Mention Suresh Gopi to any south Indian movie buff and they’d immediately conjure up images of a tough-talking cop with a powerful voice.
But when he stepped into his new avatar as host of Ningalkkum Aakaam Kodeeshwaran, the Malayalam version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, the veteran actor shed his tough image and has already won the hearts of Malayalis the world over.
In his 26-year career, with a more than 250 films in the bag, the actor has received many accolades, including the National Award for Kaliyattam. As much as he’s enthralled viewers with his eloquent dialogues in mostly cop roles, the actor also touched a chord with audiences as Dr Narendran in Innale and as the mentally challenged father of a little boy in Ullam.
After taking a hiatus from films for the first season of the TV show, Gopi is now back to his home turf, cinema. tabloid! caught up with him on the sets of Ningalkkum Aakaam Kodeeshwaran.
Q: What’s it like being in the hot seat?
A: (Laughs) I was not in the hot seat but in the host seat.
Q: How did you prepare for this new role?
A: I got more than half of my training while watching Amitabh Bachchan’s Kaun Banega Crorepati [the Hindi version of the show]. I was an ardent fan of this show and have been watching it regularly. If Bachchan followed [show producer] Siddharth Basu’s instructions, I carried out the same.
There are no preparations. It is all extempore. I get my prompts from my saviour, Lord Krishna. Yes, personal elements do come in. For me the emotional areas will carry the person in me. That is how it is accepted in Kerala.
Q: Are there stories of contestants that have touched you?
A: Yeah, lots of them, as [many of them ] expose the miseries of their lives. We had 670,000 applicants, out of which 2,000 were picked and only 500 were finally selected. Out of 500 contestants, we listened to some 200-300 tear-filled stories. Why is this happening after 65 years of independence? We are still slaves. Do we live in a legitimate democracy?
Q: You have been away from films for a while...
A: I call it a gestation period. During this time, I enjoyed watching Hindi, English and Tamil films. My 18-year-old son, who is in college and a cinema lover, suggests films for me. He forced me to watching the Iron Man series. He tells me, ‘Acha [father], you have to be like him.’”
Q: What about your college days?
A: I was a good dancer, often up on stage dancing to Piya tu, and Dum maro dam. I was the prettiest bum shaker doing a Zeenat Aman or a Helen. I don’t know what happened to my dancing skills; I am not a good dancer any more.
Q: Did you always want to be in films?
A: I don’t think I had the dream to become an actor. My father’s ambition was to see me as SP [Superintendent of Police] of my hometown. Succumbing to his wishes, I started preparing for the civil services. But after my Masters [in English] and inspired by Kamal Haasan’s youthfulness on screen, I thought I should be an actor. And, it was the cop roles that lifted me in my career.
Q: How did your father react?
A: He was happy. He said, ‘This is as good as becoming an IPS officer. In fact, a cop in reel life is better than in real life, as I am confident that [nobody] will knock my son down.’”
Q: What do you look for in a role?
A: A role which evokes a feeling in me that I will never be able to do the character only drives me to take up the film.
Q: Which roles are close to your heart?
A: All my cop roles. Then, my characters from Kaliyattam, Paithrukam, Lelam, Pathram and Oru Vadukkan Veerakatha. I get goose bumps when I recall Dr Narendran of Innale. Ullam was a challenging role, it brought out the love in me for children and concern for the family.
Q: What is it like being Suresh Gopi?
A: I am a normal being, my dad’s son, my mum’s son, my three brothers’ big brother, my children’s father and Radhika’s only Suresh Gopi. Like any common man, I move around freely in Trivandrum, where we live. I am just a regular person there and I do not carry the halo of an actor.
When on a high, I don’t take it for granted. I take blissful moments lightly. I prefer being on level ground. That is why I don’t celebrate my birthdays or the success of my films and I don’t attend the opening functions of my films.
Q: Do you remember your days as a child actor in Odeyil Ninnu?
A: Yeah. My father was a close friend of the producer and director K.S. Sethumadhavan. They were shooting in Kollam and scouting for a child to act in the film. My brother and I were taken to the location and I got selected. I often ran away from the sets. I remember being chased by the unit members and brought back to face my father’s anger. But Sethumadhavan sir would chide my father for scolding me. He was gentle with me. He always had an ice cream box to appease me and made me act.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I am working on Shankar’s film titled I. It’s a sober character and the role is parallel to the hero. No cop, no fight sequences. But the final scene is a shocker. There is a Malayalam film directed by Jayaraj, titled Veeran. It is bilingual [in Malayalam and English] and I will be playing a Macbeth-like character.