The character Ramanan played brilliantly by Harisree Asokan in the super hit movie Punjabi House has definitely gained an iconic status. Even today the character remains a super star in the world of trolls and memes. Not just Ramanan, the Malayali audience won’t easily forget many other superb characters, effortlessly essayed by Harisree Asokan, which made them laugh out loud. The veteran actor, who dons the director’s hat for the first time, is clearly thrilled as his debut venture ‘An International Local Story’ is all set to hit the screens.
What made you take so long to turn to direction?
There is no particular time for someone to direct a movie, pen a script or even become an actor. I believe we should do whatever we want when we feel we are capable or ready to do that. It should be so even if you are going to construct a house. You should have money and a good plan among others that need to fall in place. I acted in movies and wished to direct a film about eight or nine years ago. However, I didn’t have the courage to do that then. I was learning about cinema even while I was acting. I began noticing many factors like the editing, dubbing and screenplay. My entry as a director took so long as I was a bit scared about it. I finally decided to turn a director when everything fell into place and also when I felt the courage to do that.
Why didn’t you rope in big stars for your first movie?
The idea of a hero is subjective. I have a capacity of my own. I do not possess the physical capacity to handle a subject which is usually dealt by Shaji Kailas or Joshiy sir. It requires great talent. Above all you should have great knowledge about it. I did this movie when I found a subject which suited me. This is not a movie which was made for a ‘hero’. Even 9 years ago, I had wished to do a film like this. My approach was to make the shoes first and then find a foot that fits in. I really liked the subject and I roped in actors who perfectly suited the parts.
What did your friends say when you decided to direct a movie?
They are all really excited. They used to ask me why I wasn’t directing a movie. It took this long as I didn’t find a good subject and also because I was scared. Even now I am scared. Lots of people supported me. Sidhique Lal, Priyadarshan, Ranjith and Johny Antony have guided me while making this movie.
Though the story and screenplay are by others, I too have worked hard along with them. My friends were with me, supporting and helping me, while developing the script. This film doesn’t belong to just me but to an amazing team. I don’t intend to direct back to back movies. I want to act in more films. I will definitely do another movie even if this one is a success or not. I hope that the movie will succeed. Let the audience decide the rest.
Why aren’t you very active as an actor?
I spent around one and a half years for this movie alone. I rejected lots of movies that came my way during that time. It was not my intention to refrain from acting; neither was it for the sake of this movie. The offers weren’t impressive enough. I could have easily done that for money. I wasn’t as selective in the initial days. I did all the roles that were offered to me because I wished to act. Besides, as a newcomer you always try to do more films, be busy and find a place in the audiences’ hearts. Later you would prefer doing good roles. But then the number of movies that are offered to you would go down as new people come in.
One cannot be ousted by someone else; be that it in the films or in life. Now I choose movies that I think are good. There are many movies which didn’t do well at the box office despite having good roles in it. I did a few character roles and wish to do more such roles. My role in Baavuttiyude Naamathil directed by Ranjith was like that.
I learned more about the character only when I reached the location. I was stunned and asked Ranjiyettan whether I would be able to pull it off. He replied that it is only I who could do that. His words filled me with positive energy. Even Mammootty couldn’t recognize me when I came to the location with the makeup on. But, such characters weren’t offered after that.
Your share a close bond with film maker Ranjith, right?
I think Rock and Roll was my first movie with him. It is only Ranjiyettan who calls me Ashok. Similarly, there was someone who called me chettayiye (elder brother). It was none other than Kalabhavan Mani. These are all very special to me. If someone calls me Ashok, I look back thinking that Ranjiyettan had called me. I can feel the love with which they call me these. These are people who aren’t cunning at heart. I don’t mean that others are. I consider it fortunate to have had the opportunity to act in his movies. He has written movies which narrate the stories with a unique and special depth. As far as I am concerned, I am extremely lucky to be considered one of his friends.
Do you think the absence of actors like Jagathy, Kalabhavan Mani and Cochin Haneefa has created a vacuum in Malayalam cinema?
I have no words to describe the significance of Jagathy chettan. He is someone who is indispensible in Malayalam cinema. It is extremely painful to see him stay away from the films. Mani left all of us at a young age. I haven’t seen anyone who behaves as innocently as Cochin Haneefa. He was a person full of love. Similarly he enjoyed humor a lot. Humor could be enjoyed like he did by only those who have a pure heart. They are all irreplaceable actors.
What is your favorite movie?
Everyone has different tastes and preferences. Be it a small movie or the ones which were successful or not, I have enjoyed doing all the roles. I still think I haven’t been able to essay any of the characters with perfection. When I watch Punjabi House, I feel that I could have done it better. No actor can play a role with utmost perfection. All the characters that we have done may have some shortcomings in it. However, Punjabi House still stays in the people’s hearts. As long as that movie stays in their hearts, I wouldn’t be out of the industry even if I take a break for 10 years. That is the significance of Punjabi House.
How was your experience working with Dileep?
I and Dileep have done many films together. We were together at Harisree too. We share a great chemistry as we are able to understand how the other person would react in a comedic situation. That is the reason why the humorous scenes that we did together became so funny and popular. For instance, actor Premkumar speaks with a unique rhythm while I talk fast. Dileep clearly knows that. A film in which I have worked with Dileep will soon be out.
What advice did you give your son when he made his entry into the movies?
It is difficult to get into the movies. However, it is extremely difficult to survive in it even if you manage to make an entry. I told him not to commit movies just to stay in the industry. I want him to do good roles and expect nothing else from anyone. When you act in a film, do one hundred percent justice to it. I advised him not to invite anyone’s hatred and to reach everywhere on time. Cinema industry actually belongs to the producer. We should always remember that a cinema is made when a producer spends his hard earned money.
Even if we work for an extra day or even ten more days, we shouldn’t ask for extra money. I told my son that he shouldn’t ask for more remuneration than what has already been agreed upon. I don’t want problems to be created at a movie set because of my son. This is an age when people ask for extra payment as high as Rs 1 lakh for working an extra day. We had nothing when we started out. I often advise my son to behave well to everyone and to play his roles wonderfully. It is always good to bid adieu from a set after completing that movie amazingly.
Do you prefer to continue acting or directing?
I am acting in movies. I still am interested to act. But I will direct movies as well. I may direct a movie once in two years and act in films which I think are good. Some may become successful and some others may not. However, my latest movie is only what I have in my mind right now.