Fear, No Factor

Tovino Thomas speaks about the latest release 2018, his upcoming big-budget 3D adventure Ajayante Randam Moshanam, and his hopes for a Minnal Murali sequel
Fear, No Factor

Like the popular onscreen superhero he made his own, Minnal Murali, Tovino Thomas admits to being a bit of an adrenaline junkie offscreen too. Lately, while traversing the globe with his family, he tested his fearlessness by daring to bungee jump from Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfall. He posted the video on Instagram which was suitably accompanied by the Minnal Murali theme song. He says he was scared and thrilled at the same time. "Do you know that Nelson Mandela quote? 'Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it?' That's my philosophy." When recalling Tovino's journey so far, you see this reflected in his brave film choices.

The past couple of weeks were quite eventful for the actor, with back-to-back releases -- Aashiq Abu's Neelavelicham and Jude Anthany Joseph's 2018. While the former did decent business considering it was a remake of a Malayalam horror classic (Bharghavi Nilayam, 1964), the latter has taken the box office by storm. Both films see Tovino in a diverse range of performances. Interestingly, both films have their protagonists conquering their fears to deal with forces that are natural (2018) or supernatural (Neelavelicham). The unnamed protagonist in Neelavelicham, an alter-ego of novelist Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, deals with a heartbroken female ghost; in 2018, a big-scale multi-starrer named after the year in which severely debilitating floods hit Kerala, Tovino cranked up the wow factor as a gutless army deserter who eventually becomes a hero by rescuing flood victims. 

Tovino describes the filming experience of 2018 as one that took a lot of effort, achieved by an "intensely dedicated team." Filming was accomplished on a land estimated to be around 12 acres, where a huge tank was constructed to recreate the flood-hit land segments, enhanced by astonishing visual and practical effects (one of which involved a complicated nighttime helicopter rescue). 

"Jude and art director Mohandas took a lot of effort studying and planning each and every detail," recalls Tovino. "How to flood houses, how to make the heights of the homes look shorter... Sets of actual-sized homes were created and divided into exterior and interior segments. During the pandemic, when everything got stalled, Jude used the extra time to do a lot of homework. For us actors, maintaining emotional continuity was the main challenge. The art director handled the job of making everything look like everything was happening in the same spot. And it was impossible to shoot all of this in a linear fashion." 

Tovino believes that the brief scuba diving training he once got was useful in scenes where he had to dive underwater. But the two-fold activity of holding his breath and acting, he says, was quite taxing. "There's no CGI support there," he says, laughing. "First, they have to get the lights in, then the camera guy, and then have someone holding a nitrogen cylinder beneath me... There were these waterproof underwater speakers through which we received instructions." 

The 2018 experience, he adds, was just a sample of what's yet to come in an even bigger film. He refers to a three-and-a-half minute underwater treasure hunt sequence in Ajayante Randam Moshanam (ARM), a big-budget 3D fantasy adventure in which he plays three characters spread across three time periods. "The underwater sequence occurs at a crucial emotional high point in the film. We encountered a situation where this sequence, which was supposed to take four days, had to be completed in a single day. Ideally, when we shoot something on land, on average, the edited footage would be around one minute if we are thinking of a 120-day shoot for a 120-minute film. When you have shrunk that to 60 days, we are talking about two minutes on average. So, can you imagine an underwater sequence of a longer duration? The challenges I encountered during the 2018 shoot helped me get through ARM."

Directed by debutant Jithin Laal, ARM, expected to be Tovino's next release, features Krithi Shetty, Aishwarya Rajesh, Kantara-fame Pramod Shetty, Harish Uthaman and Basil Joseph, among others. The film is touted as a pan-India release, with the Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, and Telugu versions planned alongside the original. 

It almost seems like Tovino is currently focussing only on big-budget entertainers. "Not at all," comes his prompt reply. "As an actor, I want to enjoy varied experiences. My role models are Mammootty and Mohanlal, who have dabbled in all genres. I wouldn't be content with commercial films alone. I like slow-paced films, and I have even produced a few. The upcoming Vazhakku (directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan) and Adrishya Jalakangal (directed by Dr Biju) are examples. The commercial films I'm doing and my market value help me support these independent filmmakers."

Besides these titles, Tovino is looking forward to Anveshippin Kandethum, an investigative thriller set in the past. The film will see the actor donning a khaki once again. 

And what about the Minnal Murali sequel? "That will take some time, but when we make it, we'll be aiming for a big-screen release, which is what Basil (director) and, of course, the audiences are hoping for," he signs off.

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