Late actor Kalabhavan Mani is still one of the most beloved faces on screen. His humble beginning as a driver, rise as a mimicry artist and finally stardom as a movie actor are indeed sources of great inspiration for budding actors. His sudden death apparently due to health issues is viewed with suspicion by many in Kerala. In an attempt to bring Mani's strenuous life on silver screen, ace director Vinayan has done a commercial movie based on his life and death. Named 'Chalakudykaran Changathi,' the movie will reach theatres on September 28.
Among the many actors shortlisted to play the protagonist character in the movie, Thiruvananthapuram native and famed mimicry artist Rajamani was fortunate enough to play Mani's character. Popular by his real name Senthil Krishna, director Vinayan christened him as Rajamani in view of his break to the movies. Rajamani opens up to Onmanorama about his experiences of playing Mani, his own mimicry career and his dreams about future.
Stepping into Mani's shoes...
I play the character called Rajamani, the protagonist in the biopic of Mani directed by Vinayan. The movie captures the humble beginnings of Mani, the hardships he faced in his childhood and teenage and his struggles before establishing a career in mimicry and cinema. It also shows his golden age in cinema and his hapless fall as an actor. The movie ends as the actor dies leaving behind a lot of mysteries. I got fortunate enough to play Mani's character throughout the movie.
Much-awaited break into cinema
The biggest dream of any junior mimicry artiste is to get a good break into movies. I admit I have fancied a successful acting career and had performed minor roles in movies and TV shows in the past. I thought I would someday establish myself as a character artiste and then slowly do a big, significant actor in the course of time. But God had better plans for me. Initially when I got an invitation to join the crew of 'Chalakudykaran Changathi,' I thought I would be assigned to perform Mani's teenage. I was stunned when director Vinayan told me that he wants me to perform Mani's role throughout the movie. I took some time to accept that this is my debut as a lead actor. Moreover, as a mimicry artiste, I am privileged to debut playing the role of Mani.
How the surprise came
I was doing a mimicry show in the United States, along with playback singer MG Sreekumar, when Ratheesh Palode, an associate director of Vinayan, texted me to fix a meeting with the director after I return to Kerala. I went straight to his Kochi residence when I landed here. It was his wife Neena who referred me to Vinayan, after watching one of my television programmes.
Vinayan sir made me perform some scenes from his movie 'Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njanum.' I mimicked some other famous movie scenes and skits of Mani before him. After observing my mannerisms, gestures and acting skills, Vinayan said that I have to play the protagonist character in this movie. I was overjoyed and I broke into tears within no time. 'I want an emotional person to play Mani's role. Your tears of joy impressed me more than your acting skills,'Vinayan told me patting my back.
About your family, education and job...
I am from Punnamoodu in Thiruvananthapuram. I am the youngest son of my parents. I did my undergraduation at the University College, Thiruvananthapuram. I had long decided that I shall take up mimicry as my profession. During my college days, I had formed an amateur mimicry troupe with my friends and used to perform stage-shows and programmes. After graduation, I joined a professional mimicry troupe and started doing television shows. I was confident about my skills in acting and mimicking. Meanwhile, I cleared a test of the Kerala Public Service Commission and was appointed as conductor in KSRTC. At present, I multitask between acting, mimicry and my government job.
Life skills do matter
Every single scene was equally challenging. When we saw Kalabhavan Mani casually climbing a coconut tree, jumping into a river, swimming in the flowing waters, riding a bicycle with full of load and driving an autorickshaw, we tend to think that these are all simple tasks to perform. His tough life and struggles equipped him with all those skills.
There is a scene in the movie wherein Mani plunges into a river from the top of a coconut tree and then swims casually with a herd of buffaloes. I learned to climb trees for this movie. I am new to swimming. Adding to these, I don't communicate well with buffaloes. The scene was shot many a time to ensure perfection. I was at the end of my wits by the time that schedule was over.
I had been fortunate enough to share screen space with Mani in his movie 'Pullimaan' (2010). Though I played a minor character, I got to interact closely with Mani and understand his nature. This helped as one cannot perceive the real character of a person from the comments by others. Fortuitously, I could mingle freely with Mani before he died. We also did a couple of stage-shows together.
Before shooting, I watched almost all the movies acted by Mani in order to observe closely his mannerisms and accent. Mimicry artistes-turned-actors Dharmajan Bolgatty, Ramesh Pisharody and Kottayam Nazeer also helped me in this regard.
I had a tough time rendering Thrissur accent. I kept constant contact with Dharmajan's friend, who belongs to Chalakudy, and cleared doubts regarding regional dialects and usages. Even the local people who gathered at the shooting location helped to correct my accent.
Association with director Vinayan
I grew up watching Vinayan's movies. Be it 'Akashaganga', 'Independence', 'Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum' or 'Kalyanasougandhikam', Vinayan movies have always entertained all types of audience in Kerala. During the initial days of shooting, I used to wonder whether I was lost in a dream as I had never expected a break into movies as a lead actor and that too in a movie helmed by a leading director. He has introduced several talents into Malayalam cinema, and they succeeded later. The best thing I liked about him is the confidence he has in the artistes he chose. Even when I myself lost confidence in acting, when I became nervous and the shot slipped out of my hands, Vinayan sir offered me enough confidence and reminded me of my performances during the audition. He is a really supportive person. He wanted a dark, tall mimicry artist to perform the character and he was very sure about his selection.