The protagonist in director B Unnikrishnan’s latest, Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel, is anything but macho. His life is a struggle, and the stammering only makes it worse — a clear deviation from Unnikrishnan’s previous heroes, the hot-blooded aggressive male.
The character, played by Dileep, is quite the ‘lawyer next door’ in that sense. The director says Balan is an underdog. “Everybody loves an underdog story. There is a universal appeal for such kind of cinema. This is about how Balakrishnan, an advocate, struggles to overcome obstacles in life,” says Unnikrishnan.
But, he refuses to tag the character or the movie. “Everything about the protagonist and his life is quite organic. It is an easily consumable entertainer. In that very sense, an ordinary movie,” he says.
This story has been stuck with Unnikrishnan for some time, to be precise from 2014. He remembers how he visualised Mohanlal for the project, only to realise Dileep would fit the role to the T. After he listened to the script, Dileep instantly agreed.
However, controversies ensued and Dileep was nose deep in legal troubles but Unnikrishnan wouldn’t budge. He decided to move ahead with the project, drawing criticism from many quarters. But, Unnikrishnan says his character was something that only Dileep could play with ease.
“My priority was the character and it was something Dileep could handle well. Balan Vakeel is an introvert, his disability made him that way. He knows the joke is always on him. But, he overcomes everything to claim his space. It required someone like Dileep and I hired the actor in him. And, he has played Balan Vakeel quite well too. He is a competent actor and a thorough professional,” says the director.
He is still in awe about how Dileep handled the role. “The consistency is mind-blowing. To play a character with a disability and to keep it consistent is quite tough. His background in mimicry obviously helped him ease into it,” says Unnikrishnan.
The director is aware of the discussions surrounding the character’s disability too. “This is something that happens. We have seen among us how people who stammer are ridiculed. That doesn’t mean we show them in poor light or celebrate their disability. Take the example of EMS Namboothiripad. Who, in fact, bothers about his stammer?” he asks.
He thinks inching too much towards puritanism won’t do much good to the cinema in the long run. “This insistence for purity and diplomatic correctness is dangerous. We need to celebrate heterogeneity and move away from bracketing things as black-and-white,” says Unnikrishnan.
For someone who is known for his intellectual prowess, the director’s affinity for simple entertainers had always been a topic of discussion. Unnikrishnan began his career with Jalamarmaram (1999) which won him the National Award, but since then he has made big-budget dramas, many of which went on to star Mohanlal and Mammootty.
While many accuse him of playing to the gallery, Unnikrishnan believes that there is a huge market for entertainers in Malayalam. “Why should there be a disdain for slapstick humour or entertainers for that matter? Like realistic cinema, we have a space for masala movies too. People watch a movie for pleasure and we should explore the politics of pleasure,” he says.
That said, Unnikrishnan doesn’t want to restrict him to any particular genre. “We say there are many people inside an individual. I’m no different. For me, Jalamarmaram, Villain, and Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel are the same. I consider all my work equally,” Unnikrishnan says.
Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel will hit the theatres tomorrow. It also stars Mamta Mohandas, Aju Varghese and Suraj Venjaramood in significant roles.