Let’s talk some mathematics. What is that one common denominator if the audience were to look at all the prominent Mollywood films released over the past four years, notably the last two years? One name would be repeated in film after film — Saiju Kurup. While the audience likes to remember him as the butcher Arakkal Abu of Aadu, Vikraman of Dakini, Sreekuttamn of Padayottam or perhaps Shibu Vellayani of Trivandrum Lodge, he very recently added one more unforgettable character to his repertoire of roles —Samyukthan in the recent release Janamaithri. His role of a marketing professional caught in a peculiar situation had the audience guffawing away. Saiju can yet again rest content with the knowledge that he has aced in a genre he excels in — comedy — though every other genre carries his unique stamp. Saiju does not believe in chasing box office numbers, but in sustaining his ability to assess the depth of his characters over and over again.
There is no magic formula to do that, he says. “Whenever a filmmaker narrates a story to me, I try to find traces of that character in me. The same goes for comic roles. I find an instant connection with myself in those roles. Call it my intuition, but it works for me. Now that is not to say it misfires sometimes, too!” Explaining his penchant for the perfect comic timing, he says that situational comedy is much easier to act out as compared to tickling the funny bone of the audience through words. “I take care to select characters who are caught in funny and humourous situations, which is why I chose Janamaithri,” he informs, adding humbly that any other actor could have performed that role because it was etched and conceived so well by the director John Manthrikal.The working atmosphere on the sets was also a familiar one since Saiju had worked with producer Vijay Babu in the Aadu franchise earlier.
“Vijay took care to see that each actor in the film was aware of not only his role, but also familiar with the other actors’ lines. Each actor was supposed to give inputs, however foolish it seemed, and that is exactly what happened. All of us actors would gather either inside a caravan or outside it and go over our scenes, including adding spontaneous dialogues wherever possible,” he reveals. That chemistry off screen has translated to the success of the film.
An ever-expanding landscape in cinema along with the advent of OTT platforms now demands a diverse array of personas, upping the diversity we see on screen ensuring meatier roles for supporting characters. That is where actors like Saiju stand to score. Though he debuted in a lead role, it was his character roles that gave him fame and popularity —a career decision that paid him rich dividends and still does. He states, “I cannot be a chooser! All the directors who approach me do not consider me for the lead character. My advantage is that out of the character roles I am approached for, I can choose the best.” Also he quips that playing character roles is less stressful. “The main advantages are that I am not responsible for carrying the film on my shoulders if I play the lead and I get to play diverse roles, too. Besides, within the days that I need to allocate for a lead role, I can easily finish three supporting roles!”
He recalls the tense moments before the release of Janamaithri in which he plays the lead, mentioning that he went through confusing emotions as he awaited the final verdict. Yes, he can finally relax now.
Though Saiju’s penchant for comedy is spot on, personally the actor prefers the thriller genre. “I love family dramas, romance, mass films and tearjerkers, but thrillers and comedy would be my go-to genres,” he adds. Mollywood actors do not want to be slotted anymore only as an actor. So, does he want to wield the megaphone at any point of time? He instantly replies, “Never! I am getting the opportunity to work with so many filmmakers and scripts. On a daily basis I see the patience and managerial skills required for making a film and I just do not have that level of patience. My thought while on a set is to see how best I can better my character! Malayalam has enough good filmmakers, so why interfere? I prefer to act in their scripts.”
Though it’s a big ‘no’ to direction, he would like to produce a film some day. “The right opportunity has not come, but that is an avenue I definitely want to dive into soon.” For now, Saiju is content acting. “I just want to play good roles and if everything goes smooth like this for the next three years, I will be glad. Another five years would be a bonus,” he quips.
Though his career graph is exactly where he wants it to be, he has a personal loss that he is yet to come to grips with — the death of his father recently. “He would have been happy to see me in this phase. When that thought comes to my mind, it brings tears to my eyes. I Iost my father-in-law too last year, so the death of my father was like a double blow. My wife consoles me saying that they would be happy wherever they are and would be glad to see my success.”
Saiju has a long list of films in hand. “A kidnapper in Pidikittapulli, a serious character in Vriththam, a police officer in Pranaya Meenukaludey Kadal, a revolutionary in Kalki, a police officer in Jack Daniel, an interesting role in Varthakal Ithuvare, and comic characters in Android Kunjappan and Driving License,” he lists the roles.
Before signing off, it has to be asked: why not a Kollywood film? Saiju replies with his eyes twinkling, “Even a Payyannur or Kozhikode slang is challenging; imagine working in a language not familiar to you! Also, I am not receiving any calls from Tamil. Right now, I have enough work in Malayalam and am happy here.”