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Thalavan star Biju Menon: There's no ego between Asif Ali and me, just healthy competition to do better

Malayalam star Biju Menon talks about his latest movie Thalavan, sharing screen space with Asif Ali again, what he looks for when picking characters now and more

Thalavan star Biju Menon: There's no ego between Asif Ali and me, just healthy competition to do better
Biju Menon plays one of the leads in this week's Thalavan

Last Updated: 10.56 AM, May 24, 2024


There are a few actors in Malayalam who are blessed with abundant talent but are still quite underrated. Biju Menon arguably tops that list. Even though the entire country took note of him after his performance in Ayyappanum Koshiyum and later Aarkkariyaam, the actor is one of those who instead if seizing the opportunities that comes his way, is quite content doing what he is comfortable in. “I am happy taking safe risks,” he put it, in a recent interview.

That said, Biju Menon admits that he is now forced to change his decisions to stay relevant and keep making movies that appeal to the audience. Films like Garudan and his latest movie Thalavan, which is helmed by Jis Joy, are part of that process. In a candid interview with OTTplay, the National Award-winning actor talks about his role as a police officer in Thalavan, what he looks for in his characters now and how trends play a huge role in the kind of movies that are made in the industry.

Biju Menon is in cop mode yet again in Thalavan
Biju Menon is in cop mode yet again in Thalavan

You are once again playing a cop in Thalavan. What's different is that it's a dual hero film and those kinds of films have always given you more room to perform because there's another actor to also share that burden with. In that way, was this movie more enjoyable than challenging?

When Jis Joy called me and said he wanted to narrate a story, I said I would listen. To me, he is a filmmaker who does feel-good, homely movies. And so, naturally I thought this too might be such a movie and it would be fun doing it. But after listening to the story of Thalavan, the first thing I told him was, ‘So, you are changing track.’ And out of the many stories I heard during that time, I found this interesting. It has a fire and scope for performance.

It's true that I am doing quite a few police characters, but I’m only trying to do those with some space for emotions. I know I have erred at times.  But this film has a gripping script, is an investigation and enough space for both Asif Ali and me  to perform. It has enough for the audience to stay entertained. In other movies, usually, closer to the climax things get revealed or there is a ‘mass’ element. In comparison, I felt the story of Thalavan was not predictable; in fact, every scene will keep the audience guessing. I believe that the gripping factor is there in its making also. That said, all of us have sat together, discussed and done the maximum we can do. Now, we are waiting for the release and let the audience decide.

Your real life chemistry with Asif Ali is great and that's what has also lend itself to the comedy movies that you two have done together. In this film, however, the dynamics seem to be different in the sense that it required both of you to showcase a more intense side of yourselves.

Regardless of how friendly we are off screen, when we get into the scene of when an assistant director reads the scene to us, we get into the mood of the characters. Because of the relationship we have, both of us have the freedom to ask each other if a character’s sequence feels cliched or would remind the audience of another film. That's because we want each of our scenes to be good so that the film does well.

The quality of our friendship is that we want to improve the film we work on. There is no space for ego but at the same time, there is a healthy competition between us to do well. We do what’s good for the film.

Thalavan also explores the dynamics between different police officers - be it between Asif and your characters or Asif and Kottayam Nazir’s. With your dad having served as a cop, did knowing the dynamics between police officers in real life help your character in this film in any way?

Not really. I know the struggle of police officers. It is not like other jobs. They have to be alert 24 hours and can’t be mentally free. Others can afford to be detached from their professional lives after work hours. But a cop should always be available to attend a call. Everything they deal with is crime and there is a certain degree of numbness that creeps in. There's hardly time or space to stay pleasant. So, there is this tendency to always stay tense and hence they will be short tempered. The hierarchy and pressure are constant in their lives and that's why you would find very few cops with a happy face. They don't have so many things in their lives for them to see the lighter side. My dad was in a police camp and it had its pressures too. They don’t get enough private time.


Of late, with movies such as Garudan, you have also ventured out of your comfort zone of feel-good movies and taken up roles of various shades. Was that borne out of necessity or was it a deliberate choice to reinvent yourself?

We shouldn’t get bored. When we do a film, it’s for the audience and so, we will have to keep changing our decisions. I can’t only keep doing movies that I like. We will have to gravitate towards what the audience prefers. Sometimes, we will have to change the film we planned to do, as per the current trend. If the release gets delayed, the trend also might change. Decisions on these things depend on various factors including the commercial success of a film.

I can’t take a decision that I will do only a certain kind of film. If people want serious films, I will do that, and if other genres bring more people to theatres, I will do that. In my character selection, I look for scope of performance. It doesn't matter to me whether the character is negative or positive.

It's been almost three decades since you began your career. In the last few years, with Malayalam cinema seeing a spurt in new and young writers, do you also feel there are fresher ideas and characters coming your way?

Again, I would say it is as per the trend. For instance, during the pandemic, we understood our limitations. We couldn’t do big films. That's when films we can watch at home became a priority and we made small but high quality films. Now, theatrical experience is what is most sought and that calls for grandeur. The size of the film, and the feeling that it should be watched only in theatres - is what the audience seeks and the filmmakers strive to deliver.

I remember when we did Pathram in 1998, it set the box office on fire. It was heavy on dialogues. But gradually, dialogues were reduced in our films. Like that, as per changes in the trend, we change, so do the writers. Trend is a big factor.

Biju Menon and Asif Ali in a poster of Thalavan
Biju Menon and Asif Ali in a poster of Thalavan

What are your upcoming projects after Thalavan?

I have Vishnu Narayan’s Nadanna Sambhavam that is gearing up for release. I have also shot for Priyadarshan’s segment in MT sir’s anthology. There is a Nissam Basheer film that is under discussion. Currently, I am working on an AR Murugadoss movie, which has Sivakarthikeyan in the lead. I am trying to do good films.

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