‘After my national award, people stopped offering comedy roles’: Salim Kumar
Salim Kumar talks to TNIE about why there are no comedians in cinema anymore, how political correctness has affected humour in films.
From doing slapstick comedy roles to winning the national award for best actor, Salim Kumar has traversed quite a long path in the Malayalam film industry. In between, he also became a director and producer. He talks to TNIE about why there are no comedians in cinema anymore, how political correctness has affected humour in films, and also his philosophy of life in general.
A friend from the film industry told us that we are going to meet one of the most genuine people in the film industry… Are you one?
(Laughs out) To know that you have to get to know me. One should not believe what others say; but only through experience. Now you have a chance... (chuckles).
You have said that all that you wanted was to act in two movies. See where you have reached…
I have acted in 300-plus films. Five state awards and a national award (laughs out).
All these were beyond expectation, right?
How do you deal with it when you receive things beyond dreams? Without letting it affect you?
On second thought, it is not right to say those were completely beyond my dreams. We will not receive anything without dreaming. Even at a time when I was doing minor roles, I used to listen to award announcements on the radio to know whether my name was there. I was sure my name would not be there… But once I received the national award, I was not thrilled. But I felt good seeing others cheering for me.
Why are you not seen in movies these days?
People are still calling and offering roles. But, I am not doing any due to some health reasons.
In 2014, you said you are planning to quit the industry. Was there such a plan?
Yes, retirement is good. Though I am not too old, my mind was telling me it is enough. But then, I wanted to continue because I don’t know any other job.
Do you watch new movies?
I watch movies very rarely. I don’t have the patience to watch movies... even my movies. Out of the 300-odd movies I did, I may have watched about 10.
The Malayalam film industry has changed a lot after you stopped acting. Is there a disconnect between then and now?
It has been only four years since I stopped acting. The new generation of filmmakers has not brought any drastic changes like K G George or Aravindan. What we get to see now are variations of what people like Bharathan and Padmarajan have done. It is like old wine in a new bottle.
So, are you saying there are not many talents today like before?
Not really… We used to say our generation was the best. Today’s generations say theirs is the best. Our favourite actor would be Mammootty or Mohanlal. Before that, it was Sathyan or Prem Nazir. Whatever was there in our generation is good for us. And our habits are based on that.
But for the new generation too, it is Mammootty or Mohanlal.
No, no. Things have changed. In our generation, 100% chose Mammootty or Mohanlal though we liked Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan. But now Ajith’s and Vijay’s movies get ten times more collection than Malayalam movies.
So isn’t that a drawback of our actors?
Yes. But our movies are also to be blamed.
But many of our movies are being remade in Hindi. Drishyam is an example.
It has happened earlier too. Many of Priyadarshan’s movies were remade in Hindi.
What is lacking in today’s movies?
There is no life or humour in today’s films. Today’s films are only about the youth. I don’t say they are bad... but films should reflect real life too.
This change may be because only the youth are going to theatres.
Yes. Only the films for youth are running in theatres. Earlier, if a Balachandra Menon movie is released, people would come with their families to watch it. Now, we don’t have such films.
Why do you say there’s no humour in today’s films?
Because there is nobody to write good humour. The chances for humour in our lives have reduced. Humor will not come if we stay in a room with a computer or a mobile phone.
Recently, you made a statement that humour is lost because we try to become politically correct…
Yes. Political correctness is a barrier to humour. Now we can’t call someone bald or dark. Political correctness has to be followed in every word. We don’t know when a case will be filed against us.
Can’t we create politically correct humour?
Humour cannot be created if there are such restrictions. Overt stress on political correctness has ruined our humour sense. Humour cannot be created by being in a cage. Even Kunjan Nambiar criticised the king. Nehru told cartoonist Shankar not to spare him. Humour should be given space without any barriers. Then only humour will exist.
But we can create good humour without body shaming, right?
Body shaming should not happen. It is bad. But we should not term every word as “body shaming”. Even Mammootty had to apologise for addressing someone bald. We have learnt in our childhood that baldness is the symbol of a man. How will it be body-shaming?
Actors who can do humour roles are also few these days. Can’t it be a reason?
We can mould actors. Pappu Chettan, Jagathy Chettan, Innocent Chettan or even me were moulded. But the problem is there are no good writings.
