Had Fahadh Faasil been an actor two hundred years ago, he would have been a bad one. He's not an actor of words and the stage remains unforgiving to those like him. But what the stage despises, the camera adores. Because Fahadh was born for close-ups. There are not too many things he can say that his eyes cannot. You can give him sheets of dialogue but chances are, he will figure out a way to say it without saying anything at all. He's one of our few actors whose eyes have a separate fan base. His oddly long eyelashes make you sympathize with him, even when he plays a character that deserves to be bobbitised. Their colour, hazel to some, light brown to others, makes it impossible for us to look away, especially when they're lit from the sides. Had his eyes been a shade darker it may not have had the power to convey as much. Had they been lighter and they may have become a distraction. But the difference is what he does with them. Let's take a look at a few images to understand how he uses his eyes to convey meaning.
When Cyril from 22 Female Kottayam wakes up in the afternoon after being heavily sedated, his eyelids remain half-closed. He's weak but there's a sense of comfort and contentment even as he looks towards Tessa, "an old friend". But the moment she reveals that she had drugged him, his eyes begin to dart around rapidly. His eyelids are now wide open in shock and he keeps it that way even when she reveals to him that she has removed his "male organs" (the film's words). In his pain and intense anger, he stares directly into Tessa's eyes, his eyes tense. A wide range of emotions is communicated…relaxation, trust, shock, helplessness, pain and finally anger, without a word being spoken. Later, Cyril gets a few dialogues but his mouth is soon taped. But when Tessa starts narrating her side of the story, the anger does not remain. She narrates how she truly loved him and Cyril's eyes, now looking away from both the camera (audience) and Tessa, suggest an inability to confront his thoughts, even as we cut away to shots of their past. He tears up, almost accepting his faults and his fate. He starts taking the medication she gives him and there's a moment of comic relief between them. She says, "It's impossible to understand what you're thinking when I look at your face." As she leaves him tied to the bed, his eyelids remain half-closed again as he looks down. Is it regret or is he planning revenge? Who really knows.
The first time Rasool speaks to Anna in Rajeev Ravi's tragic love story Annayum Rasoolum is more than an hour into the film. Take a look at his "love at first sight" moment. A fight has broken out and Rasool is being chased. He starts running and he hides near a statue of Mother Mary, when Anna approaches it to light candles. The loud music of the church band slowly recedes to silence and Rasool stares into her eyes in disbelief. He cannot blink and his eyes refuse to move. There's no back-and-forth and it's as though he's staring at one particular eye. He soon forgets where he is, not realizing that people are still chasing him. He rises slowly, looks at her, takes a step back when he hits the wall behind him. He smiles with his eyes and he knows he's in love. Can you think of a better love at first sight scene?
He begins to 'pursue' Anna, travelling on the ferry between Vypin and Ernakulam just to see her. He smiles when he sees her run into the same boat and chooses to stand, perhaps because that's the best vantage point. His eyelids remain half-open as he looks pleasingly at her. She catches him staring at her and shoots back a look of anger. But he doesn't look away because he doesn't feel he's done anything wrong. He even shifts his head towards her direction, bringing his eyes to the centre. She looks away, moves closer to her friend and says, "Avan (him)". He breaks the eye contact only when the friend looks back at him. He looks away, into the darkness, a smile emerging. "At least she knows I exist", you can almost hear him say. She tries to steal glances without turning her head to see if he's still staring. He is.
The beautiful 'Kandu Randu Kannu' ('I Saw Those Eyes') plays in the background when he sees her again at her workplace. She's modeling a wedding gown for her customers as he walks in. She (Andreah is seriously underrated) spots him and she signals for the veil to be removed. It's part embarrassment, it's part irritation. But her look has softened from before. She's probably glad he got to see her looking like a bride…it's almost ironic given their fate.
I'm not a huge fan of the film but Fahadh plays a blind man very differently in Shyamaprasad's Artist. He's not born visually impaired and he loses his eyesight well into adult life so there's a need to still move around the eyeballs towards the direction of a sound or speech out of habit. During intense discussions between Michael (Fahadh) and Gayathri (Ann Augustine) he doesn't look up or away like other actors. He chooses to look straight at her. But instead of her eyes, he's actually glaring at a spot just below them. This has a chilling effect because he thinks he's making eye contact even when he's not. He also has a look of focus on scenes where he's working on his paintings. His eyes widen, his pupils move around as though he's 'seeing' the painting in his mind. We too become a part of his visualization, as we try to see what he's seeing.
If his eyes were so far reserved only to do some heavy lifting, here's the man having some fun in Sathyan Anthikad's Oru Indian Pranayakatha. He plays a mischievous character in this film and when he boasts about his 'self-control' to his boss Irene (Amala Paul) she decides to put it to test. Notice how his eyes start moving around in the same direction Irene moves her arms in. His eyelids remain half-closed but when Irene's body touches his, the eyelids spring open in tiny bursts, even as he tries to remain cool. That moment when he stares right up, as though he's asking God for help, is gold.
