Jean Paul Lal is preparing to take a new turn in his life. He sounds excited, at the same time, a tad nervous as he embarks on this new journey. After proving his mettle as a director with Honey Bee: Its Tripping, Honey Bee 2.5 and Hi I’m Tony, Jean is all set to try his luck in acting through Underworld, directed by Arun Kumar Aravind. It is for the first time that he is doing a full-fledged role. Earlier, he had done a cameo in Honey Bee 2.5. "In Honey Bee, I appeared as myself. It is for the first time that I am doing a character," says the director-actor.
In the movie, he plays the character Solomon, a strong person who hails from a solid Christian background. "I cannot divulge more details," he says. "The story balances between three lead characters. Other two leads are done by Asif Ali and Farhaan Faasil."
Although Jean knew Arun Kumar for a while, he says, the offer happened out of the blue. "Arun chettan and I are members of the same cricket team. One day he asked me if I had come across any new face suitable for a bold character aged about 35, during auditions. I gave my opinion and we left the topic. After a few days, he called me and asked if I could do it. It was my associate Nithin who works as his associate now suggested my name. I said I was not very serious about acting. But, he assured me that if I have interest, he would make me do it. I have faith in him, so I agreed," says Jean. "Also, when I discussed it with Asif, he told me that Arun is a director who has the knack to bring out the best from an actor through proper communication. I could connect to that because, as a director, I too work like that. Above all, he trusts me. If the director is happy about me, that means I am apt for the role. In the beginning, I told him if, at any point, he feels that I am unfit, he can say that. But now, after a lot of discussions with him, I got the hang of the character and feel confident."
Though unexpected, back on his mind Jean knew that acting offers were making their way to him. "Before Underworld, two projects from newbies had come to me. I didn’t find them interesting. When Underworld came, I was happy. I felt it as an opportunity," says Jean.
Written by Shibin Francis, Underworld is an action drama. The first-look poster of the title was released on Thursday. While Alex Pulikal handles the camera, Yakzan Gary Pereira and Neha Nair score the music.
Ask Jean what encouraged him to choose Underworld, besides the fact that it is helmed by Arun Kumar, he says, "When I listened to the story, its different layers excited the filmmaker in me. I wished I could direct it. The movie is packed with various emotions and has action sequences that Malayalam cinema may haven’t seen so far. Though there is a possibility of injuries while shooting action sequences, I find it as a big start," says Jean. "Also, when I heard that Asif is my co-star, I felt really comfortable." Honey Bee series features Asif Ali in the lead. "We share a good rapport," says Jean.
Right now, Jean is on a transition mode — from director’s hat to actor’s shoes. "Since I was not serious about acting, I was not prepared for this. That is what I am doing now — mentally preparing for this. I take care of fitness too," he says. "I discuss acting with Papa (Lal), Balu (Varghese) and Asif. It is easy to direct an actor saying, ‘you just have to act like this’, but when we are in their shoes, things are different," he laughs.
His family too is quite supportive of him donning the new role. "They all are thrilled. As a director, I am workaholic. They feel acting would give me a break," he says.
Jean is not tense about walking into a set as director or actor, because film sets have been a part of his life since childhood. His only concern is whether he could pull off the character well and whether the viewers would compare him with his father. "So far, I have only thought whether I could properly convey my thoughts to the audience. I have never checked if my face could express them. In that sense, I am a little tense. It is a responsibility," he says.
"Comparison with Papa and weight of expectation have always been there. It has happened in direction, too. Since he has made his presence in almost all areas of cinema, it will be there," he laughs. Well, Jean really hopes viewers see him as a different individual and do not make comparison. "It will be really good if they don’t do that," he smiles.
Is he taking any acting lessons? "I had briefly studied acting during my filmmaking course in New York. It was about acting psychology, not strictly acting. Also, I was not serious about acting then. If you ask me whether acting can be learnt, I don’t know. I feel it will come if you have it within."
The shooting of Underworld is expected to begin by mid or end of December. Meanwhile, Jean also works on his directorial venture — an untitled project with Prithviraj. "It is a big budget cinema that deals with an entirely different subject. Written by Sachy chettan, the film’s pre-production works are going on. It is scheduled to begin in February," he sums up.