In order to act, you have to behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances, they say. For Maneksha, the Alappuzha-based theatre artist who played a character called Yohannan in the movie 'Thottappan', the circumstances given him had been so real that he barely had to 'act' in certain scenes of the movie. “Vinayakan punched me twice. I missed the calculation both the times and I literally coiled up in pain. I didn't hesitate to accept director's appreciation for my 'natural acting skills' though,” Maneksha said, laughing.
In a candid chat with Onmanorama, Maneksha narrates his journey from a eleven-year-old theatre aspirant to a movie-star.
Epiphany at KPAC
Maneksha acted in a drama first when he was 11 years old. He was exposed to the world of theatre, and the social liberation movement it represents, through his uncle, who was a theatre activist. “One day, when I was watching the rehearsal session of a drama, there was no one to play a thief's character. I grabbed that opportunity quickly and came on stage for the first time in my life,” he recalled.
Later, he became passionate about theatre and started performing in more and more plays. It was in 1995 that he attended a theatre workshop at KPAC in association with the commemoration ceremony of famous playwright Thoppil Bhasi. It turned out to be an eye-opener for Maneksha that he discovered his sheer ignorance when it comes to the science of stage acting.
“I went there as an experienced stage artist who had been part of innumerable dramas and returned as a beginner who hadn't just started his acting career. I was taken aback when I listened to stalwarts like Karamana Janardanan, Devarajan master and O Madhavan. When Devarajan master elaborated about the rhythm an actor should keep in mind all through the performance, Karamana Janardanan narrated how he acted only using his eyes in his first movie,” he said.
Maneksha and his companions started a drama school affiliated to Indian People's Theater Association (IPTA) at Sreenarayanapuram, Kochi. He, following the vision of theatre maestro Joseph Antony, developed a modus operandi for the school.
Later, he joined 'Lokadharmi' theatre group in Kochi where he came across Manikantan, Vinay Forrt and such distinguished performers. Maneksha organizes theater workshops for children and conducts children's theatre festivals every year with the help of regional theatre groups from all over Kerala.
Mad man entry
It was in the dawn of 21st century that drama director K P Suveeran planned to direct a play starring Maneksha and actor Anoop Chandran, who was then active in theatre. Maneksha had grown a full beard and long mane back then. Before he had cast Maneksha, Suveeran suggested his name to a TV serial his friend produced – 'Parayi petta Panthirukulam.' Thus, Maneksha got a break to Malayalam television as 'Naranathu Bhranthan.'
“It was through that serial I stepped into a mass medium. It was a new experience altogether. People started identifying me in public. Though I had to go for quite a few takes in the beginning of shoot-schedules, I slowly fell into the groove,” he recalls.
Maneksha had never dreamed about cinema even when he aspired to be an actor. He kept thinking that the glitz and glam of cinema is not for laymen like him. Yet, once he got used to the mini-screen, Maneksha collected the contacts of some movie directors and gave them phone calls asking for opportunities.
“None of them responded positively. Later it was my friend Liju, the associate director of the serial in which I acted, who extended me an opportunity to do a small character in a movie which he worked in. Thus, I became a part of Mammootty's 'Thappana.'”
It was music director Girish Kuttan who introduced Maneksha to the 'Thottappan' team. Speaking about the differences in his experience of acting in cinema and theatre, Maneksha said that cinema is a director's art while drama is the actor's. “A director can't control the progression of a drama beyond a point. On the other hand, movies are strictly crafted according to the preferences of its director. As an actor, I enjoy both the methods,” he said.
However, Maneksha observed that cinema had broke its aura of exoticism. It has reached out to the downtrodden, making way for some realistic modern-age classics. Maneksha dubbed 'Thottappan' as one among them. “The technology became cheap, allowing the common man more access to the once highly guarded ramparts of cinema. That is one reason why commoner's tales started appearing on silver screen,” he says. He added that that this democratization of skills blurred the line that separated theatre artistes and movie actors. Maneksha is proof that skilled artistes thrive regardless of the challenges they face.
There are certain shots which haunt the audience even after they finish watching the movie, Maneksha says. “Along with the many love stories narrated explicitly on screen, the director says certain stories through some symbols. In a particular shot, two crows could be seen sitting close to each other and then flying in different directions. That told a story! I was so moved by that shot,” he says.
Maneksha also recalled how the death sequence of Thottappan touched his heart. “In a single helicam shot, the director explained well how Thottappan's death haunted the killer all through the rest of his life.
Maneksha wishes to do more powerful character roles in cinema. Simultaneously, he also plans to carry forward his theatre activities. “I want to explore the possibilities of my talent in both the areas,” he said.