Sharaf U Dheen or Sharafu, as he’s fondly called, made his debut in films in 2013, a year after Nivin Pauly’s breakthrough as the lead in Thattathin Marayathu. It’s impossible to ignore the actor on screen, even when or rather especially when he’s playing a small role. In Alphonse Putharen’s Neram, Sharafu’s debut, he lists world cinema, saying one cannot forget such films. His comic timing becomes so essential you forget about Mathew and Jeena’s (Vetri and Veni in the Tamil version) predicaments.
From acting in Alphonse Putharen’s music video Flavours to being Thoufeeq in Zakariya’s Halal Love Story, Sharaf U Dheen has only refined his performances. He knows his character better than anyone — that’s why he can fully immerse himself into his characters and let us laugh at him. The directors don’t seem to have gotten over his comic timing, something Sharafu has perfected since Neram — in Halal Love Story, Thoufeeq nearly falls while walking down the steps while going to make a telefilm. He is vulnerable even in his comical roles and takes his craft very seriously.
His portrayal of Girirajan Kozhi in Premam gained him many fans and trolls alike, and he confidently went on act as Prithviraj’s alcoholic friend in Pavada, Siju Wilson’s cousin in Happy Wedding, Aju Varghese’s friend in Pretham (2016) and male nurse Yesudas in Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela, before finally stepping out of comical roles to play the intrusive neighbour Josy in Varathan (2018).
While Happy Wedding and his shameless portrayal of a flirt made Sharafu well known outside of the Premam circle, Varathan further broadened his popularity. The takeaway of Varathan is Sharafu’s Josy, an unbearable creep. Still hung up on Priya (Aishwarya Lekshmi), he goes on to intrude her private space by placing a phone in her bathroom window — this chilling scene is all too familiar to real life, and even after the cops catch him in the climax, you realise people like Josy are always around and you continue hating the character. Sharafu worked hard to avoid being typecast.
The year 2019 saw the actor take on characters where he was not just a unidimensional sidekick. Neeyum Njanum marked his first film as lead actor. The film is set in Kozhikode, and he plays the role of Yakub, a police officer who quits his job to work in Dubai to provide for him and his wife Hashmi (played by Anu Sithara). The film is a social commentary on moral policing and communal politics. The film begins with Yakub investigating as well as falling in love with Hashmi, whose brother is believed to be a Maoist. They get married. Yakub encourages Hashmi to start a music school. He is arrested in Dubai on false charges, and returns home after two years to witness Hashmi being locked up in their house by two religious groups because of a rumour. Yakub’s vulnerability is seen in his silence, and Sharafu conveys this effortlessly.
In Aashiq Abu’s Virus, Sharafu is Akhila’s (Rima Kallingal plays real-life Nipah warrior, the late Lini PN) husband, who mourns her loss after the Nipah outbreak. In his breakthrough role in Anjaam Pathira, he is a psychologist who is also a serial killer named Benjamin Louis. He’s unfazed and unapologetic after killing police officers. In the climax, he says, “I’m not the kind of psychopath who wants to achieve celebrity status,” and chooses to not justify his doings, and wants to avenge those who were responsible for his traumatic past. Sharafu scores a point with little dialogue and limited screen time.
Thoufeeq is nothing like Sharafu’s previous characters. When Raheem (played by Nazer Karutheni) and Shereef (a wonderful Indrajith Sukumaran) discuss about wanting someone who their organisation can trust for their film, they quickly remember Thoufeeq, describing him as an orator, writer, scholar, young, trustworthy, and a promising person. Sharafu has not played many roles with layers before, but he slipped into the nuanced character of Thoufeeq with ease and won over the audience with his warm manners.
Sharafu is also aware as an actor. He has chosen a range of atypical roles without wondering about the consequences — in one of his interviews, he said he doesn’t mind being called a kozhi in public. This attitude and the ability to choose well-written characters are among Sharafu’s biggest strengths.