'Malayalam cinema is in a beautiful phase': The Indrajith Sukumaran interview

The actor speaks to TNM on working with his brother Prithviraj in 'Lucifer' and his journey so far.
'Malayalam cinema is in a beautiful phase': The Indrajith Sukumaran interview
'Malayalam cinema is in a beautiful phase': The Indrajith Sukumaran interview
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Widely acknowledged as one of the finest actors in Malayalam cinema today, Indrajith Sukumaran is among the few actors who have no detractors on social media. Everyone loves the actor, and he has seldom let them down.

Though in the last 3 years we haven’t seen enough of him, in 2019, he promises to make up for it. There is his brother Prithviraj Sukumaran’s debut directorial Lucifer in which he has an extended cameo, Aashiq Abu’s Virus, Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham and Kiron Prabhakaran's Thakkol. He is also part of a major web series (about which he isn’t allowed to reveal much).  

TNM caught up with the actor for a chat on his upcoming films. 

You have worked with a lot of new directors. Where does Prithviraj fit in?

It’s always comfortable to work with a director who has clarity about what he wants. They will be specific about shots, dialogue delivery, the look and we simply need to follow them to the T. Raju has that quality. Not just me, probably all the actors who worked in the film got the same vibe, I think. If what the director wants is not communicated properly, you will have to bring in your own interpretation—it’s another way of doing it but it can also lead to confusion.

So, you weren’t surprised when he announced his decision to turn director?

Not at all. Sooner or later he had to do it. I have seen his passion for cinema, his hunger to learn about the different departments of cinema. More than acting, his passion was always filmmaking. I have seen the way he devours films. I think this will be a great launchpad for him.

Then there is Murali Gopy, who gave you two of your best characters. I have heard his character briefing is quite fascinating. Revealing them in bits…

Yes, even when I was doing Vattu Jayan (Left Right Left), Murali won’t give the entire story at a stretch. He would provide me tiny briefs, during casual conversations. “Jayan has a bad past and disturbed childhood” or another time he would talk about his eyes. There is a constant interaction, a sort of spoon feeding and by the time the shoot begins, the character is already within me. Maybe, that’s why my best came from him.

Has your process as an actor changed over the years?

Yes, with experience you change, learn, unlearn, relearn. I am not that guy I was 15 years ago. Everyone evolves and so did I. Probably I get what works for me better now. I am very self-critical about my performances. But then in spite of everything, there is a moment between action and cut, even after all that preparation, when a magic occurs—its spiritual. It might even be better than what you prepared. That’s the beauty of acting.

Now the connotation of acting itself has changed. Some talk about reacting. Some talk about preparing. There are workshops, film schools.

There are so many schools of filmmaking now and there is no one right way of doing it. It’s about one’s perspective and how you approach it. Even within acting workshops there are various sub-sections, to help you with the internal and external journey. You can’t be judgmental about anybody’s approach. It’s all part of cinema, being an actor. I am moldable. Probably in Lucifer I did something slightly different.

Last year you only had one film…

I just waited for something different, took the time to evaluate myself and start afresh. This year sounds good—probably that wait helped. I am not saying taking a break will get you better films. It worked for me. As an actor I am confident, that comes with experience and my body of work. When they accept you as an actor it’s difficult to erase you from people’s minds. So I wasn’t that scared.

Lijo Jose Pellisery often talks about how both you and Prithviraj have such photographic memories…

I was working in a Tamil web series set in the 60-70s and I had to speak in senthamizh (literary Tamil) which is a bit tough. I did it without prompting, which surprised them. But then this is how I perform in Malayalam as well since prompting is way too distracting. Probably this ability to memorise is a gift.

This is your 79th release. How would you describe your journey?

I am still on a learning curve, I have evolved as an actor and owe that to my directors. But it’s still not over. So, I will probably summarise after 30 years.

Has cinema changed your personality?

It has helped me rediscover myself as a person, bring out the unknown in me. What we are doing one day is not what we do a month later. It’s a great way to explore oneself.

Virus is your next release. How is it working with Aashiq Abu?

Super easy. There is a special comfort level. It’s like working as a football team—goal keeper does his job, the forward does his job, the mid-fielder does his job and they all come together and put it all on the ground. So, we chat, discuss, improvise together, we perform, and they capture. The script is there but sometimes magic happens in the last minute. 

What are the kind of scripts you are tired of listening to?

I get mostly thriller genres. Since we have had a good run in Malayalam cinema in the last few years, I didn’t want to take up anything unless it offered me something new. It will always be about a crime scene, a cop comes to investigate, then another crime happens, convict escapes. I am doing Thalanarizha, directed by Samjith Muhammed, the editor of Lucifer. It’s a small thriller with a fresh screenplay. People are exposed to good cinema now. They are very smart and aware of where cinema has reached, how it has evolved. So, when we do a new film, we have to take all these things into considerations.

What is the best part of Malayalam cinema now?

It’s a beautiful phase. Content-driven films, irrespective of who acts in it, have an audience now. Once word of mouth is good, a large section of audience jumps in. Fahadh Faasil produces Kumbalangi Nights, plays a villain and gets accepted. I want to maintain a balance between art and commercial cinema.

And finally, which are your favourite Prithviraj performances?

Ayalum Njanum Thammil, Indian Rupee, Koode and Mumbai Police.

Neelima Menon is a journalist who has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Bollywood and Malayalam cinema for New Indian Express. Today she runs fullpicture, an exclusive online portal dedicated to Malayalam cinema and is especially known for her insightful features on misogyny and women's representation.  

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