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October 30, 1997


Hero with a conscience

Suresh Gopi. Click for bigger pic!
Southside superstar Suresh Gopi swears off the action movies that made him, claiming he's become a bad influence on the kids.

The mid-eighties saw the emergence of a tall, handsome young man called Suresh Gopi in Malayalam movies. He started off as a villain, ending every film getting thrashed by heroes like Mohanlal and Mammotty. His dialogue delivery was dubbed in those days. But there was something about his tall frame, mild manners and shy smile that ensured he wouldn't always remain the punching bag.

And, verily, within a decade, he became a hero, in ranking directly after Mohanlal and Mammotty, but he usually played the anti-hero, the angry young man -- often a police officer -- ala Amitabh Bachchan, bashing up the baddies, mocking politicians... The works.

When Shobha Warrier heard he was shooting in Madras, she called up at the hotel and left a message for him. In the evening, the superstar called back: like most Malayalam film stars he lacked starry airs, remembering that he was a human and behaving with becoming humility. But he asked if she could meet him in Thiruvananthapuram, his home town. "I prefer being interviewed in a homely atmosphere. Why not meet me there at my place?"

The final touches of Suresh Gopi's massive new mansion was not yet complete when Warrier walked into the house. The carpenters were sawing away briskly, working on the decorations of his spacious drawing room. While he spoke to his other guests, his three-year-old son, Gokul came up and announced they'd met before, on the blades of a fan. Warrier, of course, clearly remembered.

"Yes, both of us were sitting on one blade and the blade fell down", she said. "No, we were sitting on separate blades and the blade did not fall down.", he was adamant. But they became great friends thereafter.

Suresh Gopi is extremely articulate and aware, though sometimes he talks like the police officer he portrays on screen. Unlike many other film personalities, he could speak on topics ranging from social issues to politics. An active member of the Student's Federation of India, the student's wing of the Communist Party of India- Marxist when in college, he later became an admirer of Indira Gandhi and the Congress. And around the time Warrier met him, he had announced he would not act any more in action movies, which gave him fame in the first place. There was great consternation about this decision in the Malayalam press. Excerpts from the conversation:

I have heard that you got through the preliminaries of the Civil Service Examination, but opted for a career in movies. Is it true?

Suresh Gopi with Kanaka. Click for bigger pic!
Not one hundred per cent. The ultimate aim in my life was the civil service. Generally ambitions are induced in youngsters. Similarly, to get into the civil service was an induced ambition. In fact, I wrote the preliminary after I landed up in films. Films were a passion for me after I entered college -- to be precise, after I watched a lot of Kamal Hasan movies.

My admiration for Kamal Hasan grew so much that my only desire then was to become an actor like him. But my father wanted me to be an IPS officer. Even now my father literally claps when he sees me as an IPS officer in films like Commissioner or Ekalavyan. He tells me he dreams of seeing me in a police officer's uniform in real life too. Thus, the idea to write the civil service examination was an induced one.

I wrote the preliminary in the middle of the shooting of a movie. I know I was my craze for movies which made me fail. I applied again. But by the time the examination approached, I had become a 'wanted actor'. Call it an ambition which is still unfulfilled. I think I will fulfil it through my son.

Do you experience any special kind of feeling whle performing as an IPS officer?

Of course. All my roles as IPS officers were big hits. People ask me why I am so good in those roles. That is because it is in my blood. Sometimes I still feel I am really a police officer. I must admit I was just an average student in school but by the time I reached college, I was above average. I think it was because in school, most of our faculties do not get opened up. But it is different in college. I was an introvert in school, but became an extrovert in college.

How did such a drastic change take place?

May be the age. May be the atmosphere in college. It was totally different from my school days. I studied in an Anglo-Indian school where discipline was strictly observed. We had to say 'sorry' first and then sneeze! That was how it was. There was discipline even in our footsteps. It was more of a British type school than an Indian one. See, even now many parents like to send their children to Ooty if they can afford it. It is also a truth that majority of the parents like their children to talk in English and not in Malayalam.

Our cultural and literary personalities constantly criticise this mentality, putting it down to colonial slavery...

Click for bigger pic!
I don't agree. You need not see any colonial slavery in it. This criticism only exposes our narrow attitude to languages. Nobody owns anything in this world. I don't believe that English is owned by the British. We also have a right on the language like anybody else in the world. Why didn't the Americans invent a new language for themselves? It might not have been difficult for a group of people who found a new land for themselves. Let us become broader in our views and accept the fact that English is a universal language.

I think in Kerala, people have accepted English as their own language. Isn't that why our writers and intellectuals are agitated?

Yes, in Kerala we don't look at English as an alien language. I think it is a problem in Tamil Nadu and some parts of northern India.

In Tamil Nadu, they are not against English. They are only against Hindi.

I beg to differ in their attitude to Hindi also. Agreed, Malayalam is the mother tongue of Malayalis alone. Agree, Tamil is the mother tongue of Tamilians alone, but Hindi is the mother tongue of our country and all Indians.

You are narrow-minded if you think that Kerala, or Tamil Nadu, is your motherland. You need a broad perspective and look at India as your motherland. I am a bit more open. I believe that the earth belongs to all of us. If you can look at the world in a broader perspective, the concept of brotherhood will automatically come up. If you can look at all people as your own brothers, where is the question of colonial wars?

You must be disturbed by the problems that we face these days.

Certainly. I am not only disturbed by the problems that we face here in India, I am disturbed by what is happening all over the world. See, I say that there is a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi and a American in my house; after all, all of them are human beings, are they not? Houses like mine group together and form a housing colony, and from there it expand to higher planes. If we can spread love and happiness among a small group itself, it is something great. These are my personal and private thoughts for a better and happier world. It counts, doesn't it?

Suresh Gopi with Geeta. Click for bigger pic!
Of course, it counts. You are a film personality with a mass following. How will you be able to educate people about peace and happiness? Don't you think these days we tend to fight for even the most trivial things?

You asked me what I can do as a film personality. My biggest restriction lies there itself. I come from a fraternity which is business-oriented. See, films are made to make money. There are a lot of restrictions put on you when business creeps in. They (the producers) feel there is no mass appeal for a movie with a genuine approach.

Suresh Gopi is talked about as an angry young man. The angry young man concept was first brought to Indian movies by Amitabh Bachchan. Maybe there were many angry young men before him too, but people began identifying with him as an angry young man. I too was portrayed as a man fighting against evil, traversing through evil and coming out successfully. But only in films...

Are you really an angry young man?

(Laughs) Not at all. I just act as an angry young man. But what happened was, after enacting such roles for quite sometime, these feelings are slowly creeping into my blood. I have found that these characters have instilled a kind of revolt in the minds of people. Now people question a politician if he doesn't do his duty. Now people react to injustice. Sometime back those who questioned injustice and politicians were branded Naxalities. Now a majority of the common people have become Naxalities. We snatched our rights from the British; now we are fighting against our own people, the elected representatives.

I am sure things will change for the better, but only through a revolution. It is overdue. But if such a revolution takes place, I would hide myself away. I am a peace-loving man. I hate to see a bomb explode. I hate the sound of an explosion.

'Making action films was like smuggling. They just exploited a trend'

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