Yes, till death, was the characteristic retort from Vinayakan as a reporter asked him if he would continue to work in films. Like the man, the setting and the air too were a tad different and unusually natural as a troupe of reporters landed up at Vinayakan's residence on Tuesday after he won the Kerala government's best actor award for 2016.
Seated on a plastic chair, he was once emotional and then at ease as he blurted out whatever he thought should be said, pumping his fist in the air. Vinayakan winning the coveted honor is on many counts a counter narrative to the mainstream cinematic monologue dominated by a select few. As Vinayakan worked up the alleyways of Mollywood as the 'official' goon and 'quotation hit man', there were many who saw a revival of Malayalam's classical and exploratory cinemas of the 80s and 90s which eluded romantic charm, logic and progressive thought.
In a classic David and Goliath situation, his earthy looks, tattered hair, and ruffian dispensation were slowly building a counter-culture that took on the mighty, elite, suave, and soft-spoken protagonists of the uptight ilk. As Vinayakan went about blurring the lines between real and reel life, a new cinematic narrative was taking birth. Film-makers were once again getting round to making films to fit in a 'not-so-big' actor who portrayed the raw vigor of the streets and the marginalized with ease and technical finesse. His distinct dialect with a Kochi inflection was a welcome diversion to connoisseurs.
Vinayakan wanted to become a choreographer. But he was 'christened in fire' as his dance troupe Black Mercury specialized in a crude 'fire dance'. It was director Thampi Kannanthanam who brought Vinayakan to films through Maanthrikam and then in Onnaman. The epic scene in Maanthrikam where a weird dancer, a weak imitation of Michael Jackson, steps out of the vehicle of a roaming dance troupe to the total amusement of lead actors Mohanlal and Jagadeesh is still etched in the cinematic memories of the Malayali. His performance in the film Stop Violence also came in for critical acclaim.
"This validates the fact that the award is for acting and not for the looks," noted filmmaker Balu Kiriyath said. "I am reminded of actor Indrans winning multiple awards for his portrayal of the character Eramullan in M.P. Sukumaran Nair's 2009 film Raamanam (Night Sky). The award has gone to the most-deserving actor. The evaluation is objective and flawless," he said.
It was not long ago that we felt Vinayakan oscillating between a goon and an outlier. "The award brings acceptance to the 'black and the dark," Jose John, script writer of award-winning film Unto the Dusk, said. "This means we do not need art films to examine the case of the dark and the nether. Vinayakan has made such journeys possible in mainstream cinema as well. I think the acceptance of Chemban Vinod, Salim Kumar and now Vinayakan is testimony to the new 'black magic' in Malayalam," he said.
Do the names ring a bell? There is no reflected glory, no props and no godfathers. It seems, under the arc lights are a new set of men, the men in black, who are all set to take cinema to new territories.