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The Tovino Thomas Starter Pack: 5 Must-Watch Films

The Malayalam star is among the New Generation's most promising performers. These five roles show how Tovino Thomas got to the top.

The Tovino Thomas Starter Pack: 5 Must-Watch Films
Toasting Tovino Thomas

Last Updated: 12.27 PM, Oct 15, 2023


This column was originally published on 21 September 2022, as part of our newsletter The Daily Show. Subscribe here. (We're awesome about not spamming your inbox!)


The last decade witnessed the resurgence of young stars in Malayalam cinema, a gigantic generational leap for an industry that was almost entirely dominated by two ageing superstars. Simultaneously narratives that relied on alpha male algorithms declined, and instead, embraced young, flawed, and vulnerable protagonists in lifelike milieus, everyday stories, and stripped off posturing. (A filmmaking shift called the 'New Generation' in Malayalam cinema.)

Realistic and relatable were the new buzzwords in cinema. Fresh, eager faces started stepping into the marquee; some like Dulquer Salmaan and Fahadh Faasil following in the trail of a spectacular legacy, and others like Nivin Pauly — after an initial struggle — forming their own niches. 

In this context, Tovino Thomas has been the proverbial underdog in the industry. He worked his way to the top, beginning as an AD in a Dulquer Salmaan film, debuting as an antagonist in another Dulquer Salmaan film, testing the waters in brief/character roles, eventually morphing into a leading man.

Just this year, he has played a mercurial, manipulative TV journalist; a lawyer who has to lock horns with his wife in court; a con artist; and a wacky YouTuber. Each performance has been distinct. While three out of these four films haven’t had major box office impact, Tovino Thomas the actor has. 

Choosing judiciously, thinking out-of-the-box, and a readiness to push his boundaries: these are the hallmarks of Thomas. With his latest film, Thallumala, finally making it to Netflix after an impressive theatrical showing, we’re revisiting some of his best works.

You Too Brutus (2015): In hindsight, this Roopesh Peethambran-scripted and directed multi-star cast film was an indicator of who Tovino Thomas: The Actor was. He played a glib fitness trainer and ladies’ man, who cons his naïve friend into believing that he is a Casanova. The actor displayed such effortless comic timing that his solo act turned out to be the only bright spot in an otherwise middling film.

Mayaanadhi (2017): Even to this day, Mathan’s languid frame with his sports cap and indolent eyes constantly searching for Appu serve as an allegorical meme for boys dealing with heartbreak. 

For the actor who had been on a learning curve post-swashbuckling act in You Too Brutus, Mayaanadhi was his moment of realisation. He comes into his own in this tragic love story helmed by Aashiq Abu, co-starring Aishwarya Lakshmi. 

Tovino lends an intrinsic vulnerability to a man who is leading dual lives. Mathan is a thug involved in nefarious activities but he is also a man-child irrevocably in love with Appu, following her like a lost puppy, pleading with her to take him back after he’s let her down yet again. The combination of brute strength and sensitivity rests easily on the actor.

Maradona (2018): In one of its earlier scenes, Maradona, a hired goon, is seen terrorising a little girl. He starts gently, nudging her to mimic the Nagavally (Shobana in Manichithrathazhu) act. When the girl refuses, he keeps persisting and she keeps refusing. But soon Maradona’s dark side takes over as his voice shifts into a menacing timbre; he ruffles the child’s hair, reducing her to tears. The transformation is razor smooth and you are left agape at the man’s brutality. 

And then a few reels later, the same Maradona knocks you over with his romantic side, as he gently and sensuously prods his girlfriend for a kiss. The film, directed by Vishnu Narayanan, traces the coming-of-age story of Maradona and Thomas is an absolute revelation here.

Kala (2021): Shaji is the byproduct of a controlling father who never lets go of an opportunity to belittle his son. Despite the strangely heartwarming relationship he shares with his spouse, Shaji is a man constantly under pressure to flex his masculinity. That’s what leads to an ugly, bloody, mindless squabble between Shaji and a Tamil labourer. If the latter was seeking vengeance for killing his pet dog, Shaji takes it as an ego battle and eventually, he is the one fighting it out to regain his pride. It’s a visceral, maniacal performance, with Thomas shifting between vulnerability and overweening arrogance seamlessly.

Kaanekkaane (2021): Karma is a nemesis in Alan’s life as he is unable to shake off the guilt of cheating on his first wife, and blames himself for delaying her rescue in a moment of darkness. Despite reuniting with his lover and expecting their first child, Alan lives in despair and remorse. 

Tovino internalises Alan so poignantly that you are torn between loathing and empathising with him. Look out for a scene with the therapist, where he sits next to his wife, like a caged animal, unable to reach out to her or address the trauma and it underlines his growth as an actor. 

Kaanekkaane (dir. Manu Asokan) is an interesting commentary on the aftermath of adultery in relationships.

Thallumala (2022): On paper, Wazim hardly seems a handful. He is this local Ponnani lad who became an internet sensation through the needless brawls that occur wherever he goes. He has a gang of friends and together they fight, eat and make merry. This is way out of his comfort zone, but Tovino gets the metre right, and totally immerses himself into this irreverent boy next door, pulling off the flashy wardrobe and rap songs like a pro. Sure, he has two left feet, but the actor perseveres, acing the Ponnani slang and swag without much effort. 

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