Tovino Thomas talks about his latest release Neelavelicham, the changes he has tried to bring in and working with Aashiq Abu again
Last Updated: 11.02 AM, Apr 19, 2023
Be it Mayaanadhi or Naradhan, director Aashiq Abu’s movies have arguably brought the best out of Malayalam star Tovino Thomas. Their latest collaboration Neelavelicham, which is the reimagining of the 1964 movie Bhargavi Nilayam, once again pushed the actor out of his comfort zone to take up a role based on the renowned writer Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and also put his stamp on a character that was previously by Madhu in the original.
For Tovino, these challenges are what stokes the actor in him, he says, and also the reason for collaborating with Aashiq, who keeps entrusting him with difficult characters that require him to innovate. In an exclusive chat with OTTplay, Tovino tells us about the changes in the film, how close to Basheer his character is and more.
When Aashiq Abu approached you for this movie and the role of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, what was your initial reaction?
I was delighted. I am a huge fan of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer. Neelavelicham is not a remake per se, it’s more of a reimagination. It’s our adaptation of Bhargavi Nilayam’s script. So, we didn’t refer to the film’s performances and apart from the script, we had the liberty to come up with our own version in all departments including the cinematography. Neelavelicham is a film set in 1964 but is releasing in 2023; so, those differences will be there in terms of performances, sound and visuals. That’s also why I think it would be a different audio-visual experience for people.
Also read: Neelavelicham: Rima Kallingal’s eyes and ‘vintage look’ made her apt for the film, says Aashiq Abu
Because the movie isn’t Vaikom Muhammed Basheer’s biopic and the script also only refers to him as a writer, and not with his name, we took that liberty with the character. I believe even Madhu sir did the same when he played the character in Bhargavi Nilayam. We understood that there were biographical elements to the character and so took references from his life, but I never mimicked him. The reason, again, is that the film is releasing in 2023 and so shouldn’t appear too dramatic or colloquial; that was tricky terrain. We accomplished that through a trial-and-error method.
The colours themselves add a dose of life to the film and its characters. So, it didn’t really need that dramatic overlay that Bhargavinilayam, which was made in black-and-white, did it?
It did not. Cinema has evolved a lot. That said, Bhargavi Nilayam was a top-notch movie when it was released in 1964 – be it its performances or the use of technology. Though it was Malayalam’s first horror movie, it also had romance, investigation and fights; it was scripted as a complete package by Basheer and A Vincent mash executed it to perfection. Even the lyrics of the songs are interweaved to the various layers of the story. It had all the ingredients of a brilliant commercial film. It wasn’t just a script adapted by a novelist; I believe Basheer cracked the art of scriptwriting while coming up with this.
Also read: Exclusive! Tovino Thomas: Being an ardent Vaikom Muhammed Basheer fan, it’s a blessing to work in Neelavelicham
A lot of film is set inside the haunted house and that’s where Bhargavi Nilayam made use of both the silences as well as the monologues of the writer, talking to the ‘ghost’ and animals. Were these portions challenging?
These were the scenes that couldn’t afford to be dramatic. It shouldn’t feel like monoact. More like talking to himself, in this film it’s shown as he’s talking to a companion who is not really there. The only way to do that was to lock myself in a house alone without a phone. It was a great experience for me. Aashiq ettan suggested I do this the day before the shoot and I was fine with it.
When you are alone at night, that’s also when you talk to yourself. After overcoming the anxiety, you start enjoying the solitude and that there’s no one around to judge you. From a stage of wanting to shouting for help, you start asking yourself questions, talking in different voices and so on.
But even then, for this film because it’s set in a particular era, those conversations too had to have a particular language. How did you arrive at that?
Yes, there’s a huge difference in terms of the language and the way of speaking. But beyond that, when you are saying a monologue, it’s also isolating within the shot because there’s no one to reciprocate or even give you a look. It was a huge learning experience for me.
Did you give you the freedom of not just sticking to a particular meter while saying your dialogues?
Actually, there’s a layer of depression to this character too. I think only a person going through depression would sing Ekanthathayude. Our version of the character has him going through that while also dealing with other issues.
Also read: Neelavelicham director Aashiq Abu: People expressed doubts about casting Tovino Thomas as Vaikom Muhammed Basheer
I think his novel Mathilukal has more biographical elements than Neelavelicham. The conversations are more like Basheer’s in the story. In this movie, you don’t have as much sarcasm or humour as Mathilukal because it’s essentially about a writer. It’s probably how he wanted to treat that character. In Mathilukal, there are a lot of humorous one-liners, like when he looks at the number on his prison uniform and says it’s a lucky number. But this film doesn’t show that side of him.
Aashiq keeps entrusting you with probably your toughest characters. Barring the role in Virus, your characters in Mayaanadhi, Naradhan and Neelavelicham needed you to venture out of your comfort zone.
Actually, even the role in Virus wasn’t easy; it’s not a cakewalk to pull off a well-built man as a district collector convincingly. The audience had to focus on the performance rather than the physique of the character. I have now synced with Aashiq ettan’s character. I have someone who likes his movies and when someone like him entrusts me with roles, it’s a validation for me. It’s a responsibility and also a confidence booster. So, I try to put my very best for such roles.
Neelavelicham, which is set to hit theatres on April 20, also has Rima Kallingal, Roshan Mathew and Shine Tom Chacko as part of the cast.