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June 23, 1998


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Never say never again

Suresh Gopi. Click for bigger pic!
The difference in Suresh Gopi is phenomenal. If he was disillusioned, disappointed and angry when we met him last year, then he is happy, ecstatic and content now. For last year he ended the interview talking about his most ambitious role, in Kaliyattam, and his desire to win a state award, a national award and an Oscar entry. His dreams have come true now. He has won both the state and national awards for his performance in Kaliyattam.

Over a breakfast of idli, dosa and sambar, he spelt out his new dream, one that appears as distant as his present position did when viewed last year.

"I long for the day I can act as James Bond. I think it is possible." And going by his record in action films, Shobha Warrier felt it wasn't impossible. If it weren't for his girth....

Last year when I interviewed you, you said you dreamt of winning a state award, a national award and an Oscar entry. Now that you have won both the awards, how do you feel?

It was a wish more than a dream. It was a long, long nourished wish and not a long, long nourished dream. Many people now say that I was expecting this award. There was a rumour going around here earlier too...

Kaliyattam has helped me attain this glory -- I call it glory, not an award. Six others from Kerala have already got this award for Malayalam films. But to me, this is very special, very difficult too. Kaliyattam was made to reach the national mainstream. The subject we chose was best suited to help us reach that goal. An academic film meant for an academic school -- that was our intention. I also wished people would call me Bharat after they saw Kaliyattam.

Why do you feel that strongly about the name Bharat?

Yes, it gives you additional confidence... See, it sounds so Indian. I think that title should come back. Once again the best actor should be called Bharat, the best actress, Urvashi.

You said the word Bharat is very Indian. Do you feel Indian in every sense?

Yes, definitely. Even though I feel I am the son of the world. I think I told you last time about the world under one roof and the world under one government. I still feel for that and I wish it happens.

Yes, the possibilities are very bleak. But I wish again, like all my wishes, that it happens. I wish to be called the son of the world. But you belong to a family first. So, you wish to be called the son of the family first and, on a wider perspective, you wish to be called the son of India. I feel Indian and I feel I should be a strong Indian first.

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You wished for the national award. You said there were rumours floating around here about your expectations. Still, when the announcement came, did it surprise you?

Not at all. Because I had this feeling in my mind. The inspiration definitely came from my director and co-artists and for that matter all who were involved in the making of Kaliyattam.

You told me last time that you felt so gratified when Jayaraj, the creator of the movie, himself called and congratulated you after the film was shot.

Not after the film was shot, after he saw the rushes of the film. Then he called me and said, 'Excellent. Your screen presence is incredible.' So I started building up an image for the national mainstream. Finally, I think this glory came to me due to my prayers and, definitely, the prayers and wishes of thousands of my fans who wanted me to be known as Bharat Suresh Gopi.

You don't mind calling them 'fans'?

I will be limiting them if I call them my fans. I meant the film viewers who like me and people who had a feeling that I had the spark in me. Without their wishes and prayers I would not have got this award. That is why this award is very, very special to me. It is not a usual award, it is a special one.

So you have transformed yourself from an action hero to a real artist in all senses of the word.

You know, even my old colleagues could not believe it when they saw the movie. One of them said, "Chetta (elder brother), I thought you could only run around with a gun in your hand. I could not believe I was seeing the same person in Kaliyattam." There are many, many people who asked me where I had hidden my talent all these years.

So where did you hide it? How did this spark show itself?

God decided, I think. The time was right and God also wanted me to hit the headlines. That should be the reason for the spark, I think.

Are you going to be very selective hereafter?

Not very selective. See, Kaliyattam was a co-production involving Jayaraj, Shanti Radhakrishnan and me. I am trying to bank on similar co-productions. I feel I should make at least two academic films every year to accommodate this responsibility of being the national best actor this year.

Last year, you told me that you had decided to stop acting in action films. Will you stick by the resolution?

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This is my twelfth year in the industry. I have been fighting with a gun in my hand for a long time and have been blabbering too much. I didn't like that. But I had no right to shout against them as those were the characters which made me the star I now am. I reached a certain point where I had to disown such characters, I didn't want to and I couldn't go any further. I was told that even some of those who liked such movies were drifting away. Such negative reactions did provoke me. So one fine morning, after I finished Janadhipathyam, I decided to call it quits. A good section of the viewers was with me. But another section -- let me call them the envious section -- said, 'If Suresh Gopi won't act in action films, he will not be in films at all. He is going to quit.'

Did it hurt you?

Definitely, Because even after doing Vadakkan Veera Gatha, Innale and many such films, I was not considered as an actor. No, I will not take credit for Vadakkan Veera Gatha because I was just imitating the director, Hariharan.

Was it because you had not matured enough as an actor then?

Yes, I was toned and tuned to do Perumalayanof Kaliyattam for the last 12 years. That was exactly why I don't want to blame anybody. It was a training process and I was learning to handle the shots, take timings from directors.

So now you don't regret those years and those action roles.

No, I don't. See, once you attain something, you get an explanation for all the falls that you suffered earlier. You can satisfy yourself by believing that this was why it was happening, all that happened was for the best.

But were you not disillusioned the kind of roles that you had to do?

Yes, not because of the roles, but because of the negative attitude. All artists must face such situations. But mine was too much. I had done quite a few good roles. You have to be a good performer to do the roles in Vachanam, Aksharathettu or even an out and out action film like Commissioner. All those went unnoticed, unrecognised.

Do you feel satisfied now?

Satisfaction never comes to you, you have to drag at it all the time. But, actually, it should come to you. The national best is not the ultimate. There is no ultimate recognition. You never reach a peak and I wish I never reach a peak. If you are a creative artist, you will never reach a peak. You keep on growing.

