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July 8, 1998
'We cannot and should not carry the dead body of a character all the time'
When you become one with the character, won't you also experience the pains, agonies and exhilaration of the character?
It should not happen. Otherwise, you will really feel like doing what the character does in the film. No, it should never happen. An actor should learn to separate the actor and the character. Me the actor and me the character should never intermingle. The character should always be under my control. It should obey me, but I should not obey the character. If I start obeying the character, it will be disastrous. I should have the ability to keep him away when it is necessary.
Like we change clothes?
Exactly. I should discard him the moment I cease to portray him as a character. I should never carry him with me in my mind.
I have heard some actors saying that they carry some characters with them for a very long time, even after the shooting is over.
Maybe there are actors like that. But I don't do that and I don't subscribe to the view also. My responsibility as an actor ends with dubbing for the character. After that, I chuck him out of my system completely. There won't be a trace of him anywhere in my mind. We cannot and should not carry the dead body of a character all the time.
Does the character enter you, or you as an artist go inside the character?
We get a character which has no life as much. It starts breathing, it starts talking, it starts moving only when you give your breath to it. Otherwise, the character is lifeless and soulless. The moment my job as an artist ends, I come out of the character and it is dead. This is what I do.
Don't think I do this to all the characters. No. Only if I feel the character needs life, only if the director demands it, will I enter into the mind and soul of the character. With experience, we have acquired an ability to create any character, even if you are woken up from sleep and asked to portray it.
You have acted in all categories of films like the commercial, art and even in the middle cinema. As an artist, which category of films give you the maximum satisfaction?
Popular cinema gives you security in life since they pay you well. They (the producers) pay you promptly, they look after you extremely well, and they consider it their duty to pick you up from your house and bring you back on the day promised by them earlier.
To some extent, it satisfies you. But the satisfaction of the artist in you is different. You portray a character and at the end of it, when you feel you have created something, you are satisfied. Later on, maybe after several years, when you happen to see the film and feel that the person is not you but the character himself.... That will be the happiest moment in your life.
You also feel contented when people who have a good knowledge of art appreciate your work. You feel satisfied when your work is recognised. I tend to look at the members in an award committee, and if you feel they are competent and capable to judge an art form, I feel happy and satisfied to accept the award. If I feel they are not competent enough, I tell myself, let one more be there.
How important are awards to you? A film becomes a huge success when thousands of people accept it but an award is given by a small group of people. So, what is more important to you, acceptance of the people or an award?
I cannot say which is more important. It all depends on the credibility and individuality of the people involved in an award committee and their knowledge of cinema. I agree that cinema is a mass media and since I act in that kind of movies, their acceptance is also essential for me.
There was a time when many viewers in Kerala could not differentiate between actors and characters. They believed that whatever they saw in movies was true. So, there was a kind of mad movie following then. They had a sycophantic attitude to film stars too. All this has changed now.
You said cinema is a mass media. Now let me ask you about Aravindan's films. Your entry into films was in Aravindan's Thampu. You have also acted in many of his films and you knew him well from your theatre days with Kavalam. Aravindan's films were so personal that they were like paintings to a painter or a short story or a novel to a creative writer. What do you say about his movies?
Only the kind of films made by Aravindan took films to a creative level. Most people construct films but Aravindan created films like you create a sculpture, like you paint or like you write a story. There is creativity involved in all this and also in Aravindan's films.
My doubt is that, can a film be as creative as a painting or a short story? In the case of a painting or a sculpture or a short story, only the creator is involved in its creation, but in the making of a film, so many people are involved.
Yes, a film also can be as creative as a painting. In the case of an Aravindan film, a mastermind is there behind the movie who decides how the movie should move. Others are like puppets in his hands and the master controlling everything -- every small detail. So, the whole film is a visualisation of what he sees in his mind, what he creates in his mind. People like Aravindan tried to achieve that visualisation of his dreams.
Is is not the thrill of an artist but the thrill of an art lover?
