There was a time when the mere presence of Aju Varghese in a film would guarantee instant laughter. But surprisingly as he completes a decade in Malayalam cinema, the actor has also made some changes to his career, updated from being a mere comic actor to a more reliable character actor. It is said that the toughest thing to pull off in acting is comedy. And Aju made his debut in comedy. Maybe that’s why he is able to effortlessly transition into other roles in Malayalam cinema today.
One can’t help but endorse that point when you see what the actor has done in Kamala, Sajan Bakery since 1962, Helen to the recently released Minnal Murali, Meppadiyan. Aju talks to Manorama online about his career breakthroughs and character makeovers.
Ranjith Sankar paved the way
It was in Ranjith Sankar’s Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam that I was first offered a character role. He was also the first director who gave me the role of a hero in Kamala. That was a welcome change from my regular set of characters I was so used to doing on screen. When I became Safar in Kamala, all I did was trust my director as I have done before. Especially since it was a character, I wasn’t familiar with, I had to blindly go with the director’s vision. I would wait for his instructions and try to understand the character.
A study I enjoy
During Kamala, there was no thought of having a makeover for the role. It happened by chance. That thought came much later. After the first lockdown, soon after Sajan Bakery, I had a conversation with a journalist friend. That was such an enlightening one that made me aware of the importance of doing more character roles. From that point onwards I started concentrating more on character roles. Meppadiyan happened after that. Honestly, I think it’s only now that I have started experimenting. I am enjoying this learning process as I am doing roles that I have never done before. It’s only through my other characters and how I processed them that I can say for sure how much my experience in Kamala helped.
What happened in Meppadiyan
Minnal Murali, Meppadiyan, and Helen are roles I asked the directors. Helen and Minnal Murali were promised in a word. But I really went out of the way to grab the role in Meppadiyan. It was through a director friend that I heard Meppadiyan had a strong script and would be a great film that I approached the film’s director Vishnu Mohan and Unni Mukundan to give me a role. Initially, I has no role in the film. But when I expressed my interest, they created a role for me.
Unni told me that he wanted to give me a character which I had never done before. I didn’t bother to find out about the character’s screen time or other nitty-gritties. All I wanted was a character with a lot of depth. Something I had never done before. That was what I got in Meppadiyan. Thankfully my character got noticed. When a film gets noticed, automatically the characters also get some attention. Meppadiyan’s Zavier is getting a lot of appreciation. Am happy that my characters in Minnal Murali and Meppadiyan are getting attention.
The confidence Helen gave me.
The credit to my police character in Helen goes to the director and editor of the film. Because Helen’s character was going through the worst phase in her life. And my character makes an appearance parallel to that narrative. That makes my character loathsome to the audience. So I have to mention the editor’s role in that scenario. I just did what director Mathukutty instructed me.
When I saw my character in Helen, what I felt was relief than confidence. That relief came out of the realization that I have managed to pull it off. And that performance gave me enough confidence to experiment with more such characters. Since I am on a learning curve, I am not really worried about the outcome of my performances. I am more focused on my performance and not necessarily on its result.
Minnal Murali’s Pothan
When Basil told me about the character in Minnal Murali, one thing was clear. That the character's graph itself has instances of organic humour trickling in. So I was told to do it naturally but a tad loud. Present the character seriously. There are one or two instances when humour catches the character. There I was required to go blank. I hadn’t read the full script so had to follow the director's instructions to the T.
Sajan Bakery was a challenge
My character comes from a space of conditioned patriarchy. He takes after his father. The father is slowly changing. It was a challenge to do a double role. It was when they found it difficult to find an actor for the father’s character that I volunteered to do the role. I really enjoyed the process. We have seen a lot of such dual characters played superbly by our actors in Malayalam cinema. They were my reference. Then director Arun Chandu. The story is happening in our hometown. So naturally, the milieu and people will be familiar to us.
It was Midhun Manuel Thomas who told me how important it is to keep updating yourself as an actor. He would keep talking about its significance. Be aware of world cinema, keep watching more old and new films. Mithun does all that for me. Having said all that, I am still nervous and insecure when a new character comes to me. That will be there throughout the shoot. I am able to overcome the insecurity by following the director’s judgment. I don’t really watch films for academic purpose or to help me as an actor. I watch films like I always do. I think I have started watching more films after lockdown. Any sort of appreciation is an encouragement. But I don’t really watch a film just for that. I have been inspired by some of the performances of our legendary actors. Some of them have consciously or unconsciously influenced my acting.
I have started reading scripts
Nowadays I have started reading scripts. I have tried to understand what my director instructs me beyond a surface level. My preparation is to follow the instructions of my directors carefully. It all happens during that moment when the director calls for action. Whatever comes to my mind is performed there. Nothing is prepared in advance. I can read the character from the director. But all such attempts will be fruitful if we are able to get the kind of characters we want. So directors and writers have to come up with interesting stories and characters. Then only will they call us for such roles. All I pray is that they keep calling us for such roles. Rest are all their decision.