Second time lucky: Interview with Baiju Ezhupunna

Baiju Ezhupunna
Baiju Ezhupunna plays Neyyattinkara Gopan’s driver

He has dabbled with comedy and villainy in Malayalam cinema. Baiju Ezhupunna who has been in Malayalam cinema for the last 30 years is also a theatre owner and producer. In ‘Aarattu’ he plays Neyyattinkara Gopan’s (Mohanlal) left hand man, Rambo. He has mostly played villain roles in Mohanlal films. He got the opportunity to play Mammootty’s henchman in ‘Madhura Raja.’ Therefore he is happy to have finally managed to get a similar character in a Mohanlal film. The actor talks to Manorama online about his film journey and ‘Aarattu.’

I play Neyyattinkara Gopan’s driver Rambo in ‘Aarattu.’ It’s a character who is the hero’s constant companion. It was B Unnikrishnan who called me for the role. Scriptwriter Udayakrishna is someone I know from the time I entered cinema and we shared a great bond. We have done a short film before entering cinema. I have got so many good characters in his films. That’s how I got Rambo.

I was able to enjoy Mohanlal unleashing his mass avatar onscreen. Except for 2 or 3 scenes, I am with Mohanlal throughout the film. You get a positive vibe when you act with Mohanlal. There are many scenes between us inside the car. I have mostly done villain roles in Mohanlal films. It was only in ‘Keerthi chakra’ that I played a positive character, a commando.

During ‘Devasuram’ we had gone to the sets, with the hope of acting with Mohanlal. There were five of us, all newcomers. We stayed at the Cheruthuruthy guest house for 5 days. But after four days, we were told that the roles were for Augustine, Maniyan Pillai Raju, Ramu, and Sreeraman. But I got over that disappointment when I finally managed to shoot with Mohanlal at the same Varikkasheri Mana location for ‘Aarattu.’ Neyyattinkara Gopan keeps saying “Rambo, Vandiyedada” and that’s become popular now. A friend told me how a lot of people were saying this dialogue after they came out of the theatre.

He is one actor who has always astonished me. During ‘Keerthi chakra’ we were together for over a month. The locations were all risky. His humility is really admirable. He doesn’t give the impression of being a superstar. Even in ‘Aarattu’, he was like that, very down-to-earth and fun. Mammootty is also a favourite. Not only was I able to act in a few films with him but was also able to be part of his close friends' circle. That I was able to play their trusted confidante in both ‘Madhura Raja’ and ‘Aarattu’ itself is a huge deal.

I saw the first four shows of ‘Aarattu’ at my own theatre Eramalloor Saniya. Since it was my own theatre, we organised a DJ night there and had a ball. Mohanlal fans really loved the film.

Another thing I want to say is that there seems to be a deliberate attempt to degrade the film. Those who haven’t even watched the film are criticizing it. I remember this guy who told me that the “film wasn’t up to mark.” Then I asked him in which scene I appears. When he started fumbling, I knew he hadn’t watched the film. I would call Piracy a sort of perversion. Like bombing your own home.

I would like to request those who love cinema not to indulge in such nefarious activities. Being a theatre owner and producer I can empathize with their situation. Gradually theatres are filling up with such celebratory films. Even families have bravely started venturing out. It was ‘Kurup’ that gave a new lease of life to theatres.

Even films that came after that like ‘Ajagajantharam’, ‘Hridayam’ and ‘Aarattu’ also saw people crowding in theatres. ‘Aarattu’ doesn’t claim anything else than a mass entertainer. It’s one of those films you can enjoy and have fun with. A lot of films that promise to bring in the crowd are coming up—be it Mammootty’s ‘Bheeshma Parvam’, Ajith’s ‘Vallimai’ or ‘Upachara poorvam Gunda Jayan’, ‘RRR’ and Surya’s film. If the film is not getting profits, it might have to be removed from the theatres. Only the theatre owners are aware of what they went through without a single film screening for nearly a year and a half during this Covid time. It will be even better if they allow full seating capacity in theatres.

We should learn to appreciate good cinema and not indulge in fan fights. Mammootty and Mohanlal are two of our biggest and most loved stars. They are loved across generations. It’s difficult to say who is better between the two. We all love them equally. Cinema has healing powers. So let’s be more tolerant here. Let’s allow those who want to watch the kind of films they wish. And not be spoilsports. 

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