Aju Varghese's friendships paved the path for his entry into movies. Friends entrusted him with humorous character roles which helped him establish himself in the industry. And now, new friends have carved a serious actor out of him, making him perform roles with dark shades. With 106 films in his kitty in nine years, Aju continues to entertain the Malayali moviegoers with his well timed humor and memorable roles. As 'Kamala' gets ready for release, Aju, now a leading film distributor and the owner of a production company named 'Fantastic Films', opens up to Onmanorama about his journey and switch in career. He reveals his dreams, brief dispute with long-time friend Nivin Pauly, and upcoming projects.
Your maiden production venture 'Love Action Drama' is entering 100 days of success...
I spoke a lot about 'Love Action Drama,' my debut production venture at the time of its release. Now, the movie is nearing 100 days of screening in the theatres. The movie is still running in seven centres across the state. I am grateful to all those who laughed watching our movie and also those who criticised it in a healthy manner. Film production is a hectic task. But, later, when I think about it, I feel quite satisfied.
'LAD' was a mass entertainer. During the production of 'LAD', I planned to commit an emotional, realistic movie next. Quite incidentally, our company Fantastic Films soon got the distribution rights of 'Helen.' Thankfully, Helen is also running successfully in the theatres.
The biggest learning I acquired from my film production ventures is that one can't satisfy everyone associated with it. It has been a couple of weeks since the release of 'Helen'. Its producer Vineeth Sreenivasan and distributors Vishak Subrahmaniyam and myself are very happy about it.
You played a negative role in 'Helen.' Is your shift of focus to serious characters from comedy roles intentional?
I didn't seek a character with a negative shade purposefully. It came my way. 'Helen' became successful because of the arduous efforts of director Mathukkutty Xavier and the exceptional performances delivered by Anna Ben and Noble Mathew. We are proud to have been associated with 'Helen.'
I commit all the movies that come by my way. My sudden shift of focus from humorous roles to serious characters is not at all a planned deviation. The characters I get of late, have huge emotional intensity. When I was doing 'Kamala', I used to ask director Ranjith Sankar frequently whether I could convey the depth of his character the way he wanted.
I believe a movie needs a director who has full knowledge about the characters for its success. While working with both Mathukutty Xavier and Ranjith Sankar, I placed my trust in them. I do not improvise my characters. I just deliver what my director asks me to do to the best of my ability. I try to create a rapport with my directors, understand what they really want, and try to deliver that.
How did you land the lead role of 'Kamala?'
I was going through a tough phase during the post production and promotion works of 'Love Action Drama.' I must have borrowed money from almost everyone in the Malayalam cinema industry! One day, Ranjith Sankar phoned me to enquire about my well-being. At the end of that warm conversation, he told me that his next flick was a thriller and I was supposed to perform the lead character. My immediate response was “Are you crazy, man?!”
He then explained me the reasons for casting me in 'Kamala'. One, he did not want a star to perform Safar, the lead character. Two, he wanted a very normal looking Malayali. I was easily convinced that I was the perfect pick. I am neither a star nor a glamorous body builder. I am a normal Malayali.
I blindly believe Ranjith Sankar. I have worked in seven movies with him. He is both my best friend and a mentor. He is the filmmaker I am most comfortable to work with. I enjoyed that freedom while working in 'Kamala'. It's is an experiment and the rest is up to the audience.
What hooked you the most in 'Kamala'?
I committed 'Kamala' without even reading the script. I haven't yet sat down to read the full script of 'Kamala'. Ranjith Shankar would narrate me the scenes I had to perform each day. The filmmaker wanted me to be clueless, I guess. However, he would patiently answer all my doubts regarding my dialogues. In almost seven days, I understood the story without having a single glance at the script. The movie revolves around a chain of incidents that happen within 36 hours. So I, along with my character, understood and familiarised with 'Kamala' as the shoot progressed.
How was your experience of playing a policeman for the first time in 'Helen'?
As I am not really tall, I always thought that the role of a policeman wouldn’t suit me! I asked the costume designer to make the soles of my shoes a bit taller! I was thrilled to wear the Khaki uniform. Though I knew the film was a thriller, I thought that my role was comic. It was only later that I realised my role had a negative shade to it.
The film’s hero Noble, Vineeth and I had studied in the same college. Noble has always been passionate about films. It was us who dissuaded him then. It took seventeen years for his acting dreams to finally come true. However, what stunned me was something else. It was only on the first day of the shoot that I came to know that Noble was also the scriptwriter of the movie. Today, Noble is a hero for all of us who put him down. This movie is also the result of the dedicated efforts of its director Mathukutty Xavier. Actor Lal who played a vital role in the movie too helped me improve my performance.
Tell us about your maiden script, 'Sajan Bakery since 1962'...
The movie is about the feud between a brother and sister with a bakery as its background. While discussing the one-line, a simple movie with a powerful woman centric theme developed. It's a feel-good movie as well as a feminist movie. Director Arun Chandu, Sachin and myself wrote the script of 'Sajan Bakery'. We did not plan to write a feminist movie but eventually it panned out that by. I am also playing a character role in the movie. It is being produced by Fantastic Films and M Star.
What is the difference between playing comedy roles and serious character roles?
I don't know how to explain it! I approach both serious and comedy roles the same way. The difference you see on screen is due to the efforts of the directors. The change in my physical get-up, be it in costuming or make-up is the only input from my part. Each of my character is an artwork a director carved out of me. The responsibility of its success and failure completely lies with the director.
It's extremely difficult to perform comedy roles. How did you manage doing more than hundred movies without making the audience bored?
I never wrote any of those comedy scenes! My job is to act according to the instructions of the director and the scriptwriter. I am ready to work really hard. If my acting is good, then the credit goes to them as well. However, there have been times when I was sceptical whether a few scenes would work. I would openly ask about it only to those who are close to me. If they say that it is required, then I would do it. But, I have always been admonished by the audience whenever I did such things!
You have worked with both Vineeth and Dhyan Sreenivasan. Who is more talented?
Dhyan is someone who could do action roles well. However, Vineeth could carry the role of a village simpleton with elan. As a director, Vineeth is more experienced than Dhyan.
There were reports that you had a tiff with Nivin Pauly?
Not really. When Love Action Drama got a bit delayed as Nivin couldn’t come on time, I called him up and said that it was not right. However, I later realised that I didn’t show the maturity that is expected of a producer. Nivin was then on the sets of 'Kayamkulam Kochunni'. He couldn’t have done anything on the sets of 'Love Action Drama' with his Kochunni look. When we saw Nivin in Kochunni’s get up, with short hair and tanned complexion, we were sure than we would have to wait a bit longer to get Dineshan from him. Besides, it was one of the biggest movies in Nivin’s career. I could have reacted in a better way. But, we are still good friends and will always be.
You have acted with almost all the lead actors. Whom do you further wish to share screen space with?
I have never acted with Prithviraj and Suresh Gopi. I acted with Prithviraj in an ad film but I haven't done a movie with him. I have revealed my wish to share screen space with him on several occasions. In case Prithviraj is watching this interview, please do reserve a role for me in your next movie!