Tovino Thomas: Virus will hopefully be seen as a film on par with the best of international cinema
The actor talks about his working process, collaborating with Aashiq Abu in Virus, and his upcoming releases
For someone who has more than nine films on his plate, Tovino Thomas is as calm as a Zen Buddhist. There is contentment on his face. Perhaps it has to do with the awareness that he is set for the next few years.
At the time of this conversation, he was getting ready to go to Kozhikode to shoot his next film Edakkad Battalion 06, in which he plays an army officer. He had just finished the shoot of Kalki before that. For him, vacations are often instantaneous decisions. “After Virus, I took a five-day break with my family,” he says. “I sometimes plan a break for a month or two, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it will turn into a two-day break. Not all films get completed on time. There may be location issues, weather issues, continuity issues, etc. In addition, there is the post-production work and promotion. And I do whatever is necessary for my film. If I had promised 40 days for a shoot, I can’t say that I won’t come on the 41st day.”
Compared to last year, Tovino will be seen in more stylish roles this year. “Last year, I played a thug, an unemployed chain smoker, a hotel employee, etc. This year, I'm playing an airlines owner, a chief minister, a police officer, an artist, and so on,” he says.
Asked if he prioritises each project based on the seriousness of the subject matter, the actor says he treats all his films with the same level of interest. “The priority is with regard to practicality. Take Luca, for example. I could’ve done it after Kalki. But if I had done that, I wouldn’t have been able to grow the beard sported by my character in Luca. For Kalki, I simply had to take off the beard to leave just a thick moustache apt for a police officer. Once I give someone my word, I don’t go back on it.”
Some of his films currently awaiting release were pitched to him way before he attained stardom. Virus, however, is an exception. It was greenlit immediately after the resolution of the Nipah outbreak last year. Tovino plays a district collector in the film. He says the characters in Virus are not exact copies of their real-life counterparts. “After all, this is a film, and the writers have to take a few liberties when sketching the characters and events to give it a more cinematic treatment. This was not shot like a documentary,” he explains.
Though he didn’t get to witness the fear firsthand — he was in Lucknow filming Ente Ummante Peru at the time — he was afraid for his family members back home. “But obviously, we can’t compare our fears to those who were actually present in those areas. Based on their testimonies, we have managed to capture, to some extent, their experiences in the film.” It was not so easy to recreate everything, he adds. “So far we have only seen these things in Hollywood films. The writers researched everything thoroughly because we were not interested in fabricating the details. Everything had to look authentic. I hope Virus will be seen as something on par with the best of international cinema.”
Virus marks Tovino’s second collaboration with director Aashiq Abu after Mayaanadhi. But they have known each other much longer than that. “What I like most about Aashiq is that though he has a clear stand on certain issues, he does not impose that on anyone else. He respects my thought process. Whenever I have a conversation with him, I have the freedom to voice my stand on some topics. In case he disagrees with something I say, he openly talks about it, and vice versa.”
The release of Virus (June 7) will be quickly followed by And the Oscar Goes To (June 21) and Luca (June 28). Oscar, in which he plays a struggling filmmaker, is based on director Salim Ahamed’s experiences. “It’s an intense story with strong emotions but also has its share of fun moments.”
Luca, directed by debutant Arun Bose, is a romantic, non-linear, investigation story. “It’s a beautifully-shot film with strong artistic value. Since the lead character is an artist, you can see the contributions of a lot of artists in it,” he says.
After that, Tovino has Kalki coming out in August. The actor, who will be seen in a ‘mass’ avatar for the first time, says the film is not influenced by Tamil or Telugu action films. “Kalki is about the events in a fictional village,” he says. “I also enjoy films that give me an adrenaline rush, provided they have strong content. Only those will endure,” he adds, citing films such as Devasuram, Dhruvam, and Commissioner as prime examples. “They were not just about the fights. They still look fresh to us. I hope Kalki will be remembered in the same way. It tells a universal idea. It’s not a script where a character comes in and sings praises about the hero. It’s much more than that.”
This year will also see Tovino turning producer for the first time with Kilometers and Kilometers, which he describes as a travel film. “It’s a subject I liked a lot,” he says. However, he has no set plans to continue producing films. “It’s a challenge to do two things at once. I was able to manage this time thanks to my co-producers.”