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Exclusive! Roshan Mathew: I enjoy the fact that the nature of survival in the film industry keeps changing

Malayalam actor Roshan Mathew, who was part of Darlings, Cobra and Oru Thekkan Thallu Case, talks about his role in his latest film Kotthu and what goes into him picking movies

Exclusive! Roshan Mathew: I enjoy the fact that the nature of survival in the film industry keeps changing
Roshan Mathew | Pic: Shivam Gupta
  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 09.54 AM, Sep 23, 2022

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It’s been a busy past couple of months for Malayalam actor Roshan Mathew. August kicked off with the Netflix release Darlings and September has been unrelenting too, with the actor involved in the promotions of Vikram’s Cobra, Biju Menon’s Oru Thekkan Thallu Case and Asif Ali’s Kotthu. Roshan, who has won praise for his portrayals in each of these movies, has more to look forward to – with Sidharth Bharathan’s Chathuram, Lijin Jose’s Chera and Alphonse Puthren’s Gold gearing up release as well.

One thing that is assured while conversing with Roshan is that the actor is almost always refreshingly candid. OTTplay caught up with him soon after the release of Kotthu to break down his character, to know much he is enjoying this phase in his career and more.

Roshan Mathew and Asif Ali in a still from Kotthu
Roshan Mathew and Asif Ali in a still from Kotthu

Your character Sumesh in Kotthu lends the emotional heft to the movie. So, when Sibi Malayil approached you with the character, how much did you have to internalise what the character goes through before portraying him?

I had a very no-fuss logic to approaching this film. That was the kind of work environment we had on the sets too. Sibi sir never made a big deal of the scenes that were actually a big deal. I recently said this in the press meet as well. The emotional sequences, especially those that have moved people in theatres, were those that were shot in the most casual manner. His approach has been to keep the actors comfortable and give them as much room as possible to perform without losing a sense of flow. That’s why it was an organic process.

For me, most work went into figuring out the Kannur slang. The people in the region have certain characteristics and traits. Also, there’s a certain attitude that the youngsters who work as part of political parties there have. So, Sumesh’s track itself had so much to play around with that we didn’t have to hype it further.

In certain scenes, Sumesh has a quick temper. But after he is arrested and accepts his fate, at no point, do we feel that he blames Shanu for the position he is in. What went through your mind while essaying that state-of-mind of Sumesh?

At no point, did I think, Sumesh would have any sort of hard feelings towards Shanu. He did what he did willingly. Sumesh is also this youngster, who journeys through life spurred on by the energy of the group. He had done only what the group had wanted to do. He has never really questioned anything from his moral standpoints; the only moment he does that is when he asks, ‘Should we finish him off? Can’t we just hack his arms and legs?’ That was probably the only moment he was actually thinking for himself. The rest of the time, he is just going with the flow.

From the stories that I heard from people in Kannur too, about how these political crimes begin, it’s often the pettiest of things that get escalated to a point where someone gets killed. We actually had such a scene that was edited out. So, I felt that that sort of escalation wouldn’t happen if you stop and think about what’s going on for a moment. It only happens when you are being pushed forward in life, purely by the momentum of what’s transpired before.

Roshan Mathew in stills from Oru Thekkan Thallu Case and Kotthu
Roshan Mathew in stills from Oru Thekkan Thallu Case and Kotthu

It's been seven years in the industry and now, are you at a phase where you can choose the projects that you want to do?

Out of the ones that get to me, I have that choice. But that was actually possible even earlier too. In this industry, no one will ever force you to do a film. You might feel a certain kind of compulsion but it is completely up to you to overcome or submit to that; there’s always a choice. Fortunately, I am at a position where I have a wider variety to choose from.

Now that you have become an established actor, what are the challenges of sustaining that phase?

When you think from a broader perspective, I enjoy the fact that the nature of survival in this industry keeps changing. You never get used to anything. By the time, you think you have found a solution to something, your problems have completely morphed into something else. That way it’s a really exciting process. It’s like those videogames where you have to navigate your character from one point to another but the landscape and the obstacles thrown at you keep changing. So that excitement is there. We also consciously choose to look at the positive side of it. But it’s definitely not easy. On an everyday basis, it keeps fluctuating; one day you are feeling really confident and the next day, you feel like everything is so futile. It's always about survival. That’s how I look at it, because any time I am working, I am doing it to get more work.

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So, there’s definitely no ‘charting the future course of your career’ happening right now?

Not in my case because I don’t know how to plan all of this. I feel like I don’t have enough information or identified enough patterns around me to base a plan on.

With OTTs as well as you doing films in Tamil and Hindi, has the playing field for you opened up now, where you can choose to work in another industry if the projects coming your way aren’t interesting enough?

The fact that movies like Kappela, CU Soon and Choked did well on OTTs during the COVID lockdown and that I could fortunately handle Tamil and Hindi to an extent have helped. It was a lifejacket that I didn’t think I would receive or like in the game that I had mentioned, an extra health bonus. So, there’s a bit of security that comes from that. But honestly, more than relying on that security, what I personally have been enjoying, especially when I work outside Malayalam, is that the stress that I take is considerably lower. Malayalam has always been my option A; this is where I belong and where my stories are. When I work outside the Malayalam industry, I feel not much of my energy goes into worrying whether the performance is coming out well or am I matching the expectations; I am more relaxed. It’s a huge blessing to work like that.

There’s another advantage that you have – there’s a certain degree of unpredictability in every film you do and that’s also why some films, for instance, Vysakh’s Night Drive that had you in a ‘massy’ role, work really well with the audience.

There are two reasons for that. One is that I always look for variety in the choices that I make. I want my characters to be slightly different from the ones that I have done recently. It’s also because I don’t want take the chance of two characters ending up similar even when they are only slightly comparable on paper. It would take an extremely skilled, nuanced actor to make two similar characters look different on screen. Obviously, the director’s help goes a long way, but I am talking about the worst-case scenario.

Then, even though I said that there are more choices now, you are still only getting few scripts that you are 150% excited to do. More often than not, you are in a situation where there are some positives and some not so exciting aspects to the project and then you have to make a logical decision whether to take it up or not. There are practical reasons for doing films too – you have to be financially stable and be occupied enough to not go down a rabbit hole.

So, when I face those situations too, I try to pick movies that gives me an opportunity to try something new, like Night Drive. I had never done such a movie before and I thought it would be a great opportunity to do it with Vysakh sir, who makes such films really well. I do certain projects where I prioritise the experience I gain from them.

Roshan Mathew in a still from Kappela
Roshan Mathew in a still from Kappela

Was the reason you did Alphonse Puthren’s Gold too?

Oh no, Gold was purely all heart. Alphone Puthren as a filmmaker has inspired everyone. I just wanted to work with him. He could cast me as a tree, I would still do it. It’s a very small part but it was worth every bit of my excitement.

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