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Harish Uthaman: Acknowledgement for any artist is essential- Cinema express

Harish Uthaman: Acknowledgement for any artist is essential

The actor, who delivered a stellar turn in his latest release, Ini Utharam, reflects on his journey so far and reminds us that actors, too, go through the same issues as the rest of us

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Published: 17th October 2022

Some actors feel awkward watching themselves on screen, particularly during multiple visits to the theatres screening their new movies. Not Harish Uthaman, who is aggressively promoting his latest movie, Ini Utharam, even a week after its release. And he has good reason to. On the day we spoke, the actor -- familiar to Malayali audiences through the much-lauded Mumbai Police, Mayaanadhi and Bheeshma Parvam -- was getting ready to make his next round of visits to theatres where the thriller, which gives him top billing, is playing. In the film, his police superintendent Elavarasan, through the course of the film, becomes a key player in the chain of events kickstarted by Aparna Balamurali's character Janaki.

He is glad that the film is doing well in theatres, which he attributes to positive word-of-mouth. And he doesn't feel odd about hopping from one theatre to another to watch it with the moviegoers. "I'm up for these visits because it is necessary to do our best to push our films, especially in the post-Covid world," says Harish. "We do these visits to show that we are genuinely grateful to audiences for supporting our movie. I have to do that because, for any artist, acknowledgement, in any shape or form, is essential."

Harish, who delivered one of the most riveting performances of his career in Ini Utharam, tells me that he almost didn't do the film as he was vehemently opposed to the idea of donning the khaki yet again. "I've played a cop so many times that I was tired of it," he shares.

What made him reconsider? "So, when they pitched the character of Elavarasan, they told me this is not an ordinary character and that he is someone with various dimensions. (Anyone who has seen the film will attest to that.) They were certain it would work for me as much as the script. I was very reluctant, though. But they kept following up for a couple of weeks and asked me to check out the narration, and if it didn't work out for me, that was fine. At the time, I also had a beard, and I was not in a position to shave because I had other movies coming up. I thought this beard would deter them. It didn't. (laughs) They were okay with it. We found a way to work around it. (Elavarasan mentions Sabarimala at one point in the film.) So when I listened to the narration, I was in a trance-like state for a while. The narration was so good -- with all the finest of details -- that I could picture the movie clearly in my head. The next day, I said yes."

Harish is delighted with the positive feedback for the complex, chameleonic character he played in Ini Utharam. "I've had people telling me about my 'wicked, mischievous' smile in the movie. While doing the film, I didn't think of that consciously; it just happened at that moment. I enjoyed shooting every scene. Another interesting thing about this character is the dialogue switching between Tamil, Malayalam, and English. It was an aspect we worked on the spot. The dialogues are not exactly as they were in the first draft. I converted some Tamil lines into Malayalam; some Malayalam lines into English. All that after consulting the writer and director, of course. I constantly worked on alternating between them to simplify them for viewers because, at times, we hit a snag with certain words."

Harish is presently enjoying the best phase of his life, but the journey so far wasn't always easy. At one point, he considered quitting acting and returning to his airline cabin crew job. "My first film, Tha (2010), didn't do well. At that time, movie halls were doing well, and there was a big demand for films with star value made by a star director. But the entire team of our film, including me, happened to be completely new. Besides, things got worse when floods severely affected our film. We were helpless."

After the release of Tha, the lack of opportunities crushed him. He remembers the period between 2010-13 being particularly disillusioning. On top of the financial pressure, the idea of being unemployed for three years and sitting at home with his parents bothered him deeply. A mentor of his, editor and sound engineer Udayakumar, suggested he wait for ten more days, and if nothing materialised in those ten days, he should proceed with the alternative. Fortunately, something happened. "I got a call from Prakash Raj sir's office to play his son and principal antagonist in Gauravam. Director Radha Mohan saw me in Tha at a Norway film festival and found me apt for this role. It was exciting because working with Prakash Raj sir was a big deal for me."

The actor, who recently remarried, also recalls an instance where personal problems interfered with his work and made him lose focus. "It happened for the first time in 2019. I vividly remember the time when I couldn't do a shot. I needed some time because something was going on in my head. While watching that particular film recently, I suddenly remembered what I went through at that moment. But I'm glad it happened because I'm a better person today because of all my flaws, scars -- essentially, all the good and bad things I experienced. As a Malayali hailing from a village in Coimbatore, I did not expect to get this far. (Harish's parents are from Thalassery, Kannur.) I worked hard to get here. I'm grateful for all the blessings I got from whoever it is. I'm happy and proud."

Also noted for playing gangster Adaikalam in Lokesh Kanagaraj's blockbusters Kaithi and Vikram, Harish is looking forward to reprising the character in the Kaithi sequel next year. In Malayalam, he has director Shyamaprasad's Kasiminte Kadal -- a role that Harish calls "stereotype-shattering" -- and debutant Jithin Laal's 3D fantasy adventure Ajayante Randam Moshanam opposite Tovino Thomas.

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