Kammattipaadam is in the spotlight again. The movie that sketched the city’s conquest of the fringes has earned a state award for Vinayakan who essayed the role of Ganga, the tragic hero.
Script writer and fellow actor P. Balachandran reminisces how the uniquely organic dynamism of movie-making unleashed the energy of Vinayakan and others. The 'old generation' face of Kammattipaadam shares with us how he was amazed by the out-of-the-box acting of the rugged heroes.
Tell us about the birth of the Kammattipaadam characters. How did you develop the script? When did Vinayakan and Manikandan became part of the project?
Kammattipaadam is a director's movie. The script was only one of the tools for him. This is not a script-based movie. The movie had its genesis in a discussion between Rajeev Ravi and me. This movie did not follow the usual route where a script is written and then the director takes over. We started shooting the movie from a basic premise and proceeded by changing dialogues and treatment every day by incorporating inputs from the actors and others. The movie is about a handful of people who lived in an area called Kammattipaadam near the Ernakulam KSRTC stand. Vinayakan belongs there. Rajeev Ravi knew him and his family but never planned to cast him in the movie. That happened along the way. The casting director was Vijayakumar, one of my students. He picked each actors, including Vinayakan and Manikandan.
Vinayakan and Manikandan hogged the limelight. How did that happen?
A script is only a surface. Or an orbit. Once an actor reaches that orbit, then he carries the entire weight of his role. He performs in an orbit formed by the script and the director. Vinayakan expressed Ganga in such an orbit. He was freer because the orbit given to him was vast. It was the same case with Manikandan.The freedom enjoyed by both the actors reflected in their performance. They excelled in their acting. Every actor and every human acts naturally when he is free. Vinayakan and Manikandan tapped their own potentials to transform into their characters because they enjoyed unlimited freedom. That is why their performances were so dear to us. You could have never seen such performances if they were given straitjacket directions based on a pre-conceived script. We never planned how they walked or talked in each shot. When you act, you should not think. I never felt these two actors were ever bothered by any thought.
Did their performance strike you at the time of shooting?
I acted in very few scenes with Vinayakan. I can tell you about some shots though.
I played the father of Krishnan, the character of Dulquer Salmaan. We had to shoot a scene where I was to receive my son who had just served a prison term. I wanted to take him back to my native place somehow but Ganga would suddenly appear and take him away.
Rajeev had told me that we would be blocked by Vinayakan and others who came in a car. But I was not at all prepared for how Vinayakan carried it. I was walking with Dulquer. Suddenly a car screeched to a halt in front of us. Vinayakan jumped out. He was hysterical. He grabbed Dulquer and told me he was taking him. Everything happened in a few seconds. Vinayakan was able to convey Ganga's affection to Krishnan, his eagerness to be with him again and the half-hearted request to me in a single take.
I never expected such a fast-paced performance. You can see such moments throughout this movie. Vinayakan was in such a spirit throughout the making of the movie. He unleashed his energies to give us such an excellent performance. He deserved the award for the best actor.
Were the awards expected?
I was never really bothered about awards. You know how awards are usually decided here. Nobody could be blamed for such a situation. Everyone works within limitations, including those of ignorance and lack of aptitude. I had never expected an award. Whether you get an award or not is not in your hands. I was happy when I heard the news. I was happy to hear some good news when the names of Vinayakan and Manikandan were announced. They represented Kammattipaadam. They could perform only because of the detailed work of the director. In that sense, it was a recognition for Rajeev Ravi too. That thought also made me happy.
Do you think the movie deserved more awards?
Even editor Ajith got an award. Editing is an integral part of a movie. A movie materializes through editing. When you reward the editing, you are vouching for the movie's grammar. Ajith's award is also a recognition for the movie. I am not worried that either Rajeev or me was not considered for an award. I liked Maheshinte Prathikaaram a lot. The award for script writing went for that movie. I see that award as a recognition for that movie. Individual performances are not so important. A movie is the result of a large collective. Any award is a recognition for the movie. Let us watch those movies and enjoy.
Manhole was chosen the best picture and Vidhu Vincent the best director. I am yet to watch that movie. I want to. I can easily go to Vidhu's house to congratulate her. But I want to see her movie first.
About Manikandan’s performance
Manikandan needs as much attention as Vinayakan. He is a theater artiste. He got a well-deserved break in Kammattipaadam after a long wait of 14 years. Manikandan has a background which Vinayakan lacks. He is in love with theater. He has acted in plays with troupes such as Bhasabheri in Thripunithura and attended many acting workshops. Theater makes you a total actor. Your body and mind become one. Theater demands intense energy and stamina. Manikandan has tremendous qualities such as these. He has been brought up in a culture of performance. Kammattipaadam was his platform to express that culture. He did that beautifully.
This was his destiny. His talent would have remained unexpressed but for a movie such as Kammattipaadam and a director such as Rajeev Ravi. Manikandan was lucky to express himself. So was Vinayakan.
Was Dulquer Salmaan a marketing tool?
Of course not! This was the only way for the character to behave. Otherwise the plot would have weakened. Dulquer’s Krishnan was not as dynamic as Vinayakan’s Ganga or Manikandan’s Balan. But some inner element helped Dulquer balance the performance of the other actors. He was able to absorb the character and withdraw into himself. He is a witness to everything. It is not easy to be a witness and remain calm. Such a role demands a strong actor. You have to think about the character to understand how great a task Dulquer had to shoulder. He did not have an opportunity to overtly express himself. His character could be seen as weak but it has a depth of quality. He is never eclipsed in the movie.
Dulquer’s function in the movie was of character balancing. You could call it an orchestration of characters, much like music orchestration. We experience harmony when the composition reaches us through various instruments. The experience will be jarred if any one of the instrument is weak. Something similar happens in movie-making too. Dulquer took up the job after being convinced about his role. He could have given it a pass. He knew very well how the movie progressed. Still he portrayed the role and did what the movie required him to. He did that with elan.