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I had my doubts about pulling off the role in ‘Aarkkariyam’: Biju Menon

The actor discusses playing a septuagenarian in his upcoming movie directed by Sanu John Varughese and his 25-year journey in Malayalam cinema

Biju Menon has time and again surprised audiences with his choice of roles. But the actor himself was taken aback when cinematographer Sanu John Varughese chose to cast him as a 73-year-old in his directorial début, Aarkkariyam (meaning Who knows?). The movie, also starring Parvathy Thiruvothu and Sharafudheen, is scheduled for release on April 1.

In an interview with MetroPlus, Biju talks about the challenges involved in playing the character and looks back at his choice of roles. Edited excerpts:

On taking up the role in Aarkkariyam…

I had acted in [Shyamaprasad’s] Elektra (2010) in which Sanu was the cinematographer. We haven’t interacted much after that. One day he called me up to discuss the project. Once I went through the script, he asked me ‘Which role would you like to do?’. I didn’t understand what he meant as I had placed myself in the role of a character in his forties. But Sanu had planned otherwise. The character is Ittiyavera, a retired Maths teacher, and widower living alone in his house at Pala in Kottayam district. He has a daughter, Shirley, settled in Mumbai with her family.

Actor Biju Menon | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Were you comfortable with the idea?

Not at all. When Sanu said that there would be enough scope for me to perform, I had my doubts about pulling it off. I could manage playing a 60-year-old but definitely not 73! I thought it would look awkward with make-up and other things. However, Sanu finally convinced me although I knew it would be a tightrope walk.We tried several looks and I was even provided some photos of his father.

Talk us through the transformation…

It took hours to finalise the look and costume. The biggest challenge was becoming Ittiyavera. I had to work a lot on the character’s body language, the way he walks, speaks and what not. It was sync sound, which made it all the more difficult. My voice had to match my age. But when I got it right, something would go wrong with the dialect. It took three to four days for me to get a hold on the character. I have never gone through such strain for any other role in my career. We have tried to keep it real and I must thank the cast and crew for the support and encouragement.

What can you reveal about the storyline?

The narrative is set during the lockdown. Ittiyavera’s daughter (Parvathy) and her husband, Roy (Sharafudheen) come down to be with him. The incidents that happen in their lives form the crux of the story.

Biju Menon in a still from ‘Aarkkariyam’ | Photo Credit: Shalu Peyad

You played Asif Ali’s father in Anuraga Karikkin Vellam and now Parvathy’s…

I don’t look at it that way. My concern was only about doing justice to that role and not about anything else. In fact, when Aarkkariyam was announced, there weren’t many people who asked why I took the role. Perhaps, the surprise factor was no longer there because I had already acted as Asif’s father! As for Parvathy, she is a fabulous artiste. Since we had a limited crew because of the COVID protocol and because the film itself has a few artistes, we all gelled well within a few days. I had one of the best experiences in my career with that team.

How would you compare your role Ayyappan Nair in Ayyappanum Koshiyum with this one?

Age-wise, Ayyappan Nair was not a difficult role. He is in his late 50s and due to retire; I am 50 as well although I don’t look the age! (laughs)

You have completed 25 years in the industry. How has your approach to films changed?

Definitely. In the initial days, I just enjoyed the fame that came with the roles. I didn’t go into the nuances of a role. In fact, I rarely got such characters. But films such as Mazha and Meghamalhar made me understand that I should take a serious approach to acting. That is when I started taking better offers out of the lot that came my way. In between, I tried my hand at humour and succeeded to some extent. Even then I never made conscious efforts to land a good role.

Actor Prithviraj once remarked that you are one of the most contented persons around. On the other hand, people also call you laidback for not pushing yourself as an actor…

I have always gone with the flow. That has been the case with everything in my life including my studies. It is not that I don’t want to try new things. But then I start doubting my abilities and wonder how I would look in that role. That is when I opt for a comfort zone.

In fact, after we finished Ayyappanum Koshiyum, [director] Sachy told me, ‘Now don’t look back and do only good roles.’ That was his wish for me before he left us all of a sudden. But unfortunately some big projects had to be postponed due to lockdown.

What next?

I have completed Lalitham Sundaram with Manju Warrier and will be doing the début project of a director duo.

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