When the Tamil hit Dhruvangal Pathinaaru trained the spotlight on him as an actor to reckon with, Ashwin Kumar was already a successful entrepreneur in Dubai. The actor with an abiding passion for films and a flair for mimicry, dance and singing is familiar to Malayali audiences as the antagonist Murali Menon who gave Nivin Pauly grief in Jacobinte Swargarajyam and more recently, the antagonist David Luke in the film Lavakusha. Well, Ashwin has changed tracks from playing a bad guy to turning into a good guy through his role as the hero in the film Charminar directed by Ajith V. Lokesh which released yesterday. He will also be essaying an important role in the upcoming Prithviraj-starrer Ranam, which is based on Tamil gangs in Detroit.
Director Ajith did not just pick up Ashwin randomly to play the lead — there was a lot of thought behind the casting. Ashwin explains, “Ajith had a complete run through of all my work, not only my films, but also what I was before entering films — my dance videos, mimicry performances and short films. After he scrutinised all this was when he approached me to play the lead.”
Ashwin was slightly cautious about playing the hero, as he explains, “Frankly speaking, I always have second thoughts about playing the lead, even though I aspire to be the lead.” But after Ajith narrated the story to Ashwin, he found that he could relate to the character of Sethu as well as the script. But Ashwin was still not sure of taking up the challenge, “Playing character roles is safe but when I play the antagonist, the sole responsibility of pulling it off rests on me. There is always bound to be a comparison with my earlier work. Also, frankly speaking, I was not in a hurry to turn into a hero so soon.”
But destiny does not play by rules, so Ashwin found that he had to rewrite his plans and turn hero sooner than expected. His character Sethu is not the regular hero but one with a lot many complexities and translating those complexities on screen is his strength. He says, “I like playing complex characters with shades that challenge the actor in me!”
Ashwin staunchly believes that talent is what ultimately counts in tinsel town. He candidly says, “I won’t call myself handsome, but what I do have is confidence and the talent that adds on to my looks.” Kollywood or Mollywood, he does not find any major differences except for the language and the people he works with.
Born in Chennai and brought up in Dubai, Ashwin found that the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Dubai offered him many advantages. For one, the different nationalities he came in contact with had him picking up several languages. “You bump into people from various countries and since I have an interest in learning languages, I found that to be a huge advantage.” The actor is fluent in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam among many others. He also holds an MBA from UK and is involved in his father’s 30-year-old family business.
Though Ashwin’s family business kept him busy, there was the yearning to do films that pulled at him. That was how he initially started off with roles in short films.
There were drawbacks to sitting in Dubai and trying out his luck in Kollywood. He hit on a solution by making short films himself and capitalising on his mimicry and dance prowess. As luck had it, his mimicry videos got noticed, “I would not be where I am today if not for social media, through which my work got shared and I made friends.” Dhruvangal 16 came through two such friends Sreejith and Sujith Sarang who passed on his contact to director Karthick Naren, whose way of storytelling impressed Ashwin. He also found a friend and brother in actor Rahman with whom he is again sharing screen space in Ranam which also stars Prithviraj. Audience response is unpredictable as he explains, “Even though D 16 is a Tamil film, the recognition for me in Kerala is more, whereas in Chennai I got noticed for my role in Jacobinte Swargarajyam. I had people stopping me on the dark roads and asking if I was Murali Menon? See that is the magic of cinema — you cannot predict where you will be noticed.”
Coming back to his mimicry prowess, Ashwin thanks his parents for being the expressive people they are. He started mimicking people from his college days, going through an assortment of uncles, aunties, family members and friends graduating to actors like his favourites Kamal Haasan and Amitabh Bachchan as well as Nana Patekar and the Khans. “I try to get as candid as possible with their voices and make sure that people feel their presence rather than just doing a caricatured version.”
Talking about the Kerala audience, Ashwin says, “Malayalis have a peculiar taste for talent and do not go by names. They are good critics and thus your quality of work improves.”
Mammootty and Mohanlal fascinate him but he has a special liking for Mohanlal.
Currently, the Tamil and Malayalam industry is what he is concentrating on and he has a Tamil film with Dhanush coming up. Before he ends, he states, “Luck is always a superstition till it happens to you.”