Roshan Mathew: Anurag Kashyap gives you a lot of freedom
In this candid interview with Cinema Express, the Moothon actor talks about his journey so far, his method, and working with Geetu Mohandas and Anurag Kashyap
Not every actor would be selective at such an early stage in their career, but Roshan Mathew has always been wired that way. That approach has led him to the right projects, irrespective of box office numbers. Since his debut in Puthiya Niyamam, the actor has given us some complex and layered characters, most notably in Thottappan and Moothon. His performance in Moothon impressed Anurag Kashyap so much that the Gangs of Wasseypur director cast him in his next film. Roshan’s latest film, Kappela, has him playing yet another nuanced, multi-dimensional role.
Excerpts from an interview with the actor:
Since you come from a theatre background, do you feel that theatre actors are relatively more equipped to handle the rigours of the acting profession than those who haven’t had any kind of formal training?
I used to think that at one point, but not anymore. I learned everything about acting from my theatre days. While training in stage acting, I saw a lot of theatre actors do mindblowing work. But later, I came across people with no film or theatre background doing the same. Sometimes people who don’t over-analyse much bring some freshness and innocence to their work. At the end of the day, all it requires to perform in front of the camera is honesty.
Did you develop your interest in acting in college? I heard you opted out of engineering, which is something that many youngsters would normally hesitate to do.
I was doing electronics and communications engineering, and as I found my interest in it slowly dwindling, I dropped out after a year. My introduction to theatre happened while pursuing BSc Physics at Madras Christian College. I auditioned for a professional theatre company. Unlike engineering, the classes were only till the afternoon. So we used the free time to participate in plays. It was during rehearsals that I realised acting is my passion.
You have worked with an old generation director like AK Saajan and later with directors like Geetu Mohandas and Anurag Kashyap, who have bridged the gap between old and new school sensibilities. How different are their working processes?
Since Puthiya Niyamam was my first film and everything was new, I don’t think I knew enough back then to observe Saajan sir’s working process. I was very nervous and was fully focused on doing a half-decent job. And for a first-timer to be in a film starring Mammootty and Nayanthara, you can imagine how it was. But I think what these three directors have in common is their ability to make you feel super comfortable.
Anurag, just like Geetu, gives you a lot of freedom. We discussed a lot about my character in his film. He didn’t want me to think about the script or its limitations. He wanted me to do whatever I felt like and not worry about repeating the same thing in a different take, or how it would show up in the edit, or whether a piece of dialogue would look a certain way.
He said, “I will make the film. You just create your character.” There was a scene where we went for eight takes, and, after the third or fourth take, I went off the script and it evolved into something else. Based on this, Anurag came up with a parallel backstory which was incorporated into the film. Once you know the character in and out, you don’t find the need to go back to the script. And since I’m very familiar with Anurag’s films and trust him, I completely submitted to his process.
Speaking of backstories, do you develop a background for your characters that’s not in the script but for yourself? Or is it a more spontaneous approach?
I’m constantly trying to find a process that works. I realised that for some of the most satisfying characters I’ve done, I had worked out backstories. So now I try and do that with everything. Some directors like that. For example, Anjali Menon wanted me to share the backstory of my character (in Koode). This may not work with all filmmakers though.
Despite brilliant performances, Thottappan didn’t get the attention it deserved. Did that upset you?
Yes. I was very hopeful about it. When it’s a film you’re very proud of, you want people to watch it. And Thottappan is something I’m still very proud of. Unfortunately, the film’s performance was marred by several factors. But one has to move on.
Can you tell us about your experience in Moothon? Your character Ameer and Nivin Pauly’s Akbar were unlike the typical depiction of gay men usually seen in Indian cinema.
In Moothon, there was already an environment established on the set that was ideal for creating something wholly original. I didn’t get that environment anywhere else. Whenever someone says I did well in the film, I give credits to Geetu (writer-director), Rajeev Ravi (cinematographer), and Nivin Pauly. It is not false modesty. Everyone was instrumental in the film turning out the way it did.
As for the portrayal of Ameer, it was clear from very early on that Geetu didn’t want the character to be another effeminate gay man because it has been done a lot, to the extent of becoming a stereotype. Geetu wanted to break that. She wanted everyone to see it as just another love story and not a 'love story of two gay men'.
Did Geetu write Ameer as a mute character or was it your contribution?
That was Geetu’s idea, actually.
How does she get the best out of her actors?
Geetu is a brilliant actor’s director. She doesn’t make them feel like they’re being controlled. The amount of confidence Geetu had in me was more than the confidence I ever had in myself. That’s a major factor. When a director puts a lot of trust in you, it becomes a huge confidence-booster.