The Malayalam actor unravels some of the layers from the action-thriller, which is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. If you haven’t watched the film yet, be warned as there are major SPOILERS ahead!
From his filmography so far, it’s evident Malayalam actor Tovino Thomas has never been shy of experimenting. But his latest film Kala, a visceral and visual thriller, is probably what has pushed him the most, both physically and emotionally.
The movie, which is directed by Rohith VS , revolves around two characters – a privileged youth named Shaji (Tovino) and a Tamilian worker (Suresh Moor), who comes to the former’s land with the intent of seeking revenge. The two fight it out in a brutal battle that also sheds light on the division between people and other living beings.
In conversation with OTTplay, Tovino breaks down some of the scenes and characters of Kala.
How did Rohith initially present this idea to you?
He explained it to me in 10 minutes through five voice notes on WhatsApp. I loved the idea as soon as I heard it. Last year, I spent a lot of time reading and one book that changed my perspective was Jayamohan sir’s 100 Simhasanangal. It is about a man who was born in a Naayaadi tribe. I have always felt that we should share the thoughts that have influenced us through our films. So, when Rohith told me about Kala, I told him that there’s this book where it says that if an unprivileged man commits an unlawful act even twice, it’s not wrong. A privileged man does it because of his ego, but an unprivileged person is forced by society to commit the act - that’s the explanation.
Also, I have always been impressed by Rohith’s work and I knew how the movie would turn out with him at the helm. The whole process of making Kala was exciting because he and cinematographer Akhil George would come home to discuss and we would go to our turf, play and then talk further about the film. The idea took shape during last year’s lockdown when we were all uncertain about the future of cinema, but we were sure that was the best time to shoot a movie like Kala. That’s how all of us including (producers) Siju Mathew and Navis Xavier came together to produce Kala.
What were the challenges to play a character like Shaji?
Shaji’s character had to have a particular graph. People know how I am, physically. So, when I am initially presented as an alpha male, the challenge was to convincingly lose the fight to Moor’s character. Shaji had a lot of layers but I had to be subtle in terms of how I played him.
To understand Shaji’s character more, he’s not someone who is valued by his father…
Even though his father has always underestimated him, Shaji has been craving for his validation and that’s why he is always submissive to him. He loves his father but his dad has never shown him any affection. In the movie, after a particular point, Shaji tells his father that he knows what he is doing and that moment shocks him. That’s when his father too realises that Shaji is a grown man capable of making his own decisions. That’s why at the end, he goes up to Shaji with two glasses of whiskey.
Yes, so for someone who isn’t valued by his father and is constantly reminded of his failures by those around him, wouldn’t his ego be fragile?
Some people are just headstrong. Despite being a useless man who doesn’t earn a penny, Shaji tries to lord over his workers. There are people around us who still haven’t gotten over their ancestral pride; those belonging to families that had claimed vast areas of land and have been rich for generations. So, what Moor’s character does is repeatedly shatter Shaji’s ego till a point where he can’t react anymore. That’s also Shaji’s redemption and he doesn’t cry after that.
There’s a scene in Kala where Shaji limps in the wilderness, being fully aware that he is being hunted…
When two people are fighting each other, films have only shown the injuries that they sustain. In Kala, we also showcase how much nature is affected by all this. About that scene, where my character limps, the tricky part is pitting a well-built actor against someone like Moor, and making it convincing.
Apart from Moor’s performance, what made it work was how the action scenes were designed. In that scene where Moor’s character breaks Shaji’s leg and makes him drag himself through the wild, the latter is becoming weaker. Moor’s character doesn’t use brute strength, just his wits. That was a huge challenge for us because ultimately, it’s more like David versus Goliath and people should feel convinced that Moor’s character can beat mine.
It was a gradual process too because in the first half, Shaji had the upper hand several times during the fight till Moor brought him into his territory.
Shaji is fighting because of his ego, but the other guy is doing it as a last resort after losing something dear to him. For Shaji, the relationship he shares with his dog is that of a master and pet, but for Moor’s character, his dog was more of a sibling. So, there’s that huge difference in terms of motivation between the characters.
You would have connected with the human-animal divide that the film also talks about?
Definitely. In real life, I don’t have a master-slave relationship with my dog. But Shaji is the direct opposite. I would never put my foot on my dog’s head. These were the elements that Rohith and I added to shape Shaji’s character through multiple discussions.
In which scene did you suffer internal injuries for which you were hospitalised?
The very first fight sequence - we began with that and that’s where I got injured. It’s not because Moor kicked me, but because I fell hard.
The censor board’s A rating and the trailer of the film would have given an impression that it was a violent film.
It got an ‘18 years and above’ rating only in India, in the UAE, it was PG 15. The censor board officials told us that it was better to release the film with that rating so that we didn’t have to edit out anything.
Even the expletives used in the film have its importance. Initially, all those cuss words that Shaji directs at Moor’s character show how he considers the latter inferior. But in the middle of the fight, he stops calling him that because his ego is wounded now. When he stops using that expletive, it just means that the entire caste layer that Shaji thought could hurt him has been removed from the equation.
Kala also uses a lot of visuals than dialogues to tell the story. For instance, in the end, when Shaji asks Moor’s character to do what he wants with the dog. Even though you just see a glimpse of Divya Pillai’s character, you know the weight of the emotions that she’s feeling towards Shaji and what prompted him to say that.
Yes, there again, his ego got hurt. She’s telling him to unleash the dog that he has been fighting all this time to save. So, for him, it means that his wife thinks that the dog is better than him, and that’s why he gives her a death stare and tells Moor to kill the dog.
Most of these improvisations have come from discussions between Rohith and me. One such scene was where Shaji is shown eating a banana inside the house, smack in the middle of the battle. He has been fighting since the morning and I thought it would be good if we had some unusual activity there. The scene could also be interpreted in other ways; so, there are so many layers that would be unravelled in a second watch.
How has the feedback for the movie been?
People who watch films seriously have loved it based on the reviews and posts that many have shared on social media. I won’t claim that it’s an extraordinary film, but people have understood that it’s not just an action movie. There is a section of the audience, who watched it expecting it to be an action film but was disappointed that “it didn’t have any story”. But after seeing some reactions, I asked Rohith if we overestimated our audience. It’s not that there wasn’t a story; it’s just that they didn’t see it. There’s a lot of reading between the lines.