The actor, who played Selva in the Vineeth Sreenivasan directorial, talks to us about his eight-year-old journey in the industry, how he landed the role in Hridayam and his upcoming film with Sai Pallavi
Last Updated: 04.12 AM, Jan 25, 2022
Kalesh Ramanand’s Selva in Hridayam is easily one of the most heart-tugging characters in Vineeth Sreenivasan’s coming-of-age drama that is packed with memorable performances. Those who have seen the film would have hardly ever guessed that Kalesh is a Malayali from Alappuzha and even more surprising is that he has been in the industry for eight years now and acted in movies such as Mammootty’s Kunjananthande Kada and Arvind Swami’s Thani Oruvan.
But Hridayam has presented him the much-deserved recognition at long last. “It’s an overwhelming experience. It’s been a long wait for me – not just for Hridayam’s release but personally as an actor,” says the theatre and dubbing artiste. On his big break taking so long to arrive, he says, “I call it the bamboo phenomenon. When my family and friends ask me how long will I struggle like this, I tell them, ‘When you sow the seeds of bamboo, it takes 3-5 years to establish. But after that, it shoots up quickly’. That’s what I kept telling myself too to remain optimistic.”
In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Kalesh talks to us about his journey so far, how he landed the role in Hridayam and his upcoming Tamil movie with Sai Pallavi.
Your character Selva is someone who stands out in the first half, because he was a huge inspiration to Pranav Mohanlal’s character Arun Neelakandan. Tell us about landing the role of Selva in the movie.
I am from Alappuzha, but I have been in Chennai for the past few years. I am a theatre and dubbing artiste. As most Tamil and Telugu movies are dubbed in Malayalam in Chennai, I have been in the city for some time. That’s also when I met Vineeth ettan a few times. So, when he had finished writing the script of Hridayam, he sent me a message, saying, ‘I think I have a role for you’. He called me home and told me about Selva. I obviously wasn’t expecting him to call me to play a Tamil role in a Malayalam film. But it made me aware that he was confident in me as an actor.
Vineeth ettan told me, ‘You should do but people shouldn’t feel like a Malayali is acting as a Tamilian’. That was a task for me, especially because the other characters with me – be it Kaali or Raja – were all Tamil actors and so I tried to get the diction and mannerisms right. As actors, it is when we get such characters that we prepare the most.
Most of the cast of Hridayam are relative newcomers, but yet there was a visible chemistry with everyone. Did you have a workshop or any session to get to know each other better before the work began?
We actually didn’t have a separate session. There was a workshop for the guys in Pranav’s Malayali gang in Kerala. Vineeth ettan didn’t ask me to join that because I didn’t have combination scenes with them. But when there were auditions to choose actors for Kaali and Raja, he asked me to come and read Selva’s part, so he could cast them based on our chemistry. That was my introduction to Selva’s gang.
Meanwhile, I met Pranav on the first day of shoot. Our first scene was when my character passes the answer sheet to Arun so he could copy. Also, there was another scene where Arun gets up and leaves, and Selva sort of glances at him. Those were the sequences that we shot on the first day. We spent almost half a day on that bench and that’s how we got to know each other.
In fact, during that scene, when the teacher comes and asks me to move my answer paper, Pranav and I exchange expressions. After watching that on the monitor, Vineeth ettan said, ‘It looks like you guys are already friends. The chemistry has worked out. Let it continue’. So, our wavelength synced soon.
Selva is an inspiring character. How much did you connect with him while playing the role?
I don’t think I was an inspiring character but I was an above average student. I did my BTech in Computer Science in Rajagiri Engineering College and during my academics, and like Selva, I was also inclined more towards the practical applications of it than the theory aspects.
But it was during my college days that I got the acting bug; it’s the sound of applause that we used to get while performing in cultural festivals that has then driven me to take up acting. After my engineering, I went to Chennai to attend theatre workshops. I also spent one and a half years in Mumbai with a theatre group. After that I have been working in Chennai as a theatre artiste and dubbing artiste. I have now been part of the industry for the past eight years.
What were your earlier projects?
My first movie was Salim Ahammed’s Kunjananthante Kada, in which I played a character named Suku. It was an interesting character but not many noticed. Those who did, appreciated me for doing the role. For me, it was a great opportunity as I could work with stalwarts such as Mammootty, Salim sir, Madhu Ambat and Resul Pookkutty in my first movies. I was in my early 20s in that movie.
After that I did Thani Oruvan in Tamil in which I played Kumar, who goes to the hero saying that Arvind Swami’s character had killed his girlfriend and he has proof that he wants to hand over. After that, I did a negative role in MA Nishad’s Thelivu as advocate Ramanujam. I also did a cameo in Madhavan’s Maara.
In Hridayam, there’s this beautiful dialogue where Selva says that he isn’t a Malayali to plan this in his life, he is a proper Tamilian. Tell us about doing that sequence.
Initially, Vineeth ettan had planned it as a scene in a thattukada where Selva says it casually to the group. He said he didn’t want it to be ‘massy’ because you don’t know how the Malayali audience would take it especially in a Malayalam film. But when we were shooting the sequence at the beach, Vineeth ettan himself said we will change it a bit and that’s how the kabbadi scene came into being. I told him that it now has a ‘mass’ feel but he said, ‘That’s okay because by now people are already fond of Selva. In the other sequences, he is more of a Good Samaritan. Now that he, Arun and Antony are friends, we can have moments where he speaks his mind. After all, Antony is asking him about his love and he can be heroic. Though he helps out everyone, for Selvi, Selva is a hero’. That’s how that sequence evolved.
What delights me is that I have watched the movie in theatres twice already and when that scene is played, Malayalis applaud. So, people are receiving it in the right sense.
Pranav Mohanlal has this image of a down-to-earth person despite his lineage. How was it working with him?
I don’t think that’s an image; it’s who he is. When we see him, we consider him as the son of an actor whom we have admired for a long time. But Pranav considers himself as just another guy. He doesn’t think of himself as anything else. It’s easy to say but it’s tough to live like that. That itself creates an aura. He’s ever ready to help someone. In real life, I think he’s an inspirational character. As far as I know, he is someone who does good deeds without putting on any show. So, for us, he’s amazing as a person and now as an actor too. I am really happy for him and glad that I could work with him.
How has the feedback been since Hridayam’s release and what are your next projects?
The feedback has been good. A lot of filmmakers who know me have been calling and saying that we can work together soon. Apart from that, after Hridayam, I have completed a Tamil women-centric film with Sai Pallavi in the lead. It’s directed by Richie’s director Gautham Ramachandran and I play the character opposite her. It’s a social drama and I play a supporting role. It will be released in the next couple of months.