You, Indrans and Suraj Venjaramoodu who had been active in comedy roles are taking on serious roles. Don’t you think this might be a reason?
There are no comedy roles in the films today. That is why we are doing serious roles. I have always and still would like to do comedy roles. But there is a dearth of such roles. I love making people laugh.
You have made people laugh and also cry… Which role is more difficult to play?
Comedy roles. It is tough to make people laugh! You can easily make a person cry but making them laugh is a very tough task.
But you won’t get the national award for a comic role…
Forget national, you won’t even get a state award... (chuckles)
We know about Salim Kumar the comedian. Can you tell us about Salim Kumar before being a comedian?
My desire to become an artist made me a comedian. I first became a mimicry artist by emulating my teachers and friends. Later on, I graduated to mimicking actors after watching their films.
You are a Congress party supporter. Why?
Well, it was because my father was a Congress sympathiser and a huge fan of K Karunakaran. He used to take me to the Congress party meetings and rallies. One day my father told me to not go to school. Congress party was conducting a donation drive to fund the Rajan case trial. I garlanded Karunakaran and he touched my cheek. That was a memorable moment for me and I became a huge fan of him.
Anybody else in Congress?
I also like Ramesh Chennithala.
So you are an I-group sympathiser?
(Laughs out) Yes. And this has also caused problems and losses in my life.
Have you ever thought of contesting elections?
No, never. I am not apt for it. Even Amitabh Bachchan failed.
Have you ever been targeted by the LDF government which is in power now?
The only time I felt that was when I was not invited for lighting the lamp at IFFK! The organisers had said that the lamp will be lit by 25 actors who had won the national award. Only two actors had won the national award in Ernakulam district. One is P J Antony, who is no more, and I am the other one. But they didn’t bother calling me. I expressed my protest.
It is said people who do not support Leftist ideology face discrimination in the Malayalam film fraternity.
I don’t think so. I have never faced any such discrimination.
You had resigned from AMMA in 2016 protesting Mohanlal’s decision to campaign for LDF candidate Ganeshkumar in Pathanapuram.
I resigned as the decision to adopt a neutral approach in the case of actors contesting assembly elections was violated. Actor Jagadeesh was the UDF candidate in Pathanapuram and it was not right to campaign for one actor when the opposite candidate is also an actor. Congress leader Bindu Krishna who contested against actor Mukesh in the Kollam constituency invited me to campaign for her, but I declined. I thought it was against the spirit of unity within the fraternity.
What was the response of AMMA?
They did not accept my resignation. I continue to be a member of AMMA.
Do you think your opportunities as an actor declined after winning the national award?
There was no dearth of opportunities and I was also not selective. But it is true that people stopped offering me comedy roles.
Was it because of the perception that a national award-winning actor will not do comedy roles?
If presented in the right way, people will accept both comedy and serious roles.
Your comedy characters have been much appreciated...
People love my comedy roles. But if I ask, they will say Samuel of Achan Urangatha Veedu and Abu in Adaminte Makan Abu are my best roles. That is the problem (laughs out).
Characters played by you are widely used in memes and trolls. What makes your characters so popular?
Maybe because these characters are very expressive. I feel people are using my face for memes because it makes interaction easy. I don’t mind that. Initially, I used to enjoy it, but now I feel it is the expression of some other person.
There have been allegations of drug abuse in the Malayalam film industry.
I don’t know. I haven’t seen anybody using drugs. The actors against whom allegations are made have acted with me, but I haven’t seen them using drugs.
You have been able to make everyone laugh. Who is the person who can make you laugh?
It is actor Innocent who made me laugh both on screen and off-screen. Innocent and Kuthiravattom Pappu are the two talented actors I adore.
Some say actors these days do not share the kind of camaraderie enjoyed by the previous generation. Is it so?
I will blame the caravan culture for the lack of interactions in the industry. Earlier, actors used to sit together and talk freely. Now people return to the privacy of the caravan immediately after a shot. Movies like CID Moosa and Parakkum Thalika may not happen again. Because the comedy dialogues in these movies evolved through interactions.
You have said you don’t want to be born a human if there is rebirth. You don’t like humans?
I like good human beings. But they are very rare.
