Though Guru Somasundaram walked away with much of the credit for 'Minnal Murali', Harishree Ashokan’s Dasan is also getting a lot of appreciation. For someone who has always dabbled effortlessly with comedy since his debut in Ramji Rao Speaking, his sombre, financially troubled Dasan was a revelation. No one will forget that scene where he dismisses Shibu’s proposal by calling him the son of a lunatic mother. His eyes reflect the agonies he has gone through in his life. The actor proves that he is able to pull off serious roles too. In this interview with Manorama, Ashokan reveals his interest in playing villain roles.
Minnal Murali’s Dasan
It was director Basil Joseph who approached me to play Dasan and told me if it was a superhero movie. I loved my character as well as the story. When lightning strikes a young man in the village, he gets superhero powers. The story evolves from there. And this was exactly what I loved about the film. I don’t think such a film has ever been done in Malayalam before. And it’s not every day that I get to play such characters. I thought initially it will be a small character. But it’s after watching the film that I realised the character’s prominence in the film.
I have mostly done comic roles in my career. Except for a handful of films like Bavuttiyude Namathil, Kadal Kadannoru Mathukutty, and Akasham I haven’t done many serious roles. I was quite thrilled to hear that Dasan made a lot of people cry. When a film becomes a hit, the actors also receive a lot of appreciation. And Minnal Murali had a global reach.
I have been told that Dasan in Minnal Murali is a fantastic character. I got appreciation calls from filmmakers, technicians and actors, and fans. To be honest, I never got such kind of appreciation calls for any film before. Maybe because this was something no one was expecting from me. Or maybe they liked the fact that my comeback after a brief hiatus was through such a film and role. Siddique’s son was the first one who called me— “I saw Minnal Murali. I loved your performance and film.” Since it was a direct OTT release people from around 190 countries were able to watch it simultaneously. And it has come in the top 10 list of OTT releases. That gives me so much happiness.
When Guru became the villain
I was astonished by Guru’s performance in Minnal Murali. What an actor! He is a well-known theatre and film actor in Tamil. And I was floored by his humility. He has a different style of acting. He has a unique sense of drama in his acting, which I haven’t seen in any other actors in Malayalam. And people loved him.
Trends are changing
I can see a lot of changes in cinema. Earlier we had to mug up our lines and say it verbatim. But now it's ok to change the words as they only insist on maintaining the essence of the dialogue. That makes it easier for actors to perform freely. I have often felt that however much I have tried somehow I haven’t been able to bring out my best performance in any of my films. Whenever a film releases, I keep finding faults in my performance and always thought I could have done it better. I have heard some of our superstars saying the same thing about their performances. Though we try to give our best, this stress on perfecting the dialogues can restrict our performance.
Right now I am doing a film called Androo The Man. Payyannur is the location. My character speaks in Payyannur slang. Since the slang is new to me, I am learning the dialect. After the initial hiccups, I think I am getting a hang of it. I play the lead role in this film directed and written by newcomer Sivakumar. The enthusiasm of these young people is infectious. The film made on a small budget is a collaboration of a group of passionate film lovers.
Big interval in cinema
I never thought of taking an interval from cinema. Covid was a big setback. Having said that I wasn’t that active even before the pandemic. There is a reason behind it. There was nothing exciting about the roles offered to me. I was keen on doing something different and then came this film. I didn’t think twice before saying yes to Minnal Murali.
In Shaan’s Anuradha Crime, I am playing an interesting character. That’s going to be an OTT release. Anu Sithara, Indrajith, and Vishnu Unnikrishnan are the main characters. Not that I am tired of playing comedy but want to experiment with new roles. I am dying to do an out-and-out villain role.
Proud of my son
A lot of people called to say they loved Arjun’s performance in Jaaneman, Madhuram, and Ajagajantharam. I was happy to hear that. We never thought he will enter cinema. I was planning to send him to England for higher education. A month before leaving for England he told his mother he didn’t want to leave us. And he asked us to hand over the money saved for his higher studies so that he can do some business. We agreed. And he started a car washing company and a chapati and parotta making company with that money. When I see all his enterprises doing well, I am inclined to think that he made the right decision.
That’s when Soubin called him for Parava. He grew a beard for the role and was with them for eight months. He figured out about cinema through their gang consisting of Asif Ali, Soubin, and Ganapathi. He is fully invested in cinema now. He watches a lot of world cinema and other language films and says he has a lot to learn from them.
He watches a lot of Mammootty and Mohanlal films for academic purposes. I have only told him one thing— “Do only roles you think you can pull off. And make sure you complete the film as promised.” So far, he has only done that. As a child, he has often come to my film sets. It was P Sukumar who first gave him a chance to look at the movie camera. That photo is still with me.
I feel proud when people tell me that my son is a good artist. Once Alwin Antony called me— “Arjun is a good actor. You should get me his dates.” I told Alwin he has the freedom to ask Arjun that considering their bond. I also watch his films and think he is getting better with each film. Even my friends tell me that.
Daughter is the best artiste at home
Our daughter is married with a child and is settled in Qatar. She had to leave her job to take care of her daughter. We are hoping that she will start her work once the child starts going to school. She used to dance and act well in school and was quite active in our family clubs.
Cinema is safe in the hands of the younger generation
Great filmmakers and artists were there before. They are there now also. The only difference is in the treatment and trends. I thought Jaaneman was the work of a very talented filmmaker. The story is centered around two homes. If we showed only the two homes frame by frame, it would have been such a boring narrative. But the director skillfully adds humour to the proceedings and makes it a riveting watch.
The audience loved the treatment, screenplay, and climax as it was done so well. Hats off to the director. Pandipada and Punjabi House were films that had different treatment and were therefore loved by people. Today's youngsters are very talented and do their research before doing films. You can't help but admire that.
Minnal Murali was a theatre miss
Minnal Murali was meant for the theatres as there was so much importance for its sound effects and visuals. It would have been an even greater experience if we saw it on the big screen. We were all sad about it. An OTT can never recreate the magic of watching a film on the big screen. But I am not saying that OTT is bad. I am quite happy to know that Arjun’s Thuramukham is releasing in theatres. Also Ajagajantharam.
The story is the King
After Minnal Murali, I was approached to play similar characters. If I loved the story I am not bothered about the length of my role. Even today people remember my small character in Godfather. That has to do with the success of the film. When a film becomes a hit, even small characters in that film get noticed. But if a film didn’t do well, even the hero isn’t noticed. When Rafi told me the story of Punjabi House, I told him it would be a bumper hit. When you hear the narration of Fazil sir, Ranjiyettan, Siddique-Lal, Sibi-Udaya and Rafi-Mecartin, you can almost predict its success.
Am awaiting the release of Anuradha Crime. Qurbani and Priyan Ottathilanu are the other films awaiting release. Am also playing a part in Keshu Ee Veedinte Nathan. Then there is Androo The Man and other films which are still under production. A few others are under discussion.