Beating the invincible: Story of a lead actor with Down Syndrome

Gopikrishnan K Varma
Gopikrishnan K Varma beside the certificate for being the first lead actor with Down syndrome in an Indian cinema.

It requires ultimate grit and passion to reach where Gopikrishnan K Varma has. He was born in 1998 with Down Syndrome and a few other ailments including severe respiratory issues and hyperactivity.

"When Gopikrishnan was born, the doctor had warned us about possible complications that are typical of his condition. So, we were prepared," says Ranjini who has been there with her son during every moment of his journey. But the boy grew up with relatively less struggles and went far ahead of others of similar state in terms of intelligence and activities.

Down Syndrome is a condition identified with intellectual disability and developmental delays. Distinct facial appearance as well as thyroid and heart diseases are also associated with the genetic disorder.

"People say those with down syndrome have lesser intelligence. But I would say they have something extra," Ranjini says, her remark a reference to the genetic aspect of Down Syndrome, a condition caused by the presence of an extra copy of a chromosome in the 21st pair.

"Apart from some drawbacks in basic Mathematical skills he is on par with other normal kids. Only that his movements are a bit slow," she quips, "He can read, write and speak English and Malayalam well and he possesses an uncanny talent in computers."

Gopikrishnan and George Kora in the movie 'Thirike'

Like all mothers of children with special needs Ranjini too spent most of the time with Gopi in his formative years; taking him to the school, being there with him, bringing him back and even during all other activities while awake. "Till class VIII Gopi attended a mix of both special and normal schools. This helped him experience the normal ways of other kids too and after that he went to normal school," she says, "Apart from that there was special training too."

"I have groomed him in such a way that he could be a model for kids of his kind to be a self-reliant individual like any normal person. Now he can go to nearby places alone in a taxi or by bus," Ranjini says proudly. He is made to partake in the household chores like his elder sister Malavika. As a grown up young man he sometimes expressed displeasure at doing tasks he considered feminine. "But I let him make no such differences and that left an impact on him that is hugely positive," laughs Ranjini.

Gopi's elder sister Malavika, who is pursuing her PhD at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA, has always been supportive and, whenever she is around, ensured that her brother is never left out in her social interactions. Gopi's father Kishore Aniyan, an LIC employee, also constantly encouraged his son to follow his passion.

Gopi, in his prime, displayed his own taste of style and fashion. "It's very tough to make him choose from our suggestions. He has his own preferences. While purchasing clothes he might already be having screenshots of outfits worn by stars like Vijay on his phone. He will tediously go searching until he bumps into a matching design," says Ranjini.

At a very young age, he showed interest in cinema and performing arts and becoming a film star was his most cherished ambition. Despite his ADHD, he sat through entire feature films in movie theatres and enjoyed dancing and acting out scenes from famous movies for his friends and family members.

Gopikprishnan with parents and sister

With an impeccable comic timing and graceful dance moves, Gopi entertained friends and strangers alike through multiple stage performances. A diehard fan of actor Dileep, Gopi became a viral star on platforms like Dubsmash and TikTok, where his video clips garnered millions of views.

Then, Lady Luck came calling. "It was time when I was trying hard to get Gopi into films," Ranjini says. I created an FB page for him and posted his TikTok videos on it. Meanwhile, George Kora and Sam Xavier the director duo of the movie 'Thirike' were looking for an actor to play the lead role in their debut film. The character was a person with special needs and as part of their search they met doctor Dr Shaji Thomas who has been treating Gopi. It was he who directed George and Sam to Gopi saying he was the person they were searching for,” says Ranjini.

That's how 'Thirike' happened and Gopi was able to realize his dream of becoming a movie star by donning a leading role in it. He went beyond expectations as the first lead actor with Down syndrome in an Indian cinema.

"On the sets Gopi gelled well with the team and got accustomed to the ways of filmmaking way too soon. The crew was so friendly with him and made him comfortable every second. He was so passionate about acting that he endured as many repeated takes as was needed," the mother says, "Doing TikTok videos was really helpful to a great extent in practising patience."

Combo image of Gopikrishnan with actress Shantikrishna (L) and mother Ranjini

Neestream, which featured the film recently celebrated hundred days of the film on the platform.

On the education front, Gopi was able to clear SSLC and 12th standard board exams. He has also completed 3 certification courses from G-Tech Computer Education and L B S Center For Science And Technology. Gopi also manages his social media platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook.

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