Until a few years ago, the hero-character actor distinction was such that most actors were slotted in one bracket or the other. While most of the weightlifting used to be done by the lead actor, others were entrusted with critical roles in the storyline. Actors such as Jagathy and Innocent were largely looked upon to elicit laughter, while the likes of Nedumudi Venu, Thilakan and Murali played a range of interesting roles — the antagonist, ailing grandfather, strict father, and so on.
They play the protagonist in one, pull off a shady antagonist in the next, a comedian in a third, or a five-minute cameo in another, without being confined to any predetermined space. Are they stars, character actors or simply stellar artistes without labels?
The senior-most actor from the lot, Indrajith was one of the earliest actors to blur the star-character actor demarcation. Be it holding his part amidst seasoned actors in films such as City of God, Classmates or his brother Prithivraj's directorial debut Lucifer, or carrying the film on his shoulders in classics such as Nayakan or lighting up the screen with his comic timing (Amar Akbar Anthony, Happy Husbands, Cousins), one can trust Indrajith to pull of any role with panache.
After a series of noteworthy performances like that of a wayward neighbor (Arike), irresponsible younger brother (Jacobinte Swargarajyam) and few movies that saw him share equal screen space with the leads (Honey Bee series), Sreenath Bhasