Chasing complexity

Roshan Mathew, who is making waves in Malayalam and Hindi cinema, gets candid about his working process and why he’s keen to break out of the brooding guy stereotype
Chasing complexity

A truly popular trend in Indian cinema lately is the ubiquitous roundtable conversation that takes stock of film work each year. The roundtable conversations that discussed last year’s work were all unanimous in discussing Netflix's Darlings. Director Jasmeet K Reen and actor Vijay Verma, who were both part of many roundtable panels, couldn’t stop gushing about one actor whose presence, they believed, added so much gravitas to their film: Roshan Mathew. Already an Anurag Kashyap hero in Hindi cinema, Roshan, who started out in Malayalam, is gradually making his presence felt in other languages too.

This year too is looking up once again for Roshan, who is focussed on balancing his work across multiple languages once again. He is set to star alongside National Award-winners Fahadh Faasil and Aparna Balamurali in Kannada filmmaker Pawan Kumar's much-anticipated Dhoomam, which will be released in multiple languages. This film, backed by Kantara-producers Hombale Films, has the potential to be their next big offering to Indian cinema. Without divulging much about the project, Roshan assures that it will be something ‘unique and different’. "It is a story that takes place in different timelines, and it is unlike anything we have seen before."

On the other hand, he has a starring role in Delhi Crime-helmer Richie Mehta's new series Poacher, based on illegal ivory trading, in which he shares the screen with The Great Indian Kitchen-fame Nimisha Sajayan. Poacher marks Roshan's debut foray into the web series space. "I wanted to work with Richie after being bowled over by his work in Delhi Crime. I loved the writing, and the whole prep was interesting. So, I’m really hoping it comes out well and people like it."

Over the last year, he has consciously worked on his Hindi accent to belong better in such work. "With Choked, the character being a South Indian served as a comfortable cushion whereas, with Darlings, the character is someone who hails from the film's setting and interacts with that community on a daily basis. So, I tried to avoid any accent problems I might have. I had an accent coach who helped me greatly. As the film got postponed by a few months due to the pandemic, I got a lot of time with these online coaching sessions."

For Roshan, his trust in his characters is crucial in shaping his performance. That’s how, he says, he was able to play characters that undergo a stunning transformation in their respective films—a few notable examples of this include Kappela (2020) and Night Drive (2022). "Take my character in Kappela, for example. The idea was to conceal the real side of this guy and make it seem like there were no hints earlier. However, when you watch it a second time, you might catch something somewhere. With such characters, the challenge is to play it in a way that seems like there is one layer above his true self, despite knowing the point at which a personality shift occurs. And when it's time for it to come off, it should seem like this guy has always been like this. I always try to achieve that impression. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't."

He cites his character, Podiyan, from his recent release, Oru Thekkan Thallu Case (OTTC), as someone he was really drawn to. "Podiyan exudes confidence, more than what he really has. He could be a coward within, but his external persona paints a different picture. I've never been like that and that’s why I found him to be fascinating."

After a bunch of dark, brooding roles, Roshan has explored his more relaxed, uninhibited side in films like Chathuram, Night Drive, and Gold. "There is a perception that I'm only into performance-driven, serious stuff. I want people to see the other side of me. My debut, Anandam, for instance, was a fairly light-hearted film. I don't know when perceptions about me changed, but I intend to correct that." This intention to shift is clear from the kind of roles he is playing in Hindi. Zulfi of Darlings is an adorable goofball, and Roshan brought out a subtle sense of bravado even while being vulnerable, and it was the perfect foil to the testosterone-loaded gaslighter played by Vijay.

While his last year was a mixed bag, Roshan takes confidence from the praise that has come his way. "Even when I lose trust in a movie I'm doing, I try to do my best, and accept whatever validation I get for it. I’m determined to put my best into each of my films, and you will see it this year too."

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