Directed by Basil Joseph and produced by Sophia Paul, Minnal Murali, featuring Tovino Thomas in the titular role, is Malayalam cinema’s first superhero movie. The film released worldwide on Netflix on December 24 to acclaim from both critics and the audience, and Silverscreen India’s review termed Somasundaram’s performance “immensely gratifying.”
Though he has been inundated with appreciation messages and praise, the actor has not allowed all the glory to go to his head. He remains a humble man of few words. All he has to say about his acting is, “I take up a role, give my best, and it turns out to be different.”
Known for his performances in Tamil films like Aaranya Kaandam (2011), Paandiya Naadu (2013) and Jigarthanda (2014), Somasundaram has acted in a couple of Malayalam films before Minnal Murali, namely 5 Sundarikal and Kohinoor.
In this interview with Silverscreen India, Somasundaram speaks about working on Minnal Murali, how the theatre nurtured the actor in him, and more.
It was in June 2019 that director Basil Joseph met Somasundaram in Munnar to discuss the project. Somasundaram says Basil approached him after watching his performances in the Tamil films, Joker and Vanjagar Ulagam.
Shibu is not a typical supervillain with a great physique and good looks. On how he began preparing for the role, Somasundaram says, “As a first step, I started learning the language. I learnt to read and speak Malayalam. I memorised the dialogues and I did homework like re-reading the script and understanding the story well.”
He also learnt to row a coracle (the small circular boat) and spent some time at the spot before the shoot “to better understand the mood.”
Somasundaram believes that there is no one particular technique for acting. “For me, it keeps changing with the film. I keenly listen to the director and understand their vision. According to that, I model my acting technique. I improvise as required and if the director is okay with it.” He adds that one new experience with this film was entering “the controlled acting zone.”
His character in the film, Shibu, is a social outcast who craves love and kindness. Like the protagonist Jaison (Tovino Thomas), Shibu is struck by a bolt of lightning, which bestows him with special powers. However, due to circumstances Shibu turns hostile and wants to destroy the village.
While the antagonist’s character and his actions have been questioned by many, what Somasundaram wants is for this discussion to veer towards creating awareness about mental health issues. “Shibu is stigmatized by society and has had a rough childhood. This has affected him. It is people’s responsibility to not alienate those like him and provide the necessary support. There should be a lot more awareness about mental health and it should be treated like any physical concern.”
Before the release of the film, details about Minnal Murali’s antagonist were kept under wraps. Somasundaram says this was a conscious decision by Netflix and adds that it was easy to hide the villain as he was not a well-known actor in Malayalam. “It was a good promotional idea and I am glad that it worked out well.”
Minnal Murali’s success is significant to all artists and technicians associated with the film, says Somasundaram. “Tovino is now a popular superhero, Basil’s third film is a huge hit, and even I have got good recognition.”
When asked to pick his favourite scene(s) from the film, Somasundaram first brushes off the question by saying he liked all the scenes performed by all the artists. When pressed to mention a few, he says, “I like the scene where Jaison fights with Dasan and asks if he had taken the missing cash from the tailoring shop. Also, I like the scene in the climax when Bruce Lee (Femina George) puts out the fire.”
Before making his film debut, Somasundaram spent nearly 10 years as a theatre actor. He has been part of around 10-15 major theatre productions, eight different street plays, and given roughly 800 stage performances. He has been associated with Koothu-P-Pattarai, the Chennai based Tamil theatre group founded by the late Na Muthuswamy. “It was actor Nassar who guided me to Koothu-P-Pattarai,” he says.
The actor believes theatre changed his life. “I met new people and gained a lot of experience in life. It was Koothu-P-Pattarai that taught me my craft. I feel it will be good to teach theatre to school children. It will help in their overall development.”
Somasundaram conducts theatre workshops for children and acting workshops for aspiring artists. “Sharing my knowledge and my art gives a different kind of satisfaction,” he says. “I tell the students my perspective and encourage them to find their viewpoint on the same topic.”
He notes that getting rid of fear will help budding artists learn the craft well and not focus on targets like finishing a certain number of films within a certain age – the kind of thinking which could lead to quitting.
Asked if there ever was a point when he lost hope in his own cinema dreams, Somasundaram quickly replies, “No, not at all! I am a workman. Acting is a job, just like any other profession. If I get a good project, then working on it to deliver the desired output is a challenge for me. When I am not acting, I have a lot of other things to concentrate on.”
On his process of choosing projects and what kind of roles he likes to play, the actor says that he looks into the story, screenplay and dialogues primarily. “I work to make my performance better for any character. And with that effort, the output becomes different.”
Somasundaram currently has various projects in the pipeline, including the Tamil films Maamanithan and Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai. The actor also has another Malayalam film in hand: the Mohanlal-starrer Barroz. He adds that he is getting a lot of offers and looks forward to doing a lot of films.