Indian National Award-winning actor Fahadh Faasil, who is basking in the success of his latest thriller Varathan, out in the UAE now, lets us in on a secret.
The actor, who constantly reinvents by choosing complex and layered roles, prefers to keep it painfully simple.
“I have never chosen a film with just my character in mind. If I love the story and the idea excites me, then I am eager to see what the audience will make of it. The idea of my films is to give them something that they have never been given before,” said Faasil in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
Being selfless has worked wonderfully for the actor.
Enter Varathan (The Outsider), directed by the maverick talent Amal Neerad. It’s a glorious revenge thriller which tackles the morbid theme of sexual violence with impressive impact.
Faasil plays the city-slick, unthreatening Abin — an IT professional in Dubai who returns to his wife Priya’s (Aishwarya Lekshmi) rural, idyllic country home in Kerala to re-calibrate and begin a start-up.
But their lives are fractured by foreign forces, a bunch of toxic men who think stalking is normal.
“Priya is a very strong female character and every Malayali woman will be able to relate to it. The story speaks about a certain something that happens in her life. It could have actually happened to all of us, may be not in that intensity,” said Lekshmy in a separate interview.
For the first time, a Malayalam thriller that is known to promote toxic masculinity through its portrayal of its lead heroes, deviates from the established order. In this film, the hero isn’t some swashbuckling superhuman. He cries at seeing his wife’s anguish, a scene that would never have played out or stuck in a film a decade ago in Malayalam cinema, that’s littered with hyper-masculine actors.
Varathan also gives us a peak into the reality of being a woman in Kerala where they are often reduced to objects of sexual desire. A telling scene in the first half of Varathan is when the couple stop for tea at the country side and the other men in tea-shop have no qualms about making Priya uncomfortable with their lustful gazes.
Their mute entitled gazes could cut glass.
“It’s such a relevant film to our times. You must give this film a chance. Varathan is an intimate film filled with emotions that are human. I don’t want to break the suspense, but it dwells deep into every human emotion that you have,” said Faasil, who has worked on five films in the last 18 months.
The prolific actor felt that Varathan drew out his most basic instinct — the instinct that kicks in to protect your family if they are in danger.
“[The film] also deals with how a certain situation can force you to bring the devil in you and how you deal with a troubled situation,” said Faasil.
Both actors describe their dynamic with their director Neerad, whose credits include the sweeping fantasy thriller Iyobinte Pusthakam, as “organic”.
“There was a lot of attention given to making the story look real and organic instead of focusing on saying a set of lines or sticking to a description. Amal just asked me to play around with the character and I did just that,” said Faasil. While he came across as confident, the two-films-old Lekshmi claims she had doubts on whether she would be able to play Priya convincingly.
“When he [Amal Neerad] narrated the script to me, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull of such a role. Priya was a very intense role, but said, ’don’t worry. I have complete confidence that I will be able to make you do the character” said Lekshmi. His brief was to keep Priya raw and real.
Lekshmi claims she was just a tool in making Neerad’s ambitious vision come alive.
“In whatever scenes we were doing. He wanted me to keep it subtle and he didn’t want me to overplay any instance in this film,” said Lekshmi, who had to play a strong-yet-vulnerable rape survivor.
Watching Faasil act was also a revelation of sorts for this newcomer, who was a doctor before she took her plunge into movies.
“I observed that he puts a lot of thought before he does the acting.
Before he comes into the scene, he thinks for the character a lot — all before the shot is being taken. His face expressions were something that I couldn’t even think of. He maintains the same expression till that shot is finished. I was learning from the very best.”
Faasil has a more cryptic understanding of his craft and how he tackles roles.
“Every aspect of Varathan was challenging. You are not just yourself while performing here. There is a way to measure the temperature in your body or the intensity of your heart beat, but you never know what happens to a performer when he or she becomes another character.”
Aishwarya Lekshmi on…
Life changing after Mayanadhi, her first blockbuster: “I have started loving cinema more. That is the only change that has happened. There is a lot of increase in my passion for cinema.”
Her favourite psychological thrillers: Taxi Driver and Manichithrathazhu, which she has watched at 18 times.
Her advise to aspiring actors: “To anyone who wants to become an actor, never lose hope and waiting is the key. Read more. Only when you give input do you get more output. And always be natural.”
What makes a good thriller: “A good script and a fantastic Director Of Photography.”
Was her medical degree, a ruse to get permission to act in films: “Education was never a prerequisite for me to get permission from my parents because they would never have given me the permission for it anyway. They are orthodox because there has never been anyone in our family who has gone into acting ever. Just like any other parent, they were just concerned. But, definitely, I didn’t take my medical degree to get approval from my parents. I am blessed that I hold such a degree… The degree is too great for me. I do not see it in a light note.”
“There’s much more to life than a job. Varathan doesn’t deal about a job loss alone. It deals with human emotions and how it can bring the devil in you.” Faasil, who plays a character whose job prospects seem grim in Dubai and takes the call to return to Kerala.
“Amal Neerad is a director who manages to combine style and substance and make it appealing to his audience,” said Faasil.