For many who grew up during the 80s and early 90s, the name Rahman evokes the image of that 17-year-old kid who danced with gleeful abandon to "Oru Madhurakinavin..." from I.V Sasi's Kaanamarayathu.
The infinitely charismatic actor was fortunate enough to work with several well-known directors, beginning with his debut in Padmarajan's Koodevide alongside Mammootty and Suhasini. Though he had to endure a rough patch in the 90s, he has managed to come out and is currently going through a fabulous phase.
Let's start with Ranam itself. Everyone is eager to know something about your character.
My character is called Damodar, a Sri Lankan who has a long, dark history behind him. He had lost his loved ones in a massacre in Sri Lanka, and then he had to flee to Canada, and then from Canada to the U.S. He is someone who has seen so much and is like a protective brother to those close to him -- someone like Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He chose a life of crime to survive. He breaks laws and makes his own. His topmost priority is the welfare of his own people. He is more of a grey character. In fact, most of the characters in this film are.
Is the film based on real gangs in the U.S? And how do you feel about the overall film?
Well, there are gangs everywhere -- Tamil gangs, Chinese gangs, Malaysian gangs....different nationalities. This is a fictitious story; not message-driven or anything. The purpose is entertainment and entertainment alone.We haven't seen something like this done before in Malayalam cinema. The subject matter was so exciting, and the treatment of it, realistic. I must say I'm extremely pleased with the results because we managed to so much with so little. And the director Nirmal Sahadev is someone who knows what he is doing in spite of being so young.
Speaking of young filmmakers, you've been working with a couple of them recently, including Karthick Naren. How has been your experience with them so far?
I find it more comfortable working with the younger generation. They are more passionate and have no ego issues. I feel they understand me more than the older generation. I have the freedom to bring my own inputs instead of being told every second what I should do and what I shouldn't. So far, my experiences with Nirmal and Karthick (director of Dhuruvanghal 16) have been very pleasant. See, I come from the 80s and there was a rigidly conventional way of doing things back then. These youngsters, on the other hand, have broken all the rules. There is a realistic approach to everything.
Some guys who do nothing but talk; they don't have a proper script or vision. Guys like Nirmal and Karthick show up fully prepared with a bound script. So, even though I was doubtful of them initially, I decided to go with my instincts.
Tell us about your experience with the Ranam crew.
We were working with a minimal crew, and 30% of them were seniors. There they do things entirely different from how it's done over here. I must admit I initially had some difficulty getting used to this new style of filmmaking. But then I slowly got used to it, and eventually, it turned out to be such a refreshing and illuminating experience.
Let's take the cinematographer Jigme Tenzing, for example. In India, it usually takes a long time for them to set up the lighting. Sometimes they take hours to do a very small shot, which is infuriating.
Someone like Jigme, on the other hand, is so quick; he is capable of doing great things with natural or available light. And everyone is so professional, be it the make-up man, production controller or the costume designer. They're well-disciplined and don't indulge in gossip or spreading lies. They are always punctual and help each other out. Sometimes they temporarily take over someone else's duty in case they have to take a toilet break or something. It was an entirely different world.
There is a section of audiences that think you're an underutilised actor.
No, I don't think I'm underutilised or underrated. I've been utilised nicely. The thing is, Malayalees want me to do so many films in a year, and I don't allow them that. For me, acting is a passion, but at the same time I have to earn too.
I can make more money in Tamil and Telugu films. In Malayalam, I can pick roles that provide a better scope for acting. So I've become very choosy in that regard and hence the less number of films. I'm fed up of doing the same roles -- mostly a chocolate boy or a cop -- over and over again. If I continue doing that, those same people will get bored of me later and I'll lose my value. I started doing dark and negative roles because they're more exciting.