In Bangalore Days Fahadh's looks and body language convey his character's overall attitude towards his new wife and her cousins. When she's playfully clicking pictures with her cousins on stage, he refuses to smile at them, ruining the moment. Her smile disappears immediately and she tries hard to make eye contact with him. But he refuses to meet her eye, choosing instead to look towards the camera and then away from it. He disapproves of her cousins and it's blatantly obvious. Much later, when the cousins come home for lunch, they begin by having a fun time. But when Aju (Dulquer) lifts his leg and rests it on his chair, Das (Fahadh) gives it a side glance. And when Aju jokingly throws something at Divya (Nazriya), Das' eyes follow the trajectory of what he's thrown. He's had enough. Irritated, he switches to the morose topic of Arjun and his broken home.
In Amal Neerad's Iyobinte Pusthakam Fahadh's Aloshy is a stand up guy. But his head is always tilted below in scenes where he's speaking to his father Iyob (Lal). Even on their first meeting after decades, Aloshy refuses to look his father in the eye. It's a natural way to show respect and subservience. But as he begins to walk away, he looks back at Iyob for a fraction of a second. Though toughened, he still holds onto some love for his father. The same pattern is repeated in two more instances in the film but the meaning is different. Aloshy continues to look down as his father speaks to him. But when he disagrees with his father he doesn't hold back anymore. He shoots back a look straight at him. In all three occasions, Aloshy's direct gaze at his father is used as a mini 'punch' moment. If it was respect the first time, the look is that of disgust later on. He has no respect left for his father.
Maheshinte Pradhikaram is a film that needs an "eye actor" like Fahadh. He strains his eyebrows and blinks incessantly in that scene where he goes to bed next to his father, a day after he went missing. There's tension, there's worry and his eyes are wide open to suggest that it's going to be a sleepless night. Later, when his longtime lover Soumya calls him to break up with him, the blinks work very differently. It's like he wants to blink, but he refuses to. He lifts his head a bit moves his eyes first to the left and then to the right and hangs up. That's the end of that.
But the breakup only hits us on the day of her wedding. We get an over-the-shoulder shot from Sowmya's side looking down at Mahesh on his bike. She smiles awkwardly and we cut to a closer shot of Mahesh and he too is smiling. When we cut to him a third time, the wide shot from before has now become a mid-shot. He smiles as though he's genuinely happy for her, again with those half blinks. As she walks away, his eyes continue looking as though they're in search of her. He lowers his head, moves it to the side away from the camera and stares down at nothingness, hoping to find some kind of closure. We then cut to a shot of his back and then a side shot of the man bawling, his eyes closed shut.
In Thondimuthalum Drikshakshiyum Fahadh's eyes get what we call a 'mass hero entry'. With Morricone-like whistling as the background score, we first get a shot of his eyes framed through the gap of his two arms. At first, the eyes stare aimlessly to the front, looking at nothing in particular. He keeps them there until he dramatically pulls them to the right of the screen (we can only see his right eye) just in time for the guitars to kick in. His pupils widen and he squints slightly to focus on his target, the gold chain. He fixes his cutter onto her chain but he pauses, this time to recheck if someone's watching. He tracks his eyes back to the chain to complete what's possibly the best recent use of the extreme close up.
Also, how do you describe this look? Is it shame, is it guilt or is it embarrassment? He's just been caught red-handed with an X-ray of the chain he has just swallowed. If you type 'Shady' on google search and hit images, you'd probably find this expression.
When we're introduced to Shammi first in Kumbalangi Nights, we get a mirror shot, that too a close up. He looks pleasingly at himself as though he's looking at a thing of immense beauty. He moves his head around but his eyes remained glued to its self…he can't take his eyes off himself. When he finds a pottu, on the mirror, he quickly scrapes it off using his blade and washes it down. He looks back up and continues to admire his own beauty.
It's the same even when his wife tries to speak to him. She asks if he'll come home early but he refuses to look at her while replying. He's distracted and chooses instead to look at himself on the bike's mirror. And when he finally looks at her, it's as though he's doing her a favour, something she must be grateful for.
Why is this shot so freaky? Is it because of the way he smiles even when things are really starting to get awkward? He wants in on what the two sisters are speaking about but he can't take no for an answer. But there's another reason why things get so tense. The scene is longer than a minute and Shammi does not blink…not even once.
Later, when he sits his sister in law down to advise her, he keeps his eyes closed, especially when he's talking about her boyfriend Bobby. She wants to get married to Bobby but that topic is closed, just like his eyes. Not only does this reflect his unwillingness to listen to her but it's also his inability to see from another's person's perspective.
He can also pull off his own version of the 'crazy eyes'.