KOCHI: The image of John Honai’s menacing smile remains deeply etched on the memories of many a Malayali film buff who grew up during the 90s and chanced upon In Harihar Nagar on television. In a film peppered with, and remembered for, many iconic light-hearted moments, Riza Bava’s chilling presence sharply contrasted with the comical shenanigans of Mukesh, Ashokan, Siddique, and Jagadish. The laughs died down the minute Honai made his entry, and the film immediately shifted genres.
Filmmaker Vinay Govind, who had directed Riza Bava in Kohinoor, can relate to that feeling. John Honai had such a hypnotic effect on him that, when time came to make his directorial debut, he gave him a part that, he hoped, would be accompanied by the “shadow” of John Honai. Vinay remembers Riza Bava as a “sweet” and “easy” actor who could effortlessly grasp the directions given to him. “He didn’t need much time to get an idea of what he was supposed to go, where to look... No kind of pressure accompanied him. He would come to set, do his work, and leave. Though he didn’t interact much, he was nice to everyone,” recalls Vinay.
Like many of us who were surprised by Riza Bava’s softer roles in the later stage of his career, Vinay too feels that he had the potential to deliver tender performances on screen. “He had the calibre to shine in non-villain roles, but he was under-utilised,” says Vinay.
“He got typecast as a villain quite early in his career. Because John Honai made such a huge impact, we tend to overlook the other characters he played. He probably wasn’t considered by most new-age filmmakers. The size of his characters eventually got smaller. Perhaps it’s the changing nature of Malayalam cinema. “
Another overlooked aspect of Riza Bava, Vinay feels, is his talent for dubbing. “I got to interact with him when he did some remarkable dubbing work for V K Prakash’s Karmayogi. It was another moment that revealed to me another undiscovered skill of his. It was around the same time that I felt like casting him. When we made our film, in which we were trying to recreate the mood of the 80s, he was an actor of top priority. Working with him was gratifying.”