People will criticise you whenever you do something different: Tovino Thomas
The Theevandi actor talks about his approach to choosing scripts, his response to trolls, and why he prefers working in Malayalam more
Despite juggling multiple projects at the same time, there are few celebrities who manage to schedule interviews and diligently answer all the questions. Tovino Thomas is one such celebrity who has no airs. "I'm the same person I was before I got into films," he says.
Excerpts from a candid chat:
What qualities do you look for in a script? And, how do you judge a filmmaker, especially a first-timer?
It's all about the story and character for me first -- is it good or not? And having a filmmaker who matches your wavelength is also very important. Of course, I'll take a look at their previous work, but most importantly I need to be absolutely convinced that my role will give me something important to do. While considering the business and entertainment side of a project, I also try to gauge its artistic value. I only commit once everything starts looking good to me. But we can't be right all the time. Sometimes we are taking a chance. While reading a script, we will have a picture of that film in our mind, but it doesn't always turn out the way you or the director wanted to. It's impossible to take the ultimate judgement.
Some of your films did well outside Kerala, even among the Hindi-speaking crowd. Have you received any offers from Bollywood yet?
For the time being, I prefer doing films here more. I'm not saying that I won't do films in other languages, I will if it's something that I know I can do, but I feel that we can contribute to the growth of Malayalam cinema more by being part of it. I envy some of our Malayalam actors who won so much acclaim by doing some great films in other states. I'm not sure I can reach their level (laughs).
Now that you're in an enviable and influential position, naturally people may approach you for favours. It's a tricky thing because sometimes you cannot do what they ask you to do.
Yes, I do get asked favours and it's very difficult to say a 'no'. But I don't mind doing it as long as it doesn't affect me negatively or put my career or reputation at risk. I believe in doing something if it's going to help them out of a tough spot. If I know for sure that it's going to affect me negatively, I have no option but to decline.
When the floods happened, some people said you were doing all this for publicity. Were you hurt by those comments -- and how did you deal with them?
It's a funny thing, isn't it? I don't have anything to say to those people and I don't have anything against them, because that's all that their minds are capable of thinking. There is something beyond a need to impress others through cheap methods and only people who can't comprehend this fact will think that way. If they're incapable of seeing one's humanity, that's their problem, not mine. See, if I wanted to promote myself, I could've done it with a PR team. But consider this: At a time when I wasn't even sure if I would be alive the next day, would I be more interested in promoting myself or saving my fellow beings?
There is something that Dhanush said during the audio launch of Kaala: We can be popular in two ways. One way is to work hard for our success by sacrificing everything and being totally committed to our work, and the other way is to mock and pull down those who attained success the hard way. It's their call to pick one of these options. We can't make that call for them; they have to do that.
Recently, people took screenshots and clips of your lip-lock scene from Theevandi and circulated online. What's your comment on this attitude?
I don't see a lip-lock scene as a bad thing. I chose to do it because it has an importance in the script. I have done films without lip-locks too but then some people want to focus more on things like this instead of my overall performance in that film. It's not like I've done those scenes badly; I did it well. What's really worrying is this pseudo-moralistic attitude of saying it's okay for outsiders to do such scenes but not us. And the same people will say things like, "Malayalam cinema should be willing to experiment", or "We are not thinking progressively", or "We are not doing anything that's on par with international cinema". But as soon as a lip-lock scene or a bedroom scene shows up, they get uncomfortable and say, "No, this is not our culture." They will casually enjoy watching a murder scene or a rape scene or an illicit affair on the screen but a depiction of pure love is a big deal for them.
People will question you whenever you do something different. A film should be viewed as a film, and it should be celebrated for its content. Remember that two of my biggest hits — Mayaanadhi and Theevandi — had these scenes. But one should also remember that it's not these scenes that made them hits.
You've announced so many exciting projects lately.
I have huge expectations for all of them, including Oru Kuprasidha Payyan (which comes out on Friday). I'm also grateful for getting the opportunity to work with one of my favourite directors, Salim Ahamed (And the Oscar Goes To). And everyone knows that Lucifer is one of the most-anticipated projects out there. All my favourite people are part of the team. I'm happy that I got to work with Mohanlal Sir, Prithviraj and Murali Gopy.