Does an actor whose career trajectory has gotten as interesting as Fahadh Faasil’s need an introduction? In this candid conversation with Cinema Express, Kunchacko Boban, coming off yet another perspective-altering performance in Nna Thaan Case Kodu, reflects on the best phase of his career, his constant reinvention, legacy, upcoming release Ottu (with Arvind Swami), and much more...
The most impressive thing about Nna Thaan Case Kodu (NTCK) is the unique, never-before-seen humour. What was your initial reaction to the script?
It instantly hooked me. Ratheesh got the idea from a newspaper clipping of an accident in another state—of this container truck that rammed into a bus and killed a few; the driver got a petty sentence. It prompted him to get to the bottom of such an incident—who is involved, in what ways, and should they deserve punishment too?—through a movie. He pitched a simple idea, but I knew he would take it to another level because he once came to me with Android Kunjappan, which, at the time, I didn’t understand, but later made me realise what I had missed. I had complete confidence in him and the script. Even the silent moments in his films invoke much laughter. I also found all the newcomers so impressive and apt for their roles that you can’t imagine anyone else playing them. The casting department should deserve a big applause for that. Rajesh Madhavan, who played one of the characters in NTCK, was the chief casting director who deserves a special mention.
Do you regret not doing Android Kunjappan?
Not really. Maybe I missed a good chance, but I felt I got a much better opportunity later with NTCK. I believe that things happen for the better. For me, NTCK and Rajeevan are very close to my heart. So even if I had done Android Kunjappan, I would still rate NTCK way higher in my career—in my Top 10, I would say.
I’m dying to hear the story behind the ‘Devadoothar’ dance. The vision is diametrically opposite of the Kunchacko Boban from Niram or Aniyathipraavu.
As they say, variety is the spice of life. Until now, they called me one of the better dancers in Malayalam cinema, and now one of the worst, but in a positive way. (laughs) Basically, I enjoy dancing, and I think I have an innate sense of timing that I might have gotten from my mother, who is a great dancer, and the brief training in classical dance I got when I was in the fifth grade. But Rajeevan’s dance was hard because it had to appear as though everything was not in sync or tune. And what makes it even more complicated is the knowledge that this three-decade-old song is part of the Malayali psyche. So you can’t do an offbeat dance just like that in a choreographed fashion. It had to be an impromptu one. No rehearsal. Mistakes were allowed, but those had to be the correct ones.
But I enjoyed doing it. I was in the middle of a crowd, doing these so-called ‘dancing’ steps, like a man who was having an electric shock, and I told the crowd to excuse me for doing this. I told them, ‘This is not how I’m used to dancing, but whatever I’m doing, please accommodate me.’ (laughs)
‘I want to do roles that people thought I couldn't.'
Looking at your filmography, I feel there is a Kunchacko Boban film for almost all age groups. Something like Aniyathipraavu and Niram appealed to me then. But now, I gravitate more towards the underappreciated Chirakodinja Kinaavukal or the much acclaimed Varnyathil Ashanka, Nayattu, or Bheemante Vazhi. What drew you to these films?
Well, It’s the effect of ageing —and you have to age like fine wine. You learn from your experiences, your highs and lows. You have to keep on reinventing and trying new things. You can’t be okay with just fine. You have to be the finest, in every sense—in every film and genre. You have to do things that people thought you couldn’t pull off. When I got back from that break of mine, I was determined to try different shades of characters—grey, flawed, unlikeable, psychotic—that would’ve been otherwise deemed unsuitable for someone with my face.
Speaking of Chirakodinja Kinaavukal, I think it was one of my finest movies, which now people regard as one of the best spoof movies ever made in Malayalam. And, of course, movies like Bheemante Vazhi, Pada, and Nayattu have now found worldwide appreciation, too, not just in Kerala.
I got to see Ariyippu (directed by Mahesh Narayanan) recently, and as much as I loved Rajeevan from NTCK, I felt you went a couple of notches above with your Ariyippu character Hareesh. It felt like a more daring extension of what you did in Bheemante Vazhi.
