Sajin Gopu: I was keen on matching up to Fahadh ikka

The Aavesham actor on his preps to play Ambaan, how improvisations helped, and his plans to overcome stereotypes
Sajin Gopu: I was keen on matching up to Fahadh ikka

In Indian mass entertainers, we often see the larger-than-life lead characters having a loyal sidekick. Like Circuit for Munna Bhai, Hydrose for Sethumadhavan, Selvam for Velu Nayakkar and Varkeychan for Rajamanikyam. These are some lovable, dependable characters who lend the much-needed assurance that no harm will ever reach our hero. Along those lines comes Aavesham's Ambadi aka Ambaan, who has Ranga annan's back no matter what. Be it singing peans on his annan or beating the pulp out of the rivals, Ambaan is always there on the front line, waiting to be unleashed. Ambaan idolises Ranga so devotedly that he even apes his moustache and sideburns. Both the characters are equally funny and caricaturish, and their antics are bringing down the roofs in theatres across Kerala. Within a week since the film's release, Ambaan has already become a hot favourite with many even demanding spinoffs on him. For Sajin Gopu, who played Ambaan, such a response has been overwhelming. "I knew the film would do well and the character would be noticed, but never expected the kind of love that's pouring in now. Wherever I go, people are now saying, 'Ambaane shradhikk'," laughs the actor.

Aavesham marks Sajin's reunion with director Jithu Madhavan after Romancham. It had Sajin as Niroop, one of the main leads alongside Soubin Shahir and Arjun Ashokan. Upon release, both the film and his performance were well received, but interestingly enough, Jithu didn't wait for Romancham's reception to cast Sajin in Aavesham. "Jithu used to casually mention Aavesham's storyline and some scenes from it during the shoot of Romancham. I loved the concept, but never knew if I would be a part of it. I was shooting for Chaaver when Jithu told me that the project was finally materialising and asked me to join. Even then, I only knew the story. It was much later that I realised the scope and importance of my role. While I was the last person to be cast in Romancham, I was among the first to be finalised for Aavesham. It felt like a win."

In Aavesham, Fahadh Faasil's Ranga is projected as a dreaded gangster, but one who doesn't lay hands on anyone, to honour a promise he made to his mother. It is through Ambaan that he unfurls all his fury and frustration. It meant Sajin had to look like someone powerful enough to take down hundreds of men. "Jithu told me about the physical demands of the character much earlier and I was ready for it. I was 81 kgs when I started working out and within two months, I put on another 15 kilos. The challenge, however, was to maintain the physique throughout the shoot, which went on for over six months." Apart from bulking up, Sajin also underwent training to perfect the fight scenes—a new challenge for him. "Though I was part of a small action scene in Chaaver, this is the first time I'm doing full-fledged choreographed stunts. On top of that, I had to fight alongside martial arts experts. The actor who played Nanjappa is a martial arts teacher in his 60s but with eight packs and amazing flexibility. The other two Hindi actors were also well-trained and capable of flying around and punching. So, I knew I had to at least look convincing. The brief training helped me learn some techniques and I hope it has come out well."

According to Sajin, the real challenge in playing a caricaturish role like Ambaan was finding the right meter to ensure the performance doesn't go overboard. "Balarama's Vikraman was the primary reference for the character. If you notice, even the costumes are designed like that. It was initially tough to crack the role but we managed it through constant improvisations. As an actor, I'm never satisfied with my performances and my judgments tend to go wrong. But thankfully, Jithu had absolute clarity on what was required. His conviction is what is reflected as applause in theatres today." Adding more on the director's working process, Sajin says, "Jithu doesn't rely on rehearsals as he believes the intended humour can never be replicated in the second take. Unless it's a technically challenging portion, he preferred the scenes to be improvised on the spot. There have also been instances where we planned and shot new scenes after coming to the location. It includes the climax portion when Ambaan stands dejected and silent like a child. Originally, Ambaan was also supposed to break down like Ranga, but I'm now seeing that last-minute tweak earning a thunderous response."

Such an organic shooting process, Sajin says, was majorly possible because of an actor like Fahadh Faasil, who believes a lot in spontaneity. Shedding light on their combination scenes, Sajin says, "Both Ranga and Ambaan are equally eccentric people, but when one of them gets really hyper, the other person calms down. This balance is there throughout the film. Jithu helped us understand these dynamics very early, which made it easier for us. Both Fahadh ikka and I struck a good rapport and would often discuss how to improve a scene. I know he is one of India's finest actors, but I was still keen on matching up to him. He was also welcoming of improvisations and suggestions." Still in awe of Fahadh's "magical transformation" during take, Sajin says, "The man is a ball of energy and he keeps transmitting it to everyone around him. I see people saying Aavesham is a thinly plotted film, but it's not. I think it is because of Fahadh ikka's outrageous performance that many are overlooking the script."

With the tremendous response for Aavesham and Ambaan, the future looks bright for Sajin. Though he made a mark with Churuli, Jan.E.Man, and Romancham, he was mostly offered goonda or tough police characters. Hoping to finally get rid of the "dominant personality" stereotype, the actor concludes, "I know typecasting would happen only if I agree to do these roles, so I'll continue to refuse them and wait for the right ones."

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