INTERVIEW | I might be lazy in my personal life, but not in cinema: Dhyan Sreenivasan
Dhyan Sreenivasan shares stories about his famed transparency and why cinema is a form of rehab for him.
It is not often you find celebrities lowering their guard and speaking their mind. Diplomacy is the most preferred mode of communication and subsequently, most of their interactions come across as manufactured PR-propagated statements. This is where someone like Dhyan Sreenivasan stands out. Transparent, unabashed, and hilarious, it’s safe to say that Dhyan is the first of his kind in Malayalam cinema. Through his media interactions over the last two years, the actor-filmmaker has earned the moniker ‘Interview Star’, along with the dubious reputation of being a better entertainer off-screen than on-screen.
An excellent storyteller, Dhyan mostly recounts fun anecdotes from his “spoiled brat” life or his equation with his family members—his dad (veteran writer-filmmaker-actor Sreenivasan) and brother (noted writer-filmmaker-actor-singer Vineeth Sreenivasan) being the regular characters. His frankness reached new heights when he recently opened up about his “unpleasant past” when he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. It was perhaps the first such instance of a Malayalam cinema celebrity sharing such details about substance abuse. In this interview with Cinema Express, Dhyan shares more about his road to recovery and how he is contemplating his choices.
You’ve often stated your disinterest in acting. But post-Covid, we saw you committing multiple projects successively...
It’s true that I never had plans to become an actor. I did Thira only because it was my brother’s film, and most of my other films had friends involved; so it was just a means to chill with them. When I decided to direct Love Action Drama, my focus shifted to it for over two years. Then came Covid, which confined us all to our homes. Though I had initiated talks for my second film and even got artists on board, their dates weren’t available for the next year. I was bored of being home; insecurities crept in and I couldn’t afford to be jobless. That’s when I decided to return to my alternate career—acting. Once I started taking up projects, offers flooded.
A cursory look at your filmography suggests that you have had 10 releases in the past 19 months, and a handful more coming up...
The truth is, I only remember the first project I signed—Khali Purse of Billionaires. It was an instant decision to take it up, but all the others I committed afterwards were influenced by multiple reasons. Firstly, I wanted something to control me from my usual routine and habits. While doing films continuously, I wasn’t idle, and it kept me away from other distractions. In that sense, cinema is my rehab. It made me more disciplined and committed. Though I didn’t enjoy the process of acting, I took up these projects to ensure I was engaged. I also saw these films as a learning experience to better myself as a technician. Then obviously, there were monetary benefits.
Have you wondered why so many offers came your way despite most being failures?
There are various reasons; the most important being my remuneration. After Covid, when most actors weren’t willing to cut down on their pay, I was flexible. I mostly did small-scale films, say on a budget of around 1-1.5 crores, and I was affordable for them. I’m also very committed to work. I’m a regular for shoots and promotions. Otherwise, I don’t think producers will continue to opt for me. I might be lazy in my personal life, but not in the cinema. For my upcoming film, Varshangalkku Shesham, I’ve already shed around 12 kgs. It’s hard to focus on diet and exercise when you’re shooting continuously, but I’m strictly following it because of my commitment.
Were you ever demoralised by the string of flops?
Not really, because I already had an idea about how these films would fare. I’ve also told my directors, mostly beginners, that these ideas might not work, but they trust their gut feeling and want me to stand by them. One thing I learnt through this journey is, that those films that satisfied me have ultimately done well. For instance, I knew Udal had potential and it turned out as expected. I have similar hopes for Nadhikalil Sundari Yamuna.
At a time when audiences are seeking big-scale entertainers, why do you think a rural comedy like Nadhikalil Sundari Yamuna (NSY) would do well?
It’s been a while since we have had films driven purely by situational humour. NSY will be a thorough entertainer in that sense. It also has a familiar subject and flavour, which will hopefully help the audience recall the old classics in the genre. I would call it a ‘naattinpuram commercial package’ because it has all that one would expect from a rural entertainer. Apart from Aju, almost all others in the cast, including me, hail from Malabar, so it was a very relatable film for us. Like I said, I pin my hopes only on films that give me personal satisfaction. NSY was one such experience.
While doing unsatisfactory films, were you ever bothered by a sense of responsibility towards the audience watching your films?
Most of the films that were released over the last one and a half years were committed just after Covid. At that time, I just thought about myself and how to get out of my habits. I was only concerned about what was good for my well-being. But even then, I was well aware that my choices would backfire after a point. I’m already facing its consequences. On a positive note, I also believe it was a successful process because I didn’t enjoy such acceptance then. I earned it only while promoting these so-called bad films. So, it’s like a blessing in disguise for me. All said, I’ve also started to realise it’s high time to start thinking about the audience and be more responsible towards them.
The acceptance you mentioned was earned through your refreshing candidness in interviews. But have you ever pre-planned your interactions or do you just go with the flow?
It was in 2021 that I regularly started attending interviews, and by now, I’m very comfortable with it and share a cordial relationship with most channels. Though promoting films is the purpose of these interviews, the conversations invariably get diverted. That’s when I started narrating stories. It was vital to engage myself, the interviewer, and the audience watching it. Yes, there have also been instances when I’ve had to prepare beforehand. It mostly happens while doing festival special shows. When anchors call up the day before requesting to share some interesting stories, I ensure their purpose is met by dishing out some entertaining content. But to be honest, I’m now exhausted with these interviews. It won’t be long before the audience starts sensing the repetitiveness. Another major reason for the fatigue is the fact that I’m running out of stories (laughs).
Were you always drawn towards storytelling? When did you realise it was a strength?
Yes, I’ve always loved entertaining people and for that, storytelling was my best bet. Years of donning this role in family and friends circles have helped me immensely in cinema, particularly with convincing people. My stories aren’t always that great, but I manage to make them sound exceptional with my narration style. Even with my interviews, I believe the popularity is not because of my transparency, but the way I spice up and narrate my tales.
Lately, there have been several complaints about actors interfering in creative decisions. Where do you draw that line, given that you’re also a filmmaker?
While I’m acting, I never intrude into a filmmaker’s space. Being a technician myself, I know how hard it is to deal with. But there have also been instances where I’ve gone out of the way to help. I’ve mostly worked with newcomers, and if I feel like they are expecting some help, then I step in with charting or planning sequences.
So, you’re a passionate filmmaker and a disinterested actor. What about writing?
I don’t really enjoy writing because I’ve a lot of limitations. One of them is language. Malayalam doesn’t come easy to me because I studied it only till 5th grade. Then there’s my laziness. Because of these constraints, I don’t like the process of developing a full-fledged screenplay with dialogues. I mostly work on step outlines. So far I’ve only handled light-hearted subjects, where I had the liberty to write and improvise on location. Maybe I’ll mend my ways when I do something that demands a serious approach.
Is there something ‘serious’ on the cards?
As someone who enjoys watching all kinds of films, I would love to attempt all genres. I conceived my first film Love Action Drama within my comfort zone. It was basically a fun film, something I didn’t have to think a lot about. But I’ll never do another film like that. I’m now aiming to do something bigger because that’s what the audience also wants today. I had scripted a film for Manju (Warrier) Chechi and we had even announced it. Since she wanted to do it as a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual and insisted that I act alongside her, we’ve put it on hold for now. I currently have around 15 acting commitments lined up, after which I’m thinking of taking a break to brainstorm ideas for my next directorial. Hopefully, I can start it by the end of 2024 or early 2025.