Siju Wilson: Pathonpathaam Noottaandu came to me at the right time
The actor talks about essaying Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker in the biggest film of his career, directed by Vinayan
A few days ago, Siju Wilson interrupted a bus laden with college students on a picnic to give them a surprise, much to their delight. The impromptu idea was part of the tour undertaken by Siju to promote his big-budget Onam release, Pathonpathaam Noottaandu, directed by Vinayan. The Gokulam Gopalan production marks two firsts for Siju: 1) It's the biggest film of his career and (2) Being the face of a big Onam release. So it's natural that the actor is hard at work to ensure maximum reach for the film. In fact, this conversation happened while he was on the way to a promo event. "Tomorrow, I'm taking a train ride from Kochi to Kannur," he tells me, emphasising the importance of undertaking such efforts. "It's only when such big-scale projects do well that Malayalam cinema can dream of much bigger endeavours."
It took over a decade since his debut in Vineeth Sreenivasan's Malarvadi Arts Club for Siju to represent a big film in a hero capacity. When recalling his roles in films like Innu Muthal and Upacharapoorvam Gunda Jayan or Vaarthakal Ithuvare, one sees a man with immense potential not utilised the right way. Pathonpathaam Noottaandu, Siju hopes, will change that perception. "I've always wished to do lead roles, but I believe what I got now came to me at the right time. The privilege of becoming a leading man is that we can greenlight the projects that we want to do -- picking quality content is easier. I would say the confidence to play leading men came to me now. I used to get some scripts right after Happy Wedding, but I avoided them because they were either something along the lines of that film or below it. Or it was something like what I did in Premam. Since I wasn't interested in repeating myself, I just went back to doing character roles."
Siju feels that Jeethu Joseph's Aadhi was a turning point for him as his negative character helped break the 'funny guy' image he was associated with until that point. "That was another role that came to me at the right time; it helped me greatly. I've had people telling me that character made them angry. I guess being cast opposite Pranav Mohanlal helped enhance the impact."
In Malayalam (and Indian cinema in general), we have seen the abilities of gifted actors getting curtailed on account of producers unwilling to spend enough on a film simply because they see no 'market value' in the cast. Siju, too, was affected by this attitude. "That particular reason often caused some delays when it came to the projects that I wanted to do. You often find a reduction in content quality because the production side doesn't offer the essential support that a script demands," he shares. This is why Siju finds something like Pathonpathaam Noottaandu a "huge confidence-booster" because the people behind it made no compromises. "It's because there is someone like Gokulam Gopalan sir that this project got the budget it needed. And when you have a director like Vinayan sir who doesn't compromise on quality, you know you are in safe hands."
Siju initially had doubts about being called to act in the film even though he was contacted by Vinayan first for essaying the Ezhava warrior and anti-caste revolutionary Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker. "The final confirmation took some time," he recalls. "It's understandable because it's a matter of a huge sum of money; naturally, people will be thinking about various alternatives or whether this particular actor will be apt for a certain character... You are also judged based on the roles you did before. Maybe it's because I responded strongly to the pitch that Vinayan sir also felt I would be an apt casting choice. My energy and excitement were palpable to him. I was super enthusiastic about playing it. He told me that he didn't get the same kind of energy and response from anyone else that he got from me. It made him confident. I never dreamt of being part of a film of this magnitude in my entire career because of my past negative experiences. That's why I worked very hard on this one. I think Pathonmpathaam Noottaandu will be a huge comeback for Vinayan sir because he has a team of immensely talented technicians supporting his vision."
Pathonpathaam Noottaandu will have Panicker meeting two other legendary historical figures, Kayamkulam Kochunni (Chemban Vinod Jose) and Nangeli (debutant Kayadu Lohar). Siju tells me a film on Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker has been a dream of Vinayan since 2005. "The character has been on Vinayan sir's mind since his childhood. He had heard many stories about him since he was born in Ambalapuzha, which is close to Arattupuzha. Because of his extensive research, he had so much clarity on this character and the kind of film he wanted to do. The online information on Panicker is limited. Many people aren't aware of the things he did. As for the look and physicality, there is a difference because this is a mass entertainer, and it was necessary to give him a heroic image. It's not a biopic or documentary. However, we have included some of the most important events involving him without losing the true historical essence. At the same time, we should remember that we cannot include everything about his life given the limited duration and screenplay structure."
Apart from Pathonpathaam Noottaandu, Siju has another big release this month -- Rosshan Andrrews' Saturday Night, with Nivin Pauly. He also informs me that his Kerala State award-winning feature Vasanthi will hit an OTT platform soon.