But only human beings can make others laugh…
Animals too have comedy instincts. The only thing is that we don’t observe them. There are villains and comedians among them. I like animals more than humans. Animals have the grit to face any challenge. Have you seen any animal committing suicide? I feel humans don’t have one-tenth of the mental strength of animals.
What is your opinion about the translocation of Arikomban?
I sympathise with Arikomban. It is humans who trespassed into its territory and constructed houses. Where should the animals go?
Do you believe in God?
God believes in me (chuckles). I used to visit temples but have stopped because Gods want only money. Whether it is Hindu, Christian or Muslim. We can’t communicate directly with god. There are intermediaries. Why should we give money to someone who feels difficulty speaking with us directly? The belief system is imposed on us. I don’t believe in it.
Heard that during the 2018 floods, you gave shelter to many people at your home.
There were 59 people at home. They are my fellow beings and I have to help them.
Was there any preparation or homework for the character in Adaminte Makan Abu?
No. I had no preparation. I only gave what the script required. I never went and studied anyone for the role. Because I have seen many Abus. Salim (director of the film Salim Ahamed) told me to watch Mohanlal’s mannerisms in the film Paradesi. I didn’t watch. Because, if I had watched, I would have unknowingly imitated Mohanlal as I’m a mimicry person.
Though you don’t believe in religion, it’s said that you believe in jathakam (horoscope)...
No, never. Who said that? Times are changing, and still, people are getting horoscopes written spending thousands of rupees. Kerala is witnessing human sacrifices. And we are calling ourselves Prabudha Keralam (enlightened Kerala). There is a dialogue in a Dileep movie where he says ’Though my name is Kunjan, I call myself Vimal Kumar’. The same is the case here. Prabudha Keralam is the name we call ourselves (laughs). Likewise, we are calling ourselves ‘God’s Own Country’. Our tourism department coined the term as a marketing exercise. We are just an ordinary state.
What should be done to improve our land?
This land will not improve just like that. Even an impoverished country like Sri Lanka is far better in cleanliness, road safety, and waste disposal. Our politicians are our curse. There’s corruption in any project that is announced. How can such a country improve?
There’s a sense of disappointment in your talk despite having a successful career. Why is that?
Did you feel so? I’m happy as a husband, I’m happy as a father of two children. But I’m not happy as a human being. What have I contributed? This realisation comes not from a lack of satisfaction but from the knowledge that life is only worth this much.
When did that realisation dawn on you?
Perhaps, when I came face to face with death in the ICU. People encounter God moments before death. There I witnessed lots of deaths. And, I realised that awards, even the Oscars, have no meaning.
Do you have any close friends within the film industry?
There are no real friendships in the industry. It’s just a gathering during the making of a film. Lasting and deep friendships are very rare in the cinema world.
Do you adore anyone?
Yes, I adore people who do things that I can’t do.
A few names…
I adore P T Usha, I adored K Karunakaran, I adored E K Nayanar.
And Pinarayi Vijayan?
Of course. I admire Pinarayi Vijayan. He has willpower, and the quality to lead. He can take decisions and implement them. If you point out faults, there is no one without faults and weaknesses.
In the film industry?
So many people.
Do you have a plan to direct a film?
Yes, I have a plan but I don’t know if it will happen. As discussed earlier, I need to test if I’m outdated. If today’s films have gone way past my time, then I should not do it.
Is it true that you have been ignored for supporting Dileep?
We should not look into these issues. I have never said that all things that Dileep did were correct. What I said was that we are not the people to judge him or anyone. Neither the media nor the people are qualified to give the judgment. Only the courts are qualified to pass judgment.
Did you ever feel you shouldn’t have made that statement?
Are you saying he’s not at fault?
That’s what he told me. When he says ‘I have not done any such thing’, what should I do? I asked him directly, and he swore on his children that he has not done it. I would like to believe he has not done it. My belief may be true or not.
How do you spend your free time?
I love sitting idly. Then I read.
What do you read?
I just completed Shakeela’s autobiography.
How’s the book?
It’s not a very good book. But, I could understand her life through the book. She has written openly. She has written that even if you trust a murderer, you should not trust a Malayali. She must have written from her experiences. When I read that, as a Malayali, I felt contempt for myself.