Manikandan Interview: For actors, a comedy is like a thriller

The actor opens up about his upcoming light-hearted film Good Night, practice of writing character journals, his current state of happiness and more
Manikandan Interview: For actors, a comedy is like a thriller

What is acting? Is it behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances? Is it essaying roles and putting one through situations that one has never come across in real life? How can an actor, time and again, play roles that are so far away from their reality? Throughout his fledgling career, actor-filmmaker Manikandan has gravitated towards such roles and delivered one ace performance after another. From playing a victim of brutal custodial violence in Jai Bhim to being a troubled son sharing a dysfunctional relationship with his father in Aelay and Kaala, Manikandan's filmography can make one wonder where he draws his inspiration from.

"Art has three stages. Observation, Reflection (of thoughts), and Recreation (reproducing the amalgamation process). The culmination of these stages is what we call inspiration. It is up to us to bring in that element of surprise with our interpretation of the idea," says Manikandan, who agrees that his mimicry talent allows him to bring a new dimension to his acting talents. "I think a person's voice and sound levels shape our perception of that person. If someone talks aloud and commands attention, we see them as powerful people. However, when we see someone's voice being rather subdued, it is understood that they probably didn't have the platform to voice their opinions. Voice is definitely an important tool in the acting arsenal." 

Interestingly, it is a peculiar sound that forms the crux of Manikandan's upcoming film, Good Night. The film revolves around a man's personal life undergoing turmoil due to his habit of snoring. The lighthearted comic drama is a welcome detour from his usually serious films. Although Manikandan does see the film as a break in the monotony, he shares that films like Good Night and Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal need more toil than, for instance, Rajakannu from Jai Bhim. "In Jai Bhim, everything is written out. I had to put on my makeup, and spend time with the people of the soil. My character already demanded sympathy, so I didn't have to convince you about it. Whereas in Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal, my brash negligence results in a death. There, I have to express guilt without dialogue, and yet make the audience not hate the character. That demands more mental energy."

In Good Night, Manikandan plays the 'silly and childish' Mohan, who is just an ordinary person. His snoring becomes a problem when he gets married to the love of his life. While the premise might seem too straightforward, or too simplistic, Manikandan assures that Good Night has more layers, including the importance of family. Sharing an anecdote of Crazy Mohan, Manikandan says, "He had once said that he owes all successes to his joint family. They unconsciously served as his backbone when he had to write dialogues with a tighter deadline. On a personal front, this film made me realise how I didn't spend time with my family while concentrating on my profession. Through a lot of characters, including Ramesh Thilak, the film addresses certain pertinent issues but without resorting to preachiness and shoehorning messages." 

From the promotional materials and the overall vibe of Good Night, it is clear that Manikandan will seem happier onscreen with this film. It also has him dabble in comedy, and a bit of philosophy when he acknowledges that comedy is a serious business. "There is nothing more insulting than a silent crowd when jokes are being said on the screen.  In fact, I believe, for the actors, acting in comedy films is akin to being in a thriller. The anticipation for that laugh is nail-biting," says Manikandan.

Known for his rather realistic performances, Manikandan attributes it to an interesting acting methodology, which involves him penning a 10-page journal of roles that are away from his reality. "Unlike my roles in Jai Bhim, Sillu  Karupatti, and even the upcoming series, Mathagam, I didn't need such a journal for Good Night. But the journal is, in a way, it is therapeutic and cuts down my anxiety about performing that character," Manikandan explains. But how does this journal transform itself into the performance it gets out of Manikandan? "I draw inspiration for the characters from multiple sources, including the days I spent dubbing, discussing scripts, and writing them too. Such places give loads of conversations that can be stored in various parts of the mind. So when we come across a particular actor, our mind uses the stored data to give us a mental map of how the character behaves."

It is these conversations, characters, and journaling that have come in handy for Manikandan, who has completed the 'personal favourite' story of his sophomore directorial. He is also gearing up for the release of Disney+ Hotstar's upcoming series, Mathagam, which also stars Atharva. "In Mathagam, I am saddled with a role that is definitely more than my shoulders can carry. But it is a challenge nonetheless," says Manikandan, who is content with the kind of content that is coming his way. "Of course, the initial path was very difficult. Let alone facing the camera, it took a really long time for me to even see a script paper because there is a sense of hierarchy that is prevalent here. It was also very hard to enter a director's room. But the industry has changed, and I think I'm very happy where I am right now," signs off Manikandan.

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