“You are as old as you think you are,” says a Chinese proverb. In the case of popular Malayalam character artist Sudheesh, his age froze 26 years ago, when he was just 18. For Mollywood audience, Sudheesh is still their 'Chanthu' of 'Manichithrathaazhu', who is better known by his nickname 'Kindi' as in this popular 1993 film. “No one recognizes me by my real name Ajaya Kumar. People either call me Sudheesh, Chanthu or just Kindi,” Sudheesh said, laughing. The actor, who mostly donned the roles of hero's/heroine's younger brother, a flashy college student as in 'Aniyathi Pravu,' or a jobless youngster in a housing colony, has always been deemed as a next-door boy by Keralites. Of late, Sudheesh is seen playing senior characters like protagonist's elder brother, uncle or a police officer. While many hailed Sudheesh's 'makeover in an awaited comeback' as stunning, the actor dismisses it with a giggle. “There was no such break in my career. I have been here, hand in hand with Malayalam cinema,” he said. Interestingly, there isn't a single year he hasn't worked in movies since his debut with the movie 'Anantharam.'
Sudheesh opens up about his career, movies and aspirations in a free-wheeling chat with Onmanorama.
Mollywood audience can't believe that Sudheesh has matured from a teenager to play 'uncle' and cop roles. When did you grow up?!
Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional. I chose not to grow up. I love playing young characters though it limits the possibility of performance. It is very recently that I started getting versatile characters like cop roles or that of a senior person. It was in Praveen Prabharam's Kalki that I flaunted khaki uniform for the first time. The movie 'Theevandi' marked a turning point in my career. It was in Theevandi that I played the character of an uncle first. I think that answers your question well. It was in Theevandi movie that I grew up.
You, along with Kunchacko Boban have played the role of college students in many movies. When did both of you pass out of college?
It was in 1997 that I played the role of an MBA student along with Kunchacko Boban in 'Aniyathi Pravu.' 13 years later, both of us played the roles of MBA students again in the movie 'Mummy and Me.' It has been 22 years since we enrolled for MBA; neither me, not Chackochan has got a certificate. However, both of us reunited on screen in Ashiq Abu's 'Virus' where we played the roles of highly qualified professionals. Someone recently shared our photo and captioned 'Our old college boys have secured good jobs. Glad to see them as mature professionals after so many years.' That movie confirmed my graduation from college (laughs.)
How did you start aspiring a career in filmdom?
More than aspiring a career in film industry, I used to dream about becoming an actor right from my childhood. My father Sudhakaran was an actor in both local theater and cinema. Cinema was always in my dreams but I considered it a sky too high for me. So, I limited my acting to mono acts, skits and stage performances in school and college. I have won several recognitions, awards and certificates for the same. This exposure helped me get an offer for my first movie 'Anantharam.'
I completed my pre-degree and degree courses amid busy film schedules. It was when I completed my degree that 'Manichithrathazhu' movie released, offering me a big break. I was planning to go for higher studies at that time. But Chanthu's character was widely appreciated. I got a handful of offers following it. Thus, I left behind my studies and chased my dream of becoming a cine actor. Now if you ask me whether I regret my decision, I would say no. Because I have been a student for a really long time on screen though I don't get certificates for that.
Which movie became a mile-stone in your career?
I have played numerous characters. Not all of them were recognized and appreciated. Some good performances were sidelined and some others were lauded. If you ask to pick one from them, I would say it is Rameshan from the movie 'Aadharam.' It wasn't a commercial hit. My character in 'Manichithrathazhu' nicknamed... you know what (laughs) – gave me a commercial break. Then came 'Aniyathi Pravu' which marked me as a college student. My younger-brother roles in 'Vallyettan,' 'Balettan' etc have also been noticed. 'Theevandi' is definitely the second milestone. That movie redefined my career.
About your family and their support in shaping the actor in you...
At home, I have mother, my wife and two sons. My late father is always there in our memories. It was my father who had dreamed of watching me on screen more than myself. Mother has also offered huge support. My wife Dhanya is a painter. She has an inclination to all arenas of art. She has always got my back. I believe she chose to marry me only because I am an artist. My elder son Rudraksh has inherited his mother's talent. He paints really well. He has also played the central character in a movie called 'Kochauwa Paulo Ayyappa Koelho' at a very young age.
Rudraksh is a movie enthusiast. He watches movies from all genres and industries. He formulates opinion on the movies he watch and shares them with me with great spirit. I want him to continue what he does and choose wisely his career. My younger son Madhav studies in LKG.
What do you wish to explore more in cinema?
I am still in the early phase of my acting career. I have only done a few types of characters. I have got a lot more to explore and experiment. Other than acting, I am interested in direction as well. I am trying to learn direction from the sets of movies which I act in. I would one day definitely direct a movie on my own.
What difference did you find in cinema in your second innings as a senior actor?
Cinema is always subject to an evolution. From the time of Sathyan and Nazeer, it did change by the time Soman and Sukumaran took over silver-screens. Then came Mammootty and Mohanlal. Now, when Tovino, Fahadh Faasil, Nivin Pauly and other youngsters rule the industry. Malayalam cinema undergoes a wave of realism, as everyone knows. Acting also needs adaptation accordingly. Along with bringing maturity into my acting that is required for the senior characters, I have to limit my expressions and performance in order to appear as realistic as in life. It is altogether a new experience.
Why did you discontinue your involvement in TV serial production?
I have faced this question from a lot of people. I was long ago that I directed a serial in a popular Malayalam TV channel. The serial named 'Ishtamay..' revolved around campus romance. I was a well accepted show back then. The show had a popular title song starting 'Enna karuppin ezhazhaku..' which is still favorite to the youngsters of that time.
I ventured into mini screen and direction at that time due to sheer enthusiasm of my young age. Later, I realised that I have got a lot to do before I settle for direction.
Have you ever felt that you had been type-cast for a long time?
It is true that I have done the same type of characters for a long time. But I had no option to blame type-casting or refuse committing to movies. I was rather optimistic about it. I got to perform those characters because I was active in cinema. There was a space reserved to me. Had I blamed type-casting and stopped performing the same type of characters, I wouldn't have been in the industry now. I would have missed this come-back phase which offered me an effective make-over.
Now, I am going through a very challenging phase in my career. I approach it with a sportsman spirit. Versatile characters demanding emotional performances are something new to the supporting actor I am. Come what may, I'll be here with Malayalam cinema playing every good role I am offered.