangi Nights and the junior doctor in Virus. Somehow, the amount of screen time he gets seems insignificant as Bhasi’s really impactful performances refuse to fade away from the minds of critics and viewers. The recent role he played as a brother with mental illness to Fahadh Faasil’s lead character in Trance is one such. He is barely there for 20 minutes, but Bhasi's face filling with guilt, anger and helplessness all at the same time, remained unforgettable as the movie plunged into different directions with the inimitable Fahadh.

Roshan’s been there for lesser years, it is not clear how he can deal with the diversity that cinema can offer him. How will he handle ‘funny’ for instance? Aanandam had some bit of humour for him, but it was not one that got talked about. Koode, for those who noticed his small but powerful act, would have sealed it for him. Roshan played a confused lover to Nazriya’s ‘Jenny’. In Koode and Aanandam, he played a guy in the college music band. But unlike Bhasi, Roshan’s life before the movies had been in theatre, something he fondly continued and even turned  director for.

He is understood to be that geeky actor who’d never get enough of studying his character, reading on and on, working on and on. At one point, director Anurag Kashyap, who cast him in a Hindi Netflix film called Choked, had to tell him to stop preparing so much and be spontaneous. Either way, the result was not bad, he became the irritatingly useless husband to Saiyami’s lead character in the film.

Saiyami and Roshan in the sets of Choked

Like their willingness to try every other kind of character, these male actors also seem comfortable doing films where the women characters dominate.

Lesser choices for women

Unlike Bhasi or Roshan, it is not clear if women actors always have the room to make such smart choices. Leona Lishoy, who played female lead in the Mammootty starrer Jawan of Vellimala when she was only 21, became a mother character in Annmariya Kalippilanu, a friend in Mayaanadhi, a victim with a story in Queen, the villain's unsuspecting wife in Ishq. While the last of these performances was noticeable, a smaller role on the screen written for women needn’t always be as impactful as Bhasi’s brother role in Trance.

How many of such women characters does one remember? It is difficult enough to retain a lasting impression of female leads when they mostly play the complimenting or romantic relief characters to the male lead. But making an impact with an even shorter presence is tough when scripts engaging such characters are not produced.

Leona Lishoy in Ishq

Saniya’s daughter character in Lucifer, even though a small one, is one such. She is disturbed and addicted to drugs, locks herself up in the room, has an abusive relationship with the stepfather and a distant one with the mother. You’d want to know more about her, how she grew up fatherless and what her conversations with the mother had been that drew them so far apart.

From an earlier generation, Lena has been one actor who continued to spring on screen as the sincere friend or the smart-mouthed cop. However, it cannot be said if it is a choice she makes for the love of acting or one she’s stuck with because lead characters just don’t come to women past a certain age.

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