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Malayalam actor Tovino Thomas has earned the distinction of being a common man’s ideal hero, but the actor is keen to shed that affable image. Enter ‘Kala’, his new film, which releases in UAE cinemas on March 25.

Unlike his lovable and endearing characters in hit films such as ‘Mayanadhi’ and ‘Kilometers and Kilometers’, his new film ‘Kala’ pushes him to explore his grey side. “I play Shaji in ‘Kala’ and he’s incredibly narcissistic and manipulative … He’s not likable; but by the end of the film, many may grudgingly respect him for his set of unique principles in life,” said Thomas in Malayalam over a Zoom call.

A still from 'Kala'.

The self-made actor, whose credits include ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Theevandi’, says he gave his all for ‘Kala’ and even sustained a serious injury during its filming. Here are excerpts from our interview with Thomas as he gears up for the release of the thriller...

Now that the lockdown is behind you and life is back to normal, what should we know about ‘Kala’?

Truth be told, the lockdown in Kerala was a much-needed break for me. ‘Kala’ was the first film that I did after lockdown. In my opinion, the movies I took on after lockdown are very different from the ones I did before the world went into lockdown. I hope my viewers will be able to differentiate between the films I did before and after.

During the lockdown, I somehow managed to physically become the character from ‘Kala’. I had this unkempt hair, the beard and even physically I began to resemble that character. I won’t boast that ‘Kala’ has a never-seen-before storyline or anything. All I can say is that I have immense faith in the team working behind this film.

Tovino Thomas in Kala
A still from 'Kala'.

‘Kala’ satiates my hunger to do good and fresh work. We began the shooting in September last year, although we planned it much earlier. There was a landslide in Wayanad, near our shooting location and we ended up missing a month … We had to come up with better locations.

The entire crew of ‘Kala’ lived in a hotel together and every day after our shoot, we would sit and read our lines together. We had this work-hard-chill-hard mindset. All of that will be reflected in the film too. The DOP [director of photography] of ‘Kala’, Akhil George, and my director Rohit from this team have worked with me independently before. We have come a long way and ‘Kala’ is a testament to that.

The trailer of ‘Kala’ is intriguing, but you cannot understand what’s going on in that film. Is it a noir thriller?

I am glad that you couldn’t make much sense of the trailer. That’s how we intended it. In ‘Kala’ there are no white or black characters. It’s a tale of how a family faces a certain threat and they act on combating the threat together. I won’t be able to answer if I play the hero or the anti-hero in this film. Everybody in this film is gloriously grey.

How you perceive every character in this film depends on the perspective of the viewer or based on who’s telling the story. Deeds don’t matter, perspective does. The characters in ‘Kala’ are incredibly raw and real. It’s based in 1997 and it’s a story that unfurls over two or three days. I play Shaji.

You got injured seriously during the filming. Was that a huge setback?

The fight sequences are a major part of this film. Even though they are choreographed, those scenes look organic and natural. During the filming, I had internal bleeding and got hospitalised. It was an accident in every sense of the word. Perhaps, it was beyond our control. The truth is that if I do 25 per cent of the fight scenes in a film, then it might look more authentic.

The terrain that we shot on was slippery and easy to trip and fall. But I am very happy with how everything turned out. I don’t know if ‘Kala’ will be a super hit or not, but it will be a good film. I am just grateful that I was injured only to that extent.

Malayalam films are known for keeping it gritty and real. Does ‘Kala’ feed off that popularity?

Tovino Thomas in Kala
A still from 'Kala'. Image Credit: Supplied

I speak from experience here. Success is the biggest trap. Once you succeed, the difficulty is to maintain that momentum. Everybody in this industry is caught up in winning that race and we end up forgetting to run in different ways or even take a rest. There’s no let-up to that pressure to perform … But the Malayalam film that came during lockdown were such high-quality films.

Our way of thinking got a much-needed jolt and tweak. We got some time to sit back and relax. As an actor, I just want to do good films that satisfy my soul. What others deem as success is not what I count as a success either. I don’t care for box-office glory. I don’t have anything to prove. So it doesn’t matter if my films make Rs50 million or Rs100 million because that’s not my priority. I want to be my best version as an actor. ‘Kala’ is a film that helped me explore the best in me.

My upcoming films such as ‘Minnal Murali’ and ‘Kaanekkaane’ make me tremendously happy. I feel lucky to be a part of such incredible films. I want to be a part of films that have something new to say and are unconventional. There’s a new audience for Malayalam films because of our content, our character, our directors, and how we perform. When I go to other industries, I get a lot of respect and recognition because our veteran actors have paved that way for us.

Ever since your romantic blockbuster ‘Mayanadhi’, you have been pegged as the go-to guy for Mr Nice Guy roles. Does that limit you as an actor?

Tovino Thomas and Ahaana Krishna Kumar in ‘Luca’ (6)-1563891260488
Ahaana Krishna Kumar and Tovino Thomas in 'Luca'. Image Credit: Supplied

People who like me and my films don’t get to decide the kind of movies that I choose to do. The movies that I take on are my decision and my filmmaker’s call. My fans can either choose to like or dislike the movies that I am a part of … My intent is not to just impress my fans, but I want to also impress those who are not my fans per se.

In ‘Kala’, I play Shaji who’s very narcissistic and manipulative. He’s not as easy a man to like, but he has his own set of principles that he lives by. Many may not like Shaji, but they may reluctantly respect him and relate to him towards the end of the film … You will see me in a different avatar in ‘Kala’, a film that isn’t dialogue-driven. It’s a visual feast and even non-Malayalis will enjoy it. You won’t see Tovino in my character Shaji.

A still from 'Kala'. Image Credit: Supplied

In the trailer, you seem to rough up women. Did those scenes make you uncomfortable?

‘Kala’ does not dwell on violence against women. However, if a film had to portray those scenes highlighting it, I wouldn’t restrict it. There should be freedom to show a scene like that if it serves a larger purpose …

We can’t expect all films to be politically correct or that it should be a lesson in morality. Cinema Is a medium that can influence millions, so we should be responsible while making it. But if a movie sets out to be preachy, it can get boring … Let’s face it, if we should violence against women, children, old people, or other men, it’s something that happens in real life too. Cinema is often a reflection of what happens in our society.

Tovino Thomas is open to a web series

“I am open to it and I want to do it. Even if I get offers from web series in other languages, I would love it if my first web series project was in Malayalam. If I am investing so much time, then it should be ideally in a Malayalam web series ... But we are such a small film industry in Malayalam, and do we have that many viewers?,” he said.

Don’t miss it!

‘Kala’ is out in UAE cinemas on March 25