Scream Stream: Santosh Sivan on why Anandhabhadram’s Digambaran is an iconic villain in Malayalam horror genre
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Scream Stream: Santosh Sivan on why Anandhabhadram’s Digambaran is an iconic villain in Malayalam horror genre

The dark fantasy film, which released in 2005, had Manoj K Jayan playing the antagonist opposite Prithviraj Sukumaran

Sanjith Sidhardhan
Oct 14, 2021
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Manoj K Jayan as Digambaran

In the first confrontation between the black magician Digambaran and Kalabhavan Mani’s visually-impaired Chemban, Manoj K Jayan, who plays the former, unshackles all sides of the sorcerer’s personality. He teases Chemban first, jokes around with his devilish grin and then proceeds to taunt him before unveiling his demonic side by using his attacker’s sister as his shield while unleashing a beating on Mani’s character. The sequence doesn’t just have Manoj acting with his expressions and supreme voice modulation, it has him using his body down to his fingers to emanate the pure evil he is.

Despite the dark fantasy-horror film starring Prithviraj Sukumaran and Kavya Madhavan, it’s Manoj who drove the movie’s narrative and infused it with the horror elements.

Anandhabhadram was acclaimed cinematographer-filmmaker Santosh Sivan’s debut directorial in Malayalam and in an exclusive interview as part of our Scream Stream series, the director breaks down what went into creating the iconic villain that continues to terrify the audience.

The movie, which is set in a village called Sivapuram, revolves around a US-based software engineer Ananthan (Prithviraj) coming to his mother’s home in Kerala. Here, he is confronted by mystical rituals, magic and a dark sorcerer named Digambaran, who is bent on wreaking havoc in the village. “The movie itself is about the new meeting the old because someone from a modern world comes to a place where things are still how they were a century ago,” says the director.

What Digambaran’s character brought to the story was dark magic that has still cast a spell in certain areas in the State. “Black magic has existed in our culture for centuries. I was also doing advertisements for Kerala tourism and had been exposed to so many of our cultural elements, and so when I heard of the character and that he was practising black magic, I wanted to pack him with aspects from Kathakali, the face markings from Theyyam and tantric rituals to show that he’s a master of dark arts,” he says. “At the same time, there are two massive bulls outside his house that represent death.”

While conceiving the look of the character is only half the job, it’s the performance of Manoj as Digambaran that truly made him terrifying. “He was unquestionably fantastic. I knew he could carry it off because he is also musically inclined and I wanted to give him different songs such as Thiranurayum that gave him the space to perform,” Santosh says. “This meant that Prithviraj who played the protagonist too had to step up to match that performance.”

Digambaran’s character doesn’t stick to the norm of a diabolic villain, and keeps transforming as the film progresses. “I liked the concept that while he was a brahmachari, he also liked women. So, he has all these quirks. Even while telling the concept of transmigration, we thought it was best to stick to our folklore that have their own horror stories. Otherwise, we will just be borrowing from the West,” he says. “I loved the idea of ornamenting people – it’s there in our traditional artforms like kathakali and also our music – and that’s the only way our characters and stories become part of the melting pot of cultures. We have tried to do that with Digambaran in Anandhabhadram.”

While many would think that the intense role would have come with extensive preparation, Manoj in an earlier interview with OTTplay countered this. “When I listened to the narration of the movie by its scriptwriter Sunil Parameswar for the first time at a hotel in Chennai, I was getting scared. I was thinking that it was such a heavy character and I had doubts whether I would be able to pull it off. Back then I had only played 2-3 negative roles and this was probably the most sinister character anyone could play. So, I committed to the role,” he told us.

However, the actor says that he didn't do any sort of prep for the role. “Apart from the narration I heard that day in the hotel room, I didn’t even read a single page of the film’s script. Before the scenes, I would just look at my lines. So, while people appreciate me for that role, it’s still a miracle to me as to how I did that role,” he explained.

Anandhabhadram is currently available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar

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