But you need characters to grow.

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That is why I said, my prayers are for good characters.

For example, an actor like Naseeruddin Shah, I feel, has reached a peak and now he doesn't get to perform anything extraordinary. For that matter, Mohanlal too.

Naseeruddin Shah, I feel, was too much into academic films. Variety was lost there itself. The very essence of an actor was getting stuck. That is not the case with Mohanlal. He has proved that he is a good actor. At the same time, he has commercial films too. After five or six commercial films or after two or three flops, he comes out with a burning role. So, that gives a glitter, a glow, to him and it never fades.

Naseeruddin Shah, I feel, is definitely one of the best actors in India but he got stuck at one time with academic films. That is why I am going to act in at least five or six films with guns and bombs.

You mean the kind of action films you didn't want to do last year....

Yes. It is like catering to the necessities of the industry. There are two positions -- you need something from the industry. I have now attained that. Then, the industry needs something from me. I should give it and I will do that.

Now that you have proved yourself as an actor, you don't mind shooting and killing anymore?


You said you had to co-produce Kaliyattam. Is it because producers are not courageous enough to experiment with such themes and films?

See, money is a big problem in film making. Now that the information and broadcasting minister has decided to call it an industry, there should be some very inspiring moves by film-makers. See, they take money from marwaris, paying a high interest and they have to get that money back. A producer has to make money not just for one movie but for his next two flops. He has to go by the trend and taste of the audience. He becomes not a producer, but a supplier.

Do you plan to produce more such meaningful movies?

Yes, very sensible movies. Call it academic movies. I don't believe in such a categorisation. Call it academic films and commercial films, okay?

By the way, why do you call the films like Kaliyattam academic?

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By academic, I mean genuine. You don't add anything to it to make it commercially viable. No compromises, not even an extra word. Commercial films bank on the taste of the audience, so you have to compromise. I will not say it is harmful. See, I have to retain my position as a liked star to make academic films. Films like Kaliyattam are seen and liked by, say, only 30 per cent of the audience.

You have worked with Jayaraj in almost all his films. He is this year's best director. How has he changed over the years?

I have not acted in all his films. The transformation of Jayaraj as a director is amazing. His first film was Vidyarambham with Sreenivasan and Gowthami. I acted only in his fourth film, Paithrukam. I liked him as a director in it. Then he got too much into the dishum-dishum movies.

When we started working for Kaliyattam I had forgotten all about his Paithrukam. I remembered only his commercial films. The transformation was astonishing! He was fine-tuned by the time he started working for Kaliyattam.

Do you believe in the kinds of films, personal films, made by people like the late Aravindan?

Yes, the captain of the ship is the director. But it has to come from his heart. The films made by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shaji Karun and the late Aravindan are also genuine. They present stories or tell stories from their perspective. Those experiments have done a lot of good to the industry. Take for example, Aravindan's Kanchana Sita -- it changed our image of Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana altogether. That was a very good experiment but I am not for Kanchana Sita. I didn't like the way he created Rama and Sita.

Yes, that is not the general opinion. Because I am very religious, I like the conventional image of Rama and Sita decked in jewellery, etc. and not as people who live in jungles. But it was a bold experiment.

The same thing has been done by Jayaraj now. He has picked Othello and planted the Shakespearean character in the setting of the oldest of Kerala's art forms, Theyyam.

In Paithrukam, your first film with Jayaraj, you acted as an atheistic journalist who defied all norms and rituals. Was it difficult for a very religious person like you to portray such a character?

I was totally against it. We had a lot of fights during the making of the film. Instead of Paithrukam we were to make a very commercial film. One week before the commencement of the shoot, Jayaraj convinced our producer that we were into an academic film. I was thrilled. I had been praying for such a film for such a long time. I reached Guruvayoor on February 5 and straight away went to Jayaraj's room. He was performing his daily puja then.

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So Jayaraj is also a religious person.

Very religious. He finished his prayers, sat on the cot and started telling me the story. Half-way through I said I was going back. I would never utter a word against God. I said, I can't be going on a rampage against Sarppakavu and the temple. But he made me listen to the whole story. In fact, I started crying then. Finally, we did the film. Even though I was well informed of all those scenes, enacting them was terrible. I felt a lot of pressure inside me. I was going against my inner feelings. That affected my mind too. In between, I even wanted to kill Jayaraj!

Whenever some other character talked against me in the film, I sincerely wished I was in their position, to say such dialogues. All along, I longed to do the last scene where I become a believer. Unfortunately, Jayaraj shot the last scene only at the end. He said, 'I want all the negative pressures inside you to come out in the last scene.'

You were so convincing as an atheist that I thought you were one.


Last time, you told me when you get fed up of movies you would like to go a place where there would be lots of greenery and trees, where there would be lots of birds and animals.

No, not getting fed up of movies -- if at all I have used those words, I regret it.

I don't remember the words. May be, when you are tired of movies.

When I am tired of doing monotonous characters... I told you that in my period of frustration. Now Kaliyattam has given new dimension to my life, new vistas have opened. I think, I have touched other emotional levels in my heart. I want to explore more. Still, I like acres of land, greenery, animals... That is my dream land...

Now what do you wish for as an actor?

Awards aren't the last word. One has to go farther. I want to prove that I am a better actor and the best in my profession. I don't want to be compared with any other top performers. I want to be the best in my line.

See, you have to keep on growing, and for me to keep on growing. I need more challenging roles like Perumalayan in Kaliyattam. I pray for that. Jayaraj and I are planning Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet. Jayaraj has Karnan and Bheeman from the Mahabharata in mind too.


Hero with a conscience

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