Nowadays, when people say they can’t find Chackochan in a character I played, it means a lot to me. Basically, I’m not a born actor or a method actor. I just want to be known as THE ACTOR. It’s, I guess, the culmination of working on yourself all these years, and somewhere along the line, a reinvention process happened, consciously or otherwise, intentionally or unintentionally—and, of course, with some luck. I love experimenting with different things, making me more responsible and dangerous, in consequence. (laughs)
With Ariyippu, we wanted to do a movie that we could place on a global level; thankfully, that happened with the film’s recent acceptance at the Locarno film festival and other A-list film festivals. The last time this happened to an Indian film, that too, a Malayalam film, was ages ago. We designed Ariyippu as a much more serious film for serious moviegoers.
As a producer, how do you look at the changing taste of Malayali audiences today? NTCK’s success has proved that strong, unique, and never-seen-before content will always have takers.
In the first half of the year, everyone flocked to theatres to watch these mass films in any language. Everyone assumed— and predicted—that only those kinds of big-budget spectacles would do well in theatres. But NTCK has proved all of them wrong. I had told Ratheesh my wish to do it on a big scale for a wide theatrical release. You see, no one can say anything definite about which movies would do well or which wouldn’t. It’s not in anyone’s hands. It’s either in God’s hands or depends on the situations that prevailed at that time. The laughs triggered by the jokes in NTCK were infectious, which naturally translated into strong word-of-mouth publicity. Although the Devadoothar song was trending before the release, I don’t think that alone was the factor that made the film click. It was much more than that. People were coming, again and again, to watch it with their families and friends. We didn’t anticipate all that. It was beyond our expectations.
How often do you take feedback from your better half? Do you both always agree on (1) your choice of films and (2) the films you pick to watch?
My better half is my best half, best critic, and best fan. She loves me for all the right movies and characters I’ve done and detests me for all the wrong ones. (laughs) So having an in-house critic and a fan— the best in my life—always keeps me on my toes.
Could you tell us about your earliest memories of Udaya Studios, your grandfather, and your father, and how they shaped your perception of cinema?
The earliest memories of Udaya Studios were not filled with glitz and glamour because it was in bad shape—it was going from bad to worse. It was in dire straits. Productions stopped happening after a point. Financially, it was a very tough phase in my life, and I ended up detesting movies so much that I didn’t want to be a part of the industry in any manner, the least of all being an actor. I once told my father to get rid of the banner because I didn’t want my name attached to its legacy, even though my namesake was Kunchacko, the pioneer whose efforts took the Malayalam film industry from Tamil Nadu to Kerala.
So, despite his many notable achievements, such as starting the first film studio in Kerala and producing some benchmark-setting films under the Udaya banner, I didn’t want any part of it. But fate had other plans. Movies were always in my and my predecessors’ blood. So I guess my getting into films was inevitable. I would say the first entry was mechanical, the second intentional, organic, and more passionate. As time went on, I developed this urge to value the legacy of that banner by being more responsible and reciprocating the love audiences gave to me all these years. And the only way to do that is through memorable roles.
You are back to a stylish role again—and share the screen with Arvind Swami—in your next release Ottu. Did you dub for the Tamil version too?
Ottu is one of the most expensive films I’ve done. Though it’s bilingual, I couldn’t do the dubbing for the Tamil version myself due to my busy schedule. I wanted to do it properly. Next time, hopefully. And, yes, sharing space with Arvind Swami was a dream come true because he is a legend, a charmer and a good actor. He was such a great sport, a jolly guy who was fun onscreen and offscreen. He exudes a positive vibe that he passes on to his co-stars. Ottu, too, is fresh territory for me.
It’s a road movie-thriller hybrid, but not of the dark variety. It’s a pure commercial entertainer envisioned for big-screen viewing, with numerous surprises that I hope will entertain audiences.
How excited are you about working with Senna Hegde in Padmini?
I’m super excited because it has such a clean, humorous and emotional script. I actually wanted to do Senna’s second movie, but again, conflicting schedules got in the way. Aparna Balamurali is already on board, and I think Rajesh Madhavan will be in it. The other characters are getting finalised. Kunjiramayanam-fame Deepu Pradeep scripted it. Just imagine Senna’s brand of wacky humour and Deepu’s knack for hilarious satire and humour—it’s going to be a deadly laugh-riot combo. I’m looking forward to watching it in theatres with a big crowd.