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'Working with Nair was a unique experience'

Shobha Warrier | May 14, 2003 16:17 IST

National Award-winner Nedumudi Venu -- he was named Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the Mohanlal-starrer, His Highness Abdullah -- is considered one of the finest actors in India today.

The latest feather in his cap is his role as a middle-class villager in Murali Nair's Arimpara (The Wart or The Story That Begins At The End). The film is based on O V Vijayan's short story Arimpara, written in Kafkaesque style by the legendary Malayalam writer during the Emergency.

Nedumudi Venu in ArimparaArimpara, a National Film Development Corporation and Nippon Hoso Kyokai co-production, will be showcased in the prestigious 'Un Certain Regard' section at Cannes.

Cannes is a familiar place for Nair, who has shown three films there already -- the short film Oru Neenda Yatra (A Long Journey) and the full-length feature films Marana Simhasanam (Throne of Death) and Pattiyude Divasam (A Dog's Day).

Marana Simhasanam won the Camera d'Or in 1999 for Best Debut Film. Nair was a Camera d'Or jury member last year.

As the lead actor in Arimpara, Venu is leaving for Cannes tomorrow with Nair and the film's producers. This is his first visit to Cannes, he tells Shobha Warrier:

When did you come to know you would be going to Cannes?

I got the information from the film's Indian producers, NFDC, a month ago. But it was confirmed only last week because NFDC had to take care of the visa formalities.

You are going there as a representative of a film for the first time. How do you feel?

It is but natural for me to feel happy about this invitation. Very rarely does an Indian film get selected at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the only Indian film that has been selected this year, which is a matter of pride for all of us.

I am happy because I had the privilege to portray the main role in a film that got selected for one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Cannes is not a glamorous film festival like the Oscar; it is a serious film festival.

Are you looking forward to watching as many films as possible?

I am more interested in knowing the reaction Arimpara evokes there. This is a Malayalam film with English subtitles. I am curious to know how they will interpret the film's theme. I feel Arimpara has a universal element that goes beyond the boundaries of language, culture and location.

The film will be screened on May 18 and I will be there till May 21.

When did director Murali Nair ask you to act in Arimpara?

He contacted me through a reporter of The Week magazine about six months ago. As I was free at the time, I agreed to do the film. The moment I said yes, Murali Nair sent me the book.

Hadn't you read the book before?

Of course I have read the book, but that was long ago. When you are going to do a film based on a book, you have to read it from a different perspective. Soon, the script also reached me. Then, we had several discussions on the way the character could be interpreted.

How different was the interpretation from what Vijayan wrote in the book?

The book was the interpretation of the writer; the film is the interpretation of the filmmaker. His interpretation was totally different from what Vijayan wrote. The story was only a base for the filmmaker to write a script on.

Which interpretation appealed to you the most -- the writer's or the filmmaker's?

It's impossible for me to say. One is literature and the other is cinema, and the two are different mediums. What is unique about the story is that the writer has left a lot for the reader to imagine. So, a reader's interpretation depends on his culture, education, social status, etc, and that varies from individual to individual.

Similarly, the viewer can also interpret the film according to his ability. Both the writer and the filmmaker do not say the story or the film should be read or viewed in a particular way. The story or the film does not talk about any particular issue or incident. The viewer or the reader has the freedom to choose his interpretation.

Both the story and the film are similar in that aspect.

Nedumudi Venu in ArimparaHow did you, as the main actor, interpret the character?

I surrendered totally to the director and tried to forget what Vijayan wrote. I only helped the filmmaker interpret the character the way he wanted to.

The protagonist is a man living in a village in Kerala. He has enough property, a wife and a child. You can say he is a content man. The contentment lasts till he develops a wart on his chin. Initially, everybody, including his wife, finds it cute and attractive. Slowly, it starts growing bigger and there comes a stage when his wife decides to separate his child from him as she feels it is contagious. He refuses to get the wart removed surgically as he believes in traditional medicines only.

One day, he tries to cut it off, but falls unconscious. When he regains consciousness, his family has left him. With the appearance of the wart, he has begun to lose all that is dear to him.

Finally, the wart starts moving and talking and he becomes its slave. In the end, it separates from him and becomes an elephant. And he becomes a vegetable, a useless human being who has no energy or life in him. He loses all his strength, even the power to think.

The director has also used a straight narration.

When Vijayan wrote the story, India was under the Emergency and readers saw political overtones in it. Is Nair trying to convey the same feelings now?

There are no political overtones to the film. We thought the writer was referring to the Emergency because it was written during that period. Now, it can be globalisation or the ills of the education system, or any such problem in society. That is the beauty of the story. You can interpret it or the movie according to your culture, perception, and the time you are living in.

Was it difficult to portray such a complex character?

It was an easy and enjoyable experience. Although I have acted in more than 300 films, I enacted a role after reading the original story and the full script for the first time!

Shooting the film also was different. It was shot exactly the way the story unfolds, which is quite an experience. Because of that, I could follow the graph correctly as an actor.

We shot the entire film in a place called Chamravattam near Thirur. Since we got an old house with a huge compound, recording sound on location became easy. In all senses, we worked as a 'unit'.

Nair paid attention to even the most minute details. It was a challenge to keep pace with him. As far as I am concerned, it was a new and unique experience.

You worked with the late G Aravindan in many of his films. Was this experience different?

It is very, very different. Murali Nair is a filmmaker who pays great attention to detail.

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