Producers turning actors is not a new thing in Indian cinema. But a producer drastically altering his appearance for a part is a rare occurrence. At the centre of director Sooraj Tom’s Krishnankutty Pani Thudangi is Luca, a mysterious figure present throughout the film, albeit as two contrasting personalities.
Bedridden and vulnerable in the first half, Luca becomes an uncomfortably disturbing character when his connection to the lead character, Beatrice (Saniya Iyyappan), is revealed in the second half. A man responsible for a devastating ripple effect that lasts decades, Luca is essayed by Santhosh Damodaran, the head honcho of Damor Cinema, known for such productions as Kurukshetra, Chandrolsavam, and most recently, Wolf, starring Arjun Ashokan and Samyuktha Menon.
The thought of making a full-fledged acting debut, that too with a daring character such as Luca, never crossed Santosh’s mind. The makers initially had Kottayam Ramesh in mind for the same. (Ramesh recently got noticed for playing Prithviraj’s driver in Ayyappanum Koshiyum) But scheduling conflicts steered the makers towards Santhosh, who needed a lot of convincing.
“Naturally, I was concerned because even though I’ve produced films before and understood the filmmaking process, acting is one area about which I had no clue,” says Santhosh, who took a while to get used to his new task on the first day of the shoot. “But after giving it some thought, I felt that maybe it was destiny — a role like this eventually reaching me. On the first day, it took me an hour to grasp the grammar of it all. I experienced a slight problem with the first scene, but then everyone on set made me comfortable. Maintaining continuity was a challenge, but somehow everything worked. The second half was shot first, followed by the bedridden portions.
The initial suggestion was that I stuff cotton in my mouth to make one side of the face look droopy, but I decided against it as I felt it wouldn’t look natural.”Santhosh initially found the first round of positive feedback hard to believe because he was worried about his performance after every scene. It was only after watching the preview that he became convinced. So was the makers who asked him to dub in his voice. After the film released, one of Santhosh’s well-wishers was director Ranjith, who suggested that he act more often.
Interestingly, this was not Santhosh’s first stint in front of the camera. He had made a minor appearance in Major Ravi’s Kurukshetra. “It was upon the insistence of Lalettan that I appeared in one scene. When I was visiting one of the locations, Lalettan asked me to show up in costume. He was very encouraging and gave me the necessary instructions,” recalls Santhosh.
Krishnankutty Pani Thudangi, produced by Noble Jose, had skipped theatres and opted for a premiere on Zee5. Interestingly, Santosh bankrolled and released Wolf, another small-budget thriller, on the same platform. Both films were products of the lockdown. Wolf was another thing that happened to Santhosh by chance, as he had hoped to back relatively larger projects. However, the pandemic forced him to put those plans on hold.
“I thought it would be a good idea to do smaller films with intriguing concepts for OTT in the present situation,” he says. “Wolf went into production while Krishnankutty Pani Thudangi was in post-production. Arjun Ashokan and project designer Anooten Vargis had put it together. I did it because I was a fan of GR Indugopan’s books.”
Elaborating on the idea of doing films for OTT, Santhosh views it in a positive light. “The good thing about writing a film for an OTT platform is that we can expand our imagination and come up with a wide variety of concepts. Besides, it’s encouraging for the writers, too, as they are free from limitations. There is no concern about the censors or pleasing only family audiences,” he concludes.