When the first song from Sufiyum Sujatayum, the first Malayalam movie to have an OTT release, came out, many of Dev Mohan’s colleagues felt that the lead actor had a resemblance to the frizzy-haired guy in their office. Never in their wildest dreams had they imagined that the Sufi saint who spoke with his gleaming eyes and radiant smile was not a doppelganger but their colleague himself.
Dev had been keeping his acting debut as a secret, for two years. Many thought he was crazy. “Who wouldn’t! Especially when a guy working in an MNC sports a wild beard and unkempt hair,” laughs Dev, whose lazy appearance stood out among his well-groomed colleagues. “I tried to be invisible as much as I can by bunking meetings and avoiding higher-ups, but at one point, I had to tell my boss that I was preparing for a film. He was cool about it. He might have had the impression that I was playing a baddie in some action movie.”
Speaking hours after the release of Sufiyum Sujatayum directed by Naranipuzha Shanavas, the actor talks about his dream debut. In the film, Dev played a saint – a spiritual guy with love-filled, twinkling eyes who walked, talked, smiled and danced spreading joy – who falls in love with a mute Kathak dancer played by Aditi Rao Hydari. For a debutante with no acting background at all, the role of Sufi is the best innings.
The Thrissur native thinks that he is favoured by luck – to have bagged a plum role, to have paired up with a senior actor like Aditi Rao Hydari and to be part of history through the OTT release.
“I strongly believe in destiny. Though I haven’t told anyone, I had been dreaming of myself as an actor. When I saw the casting call for the movie, I felt a strange connection to the character. It may sound stupid, but I had a feeling that this was my role,” recalls Dev, who cleared two rounds of audition and was finally chosen by Shanavas who was looking for a fresh face to play the Sufi from 400 odd acting aspirants.
Till then, Dev knew nothing about Sufism, but once he was explained the role and the premises of the story, he decided to learn more. “I referred to books, watched movies, did some research, learned a little bit of Arabic and started training to whirl like a Turkish Dervish. I learned a lot about Sufism which has roots in Istanbul. I even visited the famous dargah of Persian mystic saint Moinuddin Chisthi in Ajmer, Rajasthan,” says the actor, whose effortless moves of Sufi whirls did win hearts.
He calls it a meditative experience, “Mastering the whirl wasn’t easy. I trained for nine months to learn the whirl and the toe lift for the film. Whirl is more like a prayer. If I could do any justice to the meditative moves, it’s all because I had the proper guidance from my director,” says Dev, who was jittery even after prepping up for two years.
“Being a person with no technical know-how or acting experience, I was worried if I could do it right. Though excited, I was nervous about the frames, moves and sharing screen space with a senior actor like Aditi who had worked with the likes of Maniratnam. When I shared my concern with her, she was very supportive and encouraged me to take all the time I wanted to deliver it right. She has been brilliant both on and off screen; I think it’s the friendly vibes we shared that reflected in the movie. And when Aditi delivers an amazing performance as the fearless Sujata, I had no choice but to reciprocate with all the intensity I could gather.”
The first person to call him after watching the film was Jayasurya who congratulated him, saying that he was effortless on screen and never felt like a debut act. “I am so humbled. Though we had no combination scenes in the film, I could meet him during the last schedule of shooting. His appreciation means a lot to me.” Dev has been getting many offers since the release of the song, but he has decided to take it slow. “People have to see the movie and make sure that I can deliver. I think it wouldn’t be fair to give them a word till then.”
Dev’s family comprises his parents and little sister, whom, he calls, ‘a family of movie buffs’. “We try to catch up with every new movie release. But this important film became the one we missed in the cinemas. However, at testing times like these, we are glad and proud that our film could make history, and could earn good reviews from Malayalis, who are the most intelligent and genuine admirers of quality works of art.”
Other than landing in a mystic awe-inspiring role, the Sufi has benefited Dev in another way too. “Sufi has changed my whole perception about life over the two years of preparation. I am basically a hyperactive person; no one who knows me well would believe that I can play a quiet and serene character. I had to control my body language and mannerisms to play a calm and composed saint who has controlled emotions and a spiritual aura. I believe that the character of Sufi has made me a peaceful person,” he winds up.