A few more minutes to his maiden song in front of the audience, some of them comprise the gathering inside an auditorium and the rest are the live viewers on Facebook. The singer, Suraj Venjaramoodu, on stage politely asks the crowd in front of him to rise to stand — not out of respect or devotion, but to ‘find a quick and comfortable exit causing less pandemonium!’ For a moment, they break into laughter, forgetting that the speaker is a national award-winning actor who can play a dejected husband and dad Pavithran or a hilarious Theepanthal Rajbose with ease. In his upcoming movie Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri, he has become a singer for the first time. Suraj tried to slink away from this ‘daunting task’, only to relent to the gentle persuasion of director Jean Markose and composer/lyricist Sayanora Philip later. For Jean, having Suraj on board as a singer-cum-actor meant nothing short of perfection.
The Ente Sivane... song was tailor-made for Suraj, as it travels through the thought process of retired constable Kuttanpilla, the protagonist he plays. “One fine day comes a call from Jean asking me to sing. I was not game and the call ends. It is immediately followed by another, this time from Sayanora asking me if I’d like A minor or C minor (pitching scales in music)! The wonderstruck me in response asked her what exactly she meant,” he narrates about how the golden opportunity for the mic came to him. They recorded it three times; before, during and after the shooting. The final recording was done for the movie. “You’d make me sing after the release too,” he throws a comment towards the director. From that life-changing juncture in Perariyathavar to Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri, Suraj has underscored that he stands a cut above the conventional hero material for Malayalam cinema. Experimentation never stops and here Kuttanpilla is a retired cop with a wife, three grown-up children and their families. When Kuttanpilla came calling, he found reference material right inside his home — dad Vasudevan Nair, an ex-service man.
“My dad’s image rushed to my mind when the story was narrated. Once I looked at the mirror with the makeup and hairdo of Kuttanpilla, I saw him in the reflection. The character is a cop, coarse and strict, within his family and outside of it. He is the last in the generation of police constables. My father has parallels with him. Most often his love for us went little expressed. His photograph would still evoke the fear and respect I have for him. I told him about the character and his response was ‘You’ve observed me so well’. If at all I love anyone so deeply, it’s my dad,” he says. The film is a family-oriented social satire, a reason why Suraj said ‘yes’. “Very few are the stories of joint families and relationships in cinema these days. This film has it all,” he says.
Yet, how lucrative for him was playing an older man? Or is it anything pertaining to the post national acclaim thoughts? “I don’t know. I am being asked if I have gone selective. I haven’t actually. The roles are not anything that I decide on. In Action Hero Biju, I didn’t ask but the director chose me for the role (Pavithran). Upon which, people realised why the national recognition and all came my way. Then occurred Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum with Dileesh Pothan and Fahadh,” he says. Suraj doesn’t hide his displeasure either, that despite him receiving an honour, Perariyathavar hadn’t got its due. “Dr Biju sir needs a special appreciation for making the movie. On the other side, the film that had won recognition was not seen by people,” he says.
The actor continues his winning spree with a slew of projects in his kitty. He is part of Aabhaasam, a film slapped with an A certificate. “I am not sure what guideline was followed for it to be given an A certificate. It is a political satire. The cinema on the whole is interesting. It has no abusive words or anything of that sort,” he says. Why is it that the rules make our movies go through so many mutes and beeps? Pat comes the reply in the typical Suraj Venjaramoodan style. “In future may come a movie having only mutes and no dialogues from the beginning till the end,” he laughs.
Another promising role Suraj has taken up is in Ajoy Varma’s Mohanlal starrer Neerali. “In the film, both Lalettan and I have the longest screen presence. I act as a driver and he’s my officer. It is something Malayalam cinema is yet to try out. There’s humour, action and thrill. I feel lucky to have started my career with Lalettan and Mammookka,” he says. The lure of the lucre had not blinded his vision yet. Suraj feels M-Town has enough room for his versatility and is in no hurry to jump boats. He is ready to welcome if another Perariyathavar knocks his door once more. “My job is to act. There’s enough space, let me stay here,” he concludes.