No, you cannot separate both. Even I do not know where the artist in me ends and the art lover in me starts. I may act in real life too, perhaps unknowingly, I may not even know whether I am acting or not. Both merge so well that the individual also will not know.
You mean you cannot separate the artist Nedumudi Venu and the individual Nedumudi Venu even in real life...
Yes, you cannot draw a line and separate both, because one merges into another.
Then, as an individual won't you feel any conflict inside, at least sometimes?
We should not let that happen.
You said sometimes you might act in real life too. I was talking about such situations.
It happens not only to actors or an actor like me. All human beings act sometimes or the other in real life. And I feel women do this better than men. That is why women are more successful in films than men. Women use acting as a way to protect themselves.
I have seen how convincing my mother is when she acts. For example, all of us might have finished our lunch and suddenly a guest turns up. We knew everything was over. But she asks quite convincingly, "Will you have lunch? Everything is ready."
Do you know why she asks that? Because she is certain he will not take lunch then. I will not say this kind of acting is harmful. They just want to wriggle out of some complicated situation, that's all. When men stand by helplessly, women come out with such wonderful solutions to many complicated problems.
Let us talk about your association with Kavalam Narayana Panikar and his theatre group. I have heard that your initiation into films began theatre. How do you meet Kavalam?
When we were in college, Fazil, myself and some others there used to perform dramas. Kavalam was a judge in one such occasion. We won the first prize in the competition. After the function, Kavalam invited us to his house. He told us that he was going to start a theatre group and he wanted us also to join him. We did.
But after sometime many members left since it was difficult to accept the kind of experimental theatre that he was involved in. It was totally different from what we had seen till then. The dialogues and steps were rhythmic and we used musical instruments on the stage itself.
You must have enjoyed it.
Yes, I enjoyed it. That's why I stuck on to it while others left the group. I was happy because I could make use of some of the talent I had. I had learnt a bit of classical singing. Even at the age of five, I had played the ghatam in some concerts. What excited me was that I could utilise all these skills I had. The funniest thing is that I had the faintest idea that I could use many of them. So, I tried everything when I was with Kavalam's group.
I feel that only because I spent those years with Kavalam did I acquire an aesthetic perspective, the ability to view and enjoy all art forms, irrespective of its language and origin. It was there that I met famous artists, writers, painters and intellectuals. So, Kavalam's group was like a university for me where I met great people, listened to them talk, interacted with them and learnt a lot about all kinds of art forms. It was a modern theatre evolved from all the traditional art forms of Kerala.
Kerala's traditional art forms used to be seen, understood and appreciated by even very ordinary people earlier. But why was a theatre movement based on that not understood by the ordinary people? They preferred dramas in a popular format.
That was because we could not take it to people. Recently we performed Avanavan Kadampa, and we were doing it after 25 years. All those who saw it said that there was nothing very intriguing about it. Even those youngsters who were not even born when it was first staged said the same thing. What made me most happy was that small children enjoyed it the most. I heard them happily singing some of the songs written by Kavalam for the play. But now it has become very expensive to perform since we need at least 30 people. So it is not right to say that it will not reach the ordinary people.
I did not say it will not reach them. I said it did not.
That was mainly because, we could not take it to people. Unlike films seen by hundreds of people at a time, dramas are seen by a small group. We have to perform it again and again to reach people.
You performed Avanavan Kadampa after 25 years. I read that it was a birthday gift from all of you to Kavalam on his seventieth birthday. How was the experience? Was it the same even after all these years?
I cannot explain the feeling. In films, you get satisfaction only in broken forms. Here, after a long time, I was in a different world and it lasted from the beginning of the play till the end. You forget yourself when you are with music, when you are in prayer, when you are meditating. The same way I forgot myself when I was on stage performing the play.
You know, as an artist, after sometime you get bored with films.
Is it because you don't get many challenging roles?
That is the main reason. Another reason is, there are only very few people who look at films seriously. So few good characters are created. When you do the same thing again and again, you get tired and bored. My fortune is that at least I have theatre to fall back upon. Unfortunately, it is not an option for many other artists.
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