Dancing Rose actor Shabeer Kallarakkal: Dancing in the boxing ring is a strategy to distract the opponent
Actor Shabeer Kallarakkal, who played the wildly popular role, Dancing Rose, in Pa Ranjith's Sarpatta Parambarai, speaks about getting into character, being inspired by Muhammad Ali, and challenges he
An hour past the stroke of midnight on July 21, social media was rife with responses to Pa Ranjith's Sarpatta Parambarai, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video. By the following morning, the birth of a new sensation had brewed. The character of the boxer, Dancing Rose, and his swag, charisma, and movement, had captured the imagination of all viewers. Nobody expected this, including Shabeer Kallarakkal himself, who played Rose in the film. "It's surreal. We knew that this character would make an impact, but the response has been unbelievable," he shares.
For Shabeer, it was the culmination of a journey that had started well before the commencement of Sarpatta. This major break in his career had come 15 years after he set out to be an actor, and six years after he had debuted as the lead in Nerungi Vaa Muthamidathe. Shabeer recounts a conversation he had with actor Vijay Sethupathi on the sets of Petta. "I asked how he had negotiated his long waiting period. He said that when your efforts meet deserving results, the consequences will be explosive. I truly believe that now."
Shabeer believes that every development, positive or negative, was a stepping stone towards him becoming an actor. "I think everything has happened for a reason, and it has led me to where I am today. For instance, during the last few years, I have been learning parkour, silambattam, gymnastics and dance, and perhaps because of all that, this role of Dancing Rose was such a good fit. Though I joined the film late, I had the skills ready."
A training montage Shabeer had posted on his social media a few months back came to be widely shared on the internet, following the popularity of his Sarpatta Parambarai character. For most actors, transforming their body under a tight deadline gets seen as a difficult challenge. Shabeer, however, says that physical fitness was never a problem, as he was already a ready-made “package” for this role. The break from the shooting, due to the pandemic, was tougher for him to handle. To make matters worse, the actor tested positive for COVID-19 in July. "I lost my muscles, my weight. I got anxious." And yet, he trusted himself to get back in shape. "When you need to put on weight, you need to add both fat and muscle to your body. I had to weigh an additional five kilos and then bring it down again. Luckily, the shoot restarted only in September and that gave me enough time." He also had to resume his boxing training. "It was important to be agile and quick for this role."
A late addition to the cast, Shabeer says that he couldn't even interact a lot with Ranjith as the shoot had already commenced. However, he remembers feeling like Rose right from the first shot in the film. "Till the costume stays on me, I remain in character. It’s how I know to act. Moreover, when you stay in character, you might stumble upon new ideas that could add layers to the character."
In Sarpatta, Rose is introduced to us as a peripheral character, before the big faceoff with Arya’s Kabilan happens. He goes on to become a supportive presence in the film, as a coach almost for Kabilan’s nemesis, Vembuli. "Rose is different from who I am but I could relate to some aspects of his character, like, for example, the way he believes in not taking shortcuts. This element really worked in favour of the character."
When you think of Dancing Rose, it’s impossible not to remember his somersault entry into the ring, and two, emulating Muhammad Ali's famous corner dodge (the ace boxer famously dodged 21 punches of Michael Dokes in ten seconds). Another inspiration, he says, was British boxer Naseem Hamed. "Each boxing character was given a reference, and we just followed that. About the corner dodge, I just followed the instructions that the stunt choreographers Anbariv gave me. Only recently did I learn that Ali had done this in real life," says Shabeer.
The actor spent a lot of time internalising the character of Rose and his motivations. "Rose is an extremely confident character, who had never lost a fight before his faceoff with Kabilan. As Rose, I wanted to mentally break Kabilan down. When you smile and frolic around in the boxing ring, it's a strategy to distract your opponent. That was the intent in all my boxing scenes." Shabeer says that he added certain layers to the character, subconsciously. "I am trained and conditioned to be mentally tough. I used to be a cricketer and trained under the former Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Indian cricket team. Furthermore, I have done a lot of trekking. My whole COVID-19 episode did its bit to strengthen me mentally too.”
One thing is for sure: Dancing Rose is a character fans will remember for a long time. "It is a great feeling to be acknowledged for your work. I don't know if I will now rise further or fade away; I don’t know if I will get a better role or whether Dancing Rose will remain the best role of my life. Right now, I am just enjoying the moment and basking in it."