The Malayalam star talks about working in Nizhal and Nayattu, and why he is tempted to do fun, breezy entertainers such as Mohan Kumar Fans after playing emotionally-draining characters
Photo credit: Ben Joseph
The past two weeks have seen three very different Kunchacko Boban-releases on OTT – Martin Prakkat’s Nayattu, Appu Bhattathiri’s Nizhal and Jis Joy’s Mohan Kumar Fans – that have been received well by the audience. While this is an achievement in itself, the actor has also scored a hat-trick in terms of being part of three critically and commercially-acclaimed Malayalam movies in the past three years – Virus in 2019, Anjaam Pathiraa in 2020 and now Nayattu. All of these have even made the audience outside Kerala take note of the exceptional Malayalam actor, who has not ventured into any other film industry in his 24-year-old career.
For Kunchacko, his surging popularity outside Kerala, is a testament of sorts to the decisions that he has been making since the second phase of his career took off with Rajesh Pillai’s Traffic, a decade ago. In conversation with the actor:
After Anjaam Pathiraa became popular on OTTs and now Nayattu and Nizhal, people outside Kerala associate you with thrillers. What does that perception mean to you, especially because the Malayali audience have considered you a romantic hero from Aniyathipravu for decades till you did roles such as Paalunni in Elsamma Enna Aankutty and Dr Abel in Traffic in your second coming?
I believe that this is proof that people are accepting and recognising my transformation process. When an actor, who was stereotyped for years in that chocolate-boy avatar, is doing varied roles and the audience is supporting that, I believe they are also encouraging the effort that he is taking and his passion for films. So, from the small films that I have done since the second phase of my career to Nayattu and Nizhal this year, as an actor I think I am evolving and that’s what has paved the way for me to be part of good films now.
Both Nayattu and Nizhal are essentially thrillers, but different in terms of making and content. How was it working on both films?
While Nayattu was a survival thriller and more realistic, Nizhal was an investigative thriller that also uses psychological, fantasy elements. In terms of the teams too, Nayattu had people who have always entertained the audience such as director Martin, scriptwriter Shahi Kabir and cinematographer Shyju Khalid, while Nizhal had a debutant director Appu Bhattathiri, who is renowned for his editing. The latter also had Nayanthara returning to Malayalam after a short break. If Nayattu’s Praveen Michael was a raw and rough character, John Baby from Nizhal was a suave person.
Nayattu was again a rooted-to-reality thriller. With Nizhal, we have tried to make it different from other thrillers, in the sense that even though it’s about murder investigations, we haven’t shown the murders or used flashbacks. So, both films were different in terms of how the content was made and presented, and I am glad to be part of both.
Audience have only seen entertainers like Charlie and ABCD from Martin, but in Nayattu he seems to have pushed you as an actor onscreen and off screen. Was this the experience that you were expecting when you signed on?
The film was undoubtedly a learning experience. It was the first time that I went, as preparation for a character, to a police station with the director to learn about their realities. I also had to look a certain way physically, because it had a few strenuous scenes like the tug-of-war sequence at the start. About 90% of the film was also shot in the same order as the screenplay and it used sync sound; so that enabled everyone to lend extra life to their characters.
For me, it was also exciting because Martin was attempting a different genre and it also had a ‘superstar’ crew with Shahi, Shyju, editor Mahesh Narayanan and composer Vishnu Vijay. The cast too was stellar with a mix of popular actors like Joju George and Nimisha Sajayan and able newcomers like Yama Gilgamesh. I am glad about the feedback after its theatrical and OTT release.
You are doing Ottu (Rendagam in Tamil) next, which is a Malayalam-Tamil bilingual that also has Arvind Swami and Jackie Shroff. Why has it taken you so long to do a Tamil movie?
In the beginning phase of my career, when I was playing romantic characters, I got a lot of offers from Tamil. After that I was away from the industry for a while. When I returned and began doing characters that were also accepted by audience outside Kerala, offers started coming in again. But the truth is when they had offered first, I wasn’t interested and when I was interested, they weren’t. But now after Virus and Anjaam Pathiraa became popular outside Kerala as well, and a good opportunity came my way, I thought about giving it a try.
Ottu doesn’t have a nativity; it’s an entertainer. Having actors such as Arvind Swami and Jackie Shroff as part of it increases its grandeur as well as the reach. It’s a big budget movie and as Tamil is a language that I am familiar with, I am able to perform; I might find it more difficult during the dubbing. Again, it’s a movie that we are making for a theatrical release.
There’s this discussion that OTTs don’t offer big deals for Malayalam original content unless they have actors who are familiar to people across the country or the film was a huge hit after its theatrical release. But with theatres once again being shut, what is your stand on direct-to-OTT releases? Especially because you have films such as Pada and Bheemante Vazhi that have finished shoot.
Firstly, none of these films were made keeping in mind OTTs; all of them were done hoping that it will release in theatres. Be it Nizhal and Nayattu or Bheemante Vazhi, all of them were made on big budgets and scales. Unfortunately, based on the current situation, people might have to miss that theatrical experience. That said, if the content is interesting and appealing to the audience, there’s always a possibility to convert it for OTTs and TV channels, which are the only two viable streams for filmmakers right now. Maybe OTTs are giving more precedence to thrillers but over a time after the audience has watched enough thrillers, I am sure they would look out for other interesting content and those are the kind of films that I want to put my weight behind.
Do you deliberately select an entertainer like Mohan Kumar Fans between intense movies like Anjaam Pathira and Nayattu just to turn down the tension?
To an extent, yes, I do try to pick a fun, breezy film after playing emotionally-draining characters. Some roles stay with you even after you are done with the movie. After watching Nayattu in theatres, a lot of people told me that they were stuck to their seats for a few moments after the film ended. There were also people who told me that the plight of the characters stayed with them for half hour before they could even call me. So, think of someone who has played that character. In such cases, after being part of an intense film, I do try to do a movie to relax. Mohan Kumar Fans and even Bheemante Vazhi were part of that.
Tell us more about Bheemante Vazhi.
It’s an entertainer; it’s about how a simple incident affects a lot of people. It’s a satire, directed by Thamaasha filmmaker Ashraf Hamza and scripted by Chemban Vinod Jose. It also shows different angles of a romance. Personally, I am very excited about the film and I hope that’s how it will be for the audience as well.