Indrajith is always trying to surprise the actor in himself. He is in tune with the changing grammar of cinema and savours the countless conversations he has had with filmmakers, which has helped him refine his craft. He loves the thrill of becoming someone else, albeit briefly. The tiny nuances, quirky dialects, heady heroism—they are invigorating. He also prides himself on spotting talent—that defining moment when he realises the person who has just given him a one-liner can be a master storyteller.
“With just one sitting, you can see whether he has the making of a great director,” he admits. One of the reasons why, out of his 75 films, he remains the only actor of his generation to have worked with the most number of debutant directors—23 in all. Two of the films are still in the making: Nadirsha’s multi-starrer, Amar Akbar Antony, co-starring Prithviraj and Jayasurya, and Vishnu’s Adoorum Thoppilum Allandoru Bhasiyum.
Devil is in the details
But for now, Lijo Jose Pallasery, a maverick director whom Indrajith showed faith in years ago, is directing him in his immediate release, Double Barrel. The actor recalls his first meeting with Pallasery—to narrate Nayakan. “I was intrigued by the Kathakali-underworld nexus. I thought it would be a challenge to blend the dance form with a commercial action film,” he recalls, admitting that though impressed, he was sceptical about how it would translate on screen. However, after watching two of the director’s short films, especially 3, he knew he was in safe hands.
Though Nayakan did not set the box office on fire, it was noticed by hard-nosed critics. Pallasery went on to collaborate with the actor in two more films, including what he considers Indrajith’s career best, Father Vincent Vattoli in Amen (2013). “He gave his own interpretation for Vincent Vattoli—giving him grace, subtlety and composure. He has an incredible memory (the lengthy church speech was recited verbatim, with very few takes) and fantastic timing, giving the right nuances to each scene,” says Pallasery. Meanwhile, the actor admits it was a tough task to play the multi-dimensional priest. “It was vital not to reveal Vattoli’s divinity to those watching Amen. The challenge was also to ensure that those watching it for the second time got the same thrill. I tried to bring that in with minute details,” he tells me. As for the sprightly Vattoli Achan jig, it was an impromptu idea, echoes both the director and the actor.
“Lijo breathes cinema and we share an incredible bond. He believes in me as an actor. Likewise, I can see a new Indrajith each time I work with him. However, off the sets, we hardly talk about cinema. We laugh a lot and fool around,” he grins. That sense of fun colours Double Barrel, an out-and-out comedy. Every character is painted with humour though they appear serious. “It is a fun gangster film set in Goa. It has a comic book feel and kids will relate to it. In fact, the teaser deceived people into thinking it is an action film. You remember those dons (actor-director) Sreenivasan created—Damodarji and Pavanazhi?” he suddenly recalls with a loud chuckle.
Nadirsha’s Amar Akbar Antony is also a fun entertainer, with plenty of laughs. “He is very cool to work with. I can see a director who is capable of turning out superb entertainers. The script was so impressive, it didn’t even need spot improvisations,” says Indrajith.
Serious role play
If there is a role (besidesVattoli) that he regards with reverence, it is Vattu Jayan from Left Right Left. Released the same year as Amen, the character of the eccentric, roguish yet strangely lovable cop was a revelation. It was also his second collaboration with writer-actor Murali Gopi, after Eee Adutha Kalathu. “Indran is like a blank slate. A skilled writer can draw a beautiful painting on it. He allows a writer and director to mould him in any way they want,” says Gopi, adding, “He is a terrific listener, adventurous and receptive to ideas, and tries to imbibe what is in the mind of a writer. I start with a one-liner and slowly unravel the character with a detailed briefing. Indran gets it spot on.” Indrajith also holds the scriptwriter in high regard. “Murali is a friend and has this incredible way of making you get into the character. He will slowly warm you up to it with character detailing. The brief for Vattu Jayan was that he had a tough-as-nails exterior, but his eyes held melancholy. It’s a character that doesn’t come every day,” he says.
Another director who has the highest regard for Indrajith’s calibre is ad filmmaker-turned-director VK Prakash. So much so that the actor was his first choice when he thought of adapting Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as Karmayogi (2012). “He is one of the most intense actors we have in Malayalam cinema. He is versatile and has a wicked sense of comic timing. He even brings intensity to comedy,” says VKP, who has teamed with the star in five films.
This and that
Indrajith thinks Malayalam cinema is going through one of its best phases now. With a slew of films being made, a mushrooming audience and healthy competition, he feels there is space for everyone. But having said that, he admits he is also looking forward to shouldering a film alone—with a role that takes him out of his comfort zone. Has acting become easy over time? He chortles, “Acting is never an easy job. I talk to the writer, discuss the variations in my character and observe all the time. Being an actor is a constant work in progress.”
While scanning Wikipedia, a surprising fact hits me. In his two-decade career, studded with well-defined, well-played roles, Indrajith has not won any state or national awards. “I have been disappointed at times. Not so much that I did not win, but for overlooking movies that deserved to win. Maybe my time for awards is just coming,” he tells me. In the meantime, directors keep repeating him and co-stars are fond of him. “Indran can do any role. The best thing about sharing screen space with him is that we act as mirrors to each other. Since we are friends off-screen, we point out flaws too. He is a great listener, always willing to take suggestions, which I think is important for an actor. We (Indran, Prithviraj and Naren) have a WhatsApp group called Classmates, which helps us to stay connected,” says Jayasurya, who is acting with him in Amar Akbar Antony.
One of a kind
Unlike Prithviraj, Indrajith did not take the road to stardom. He bravely stepped out of the confines of the ‘hero image’ and pushed the envelope—signing roles that helped him fine-tune the actor in him. “Early in my career I had two choices. I could either wait for a film that would cast me as a hero or begin work as a character artist and make my way,” he says. His has been a slow but steady growth, and his kitty has always been full. It still is.
According to him, marketing a film is as crucial as its making, picking Ezhamathey Varavu (2014) as a film that suffered because of that. “A good film needn’t be successful always. Cinema is a process that starts from pre-production, post-production and marketing. If one of this does not work, it reflects on the fate of the film,” he says, adding that he is not averse to taking to the road to market his films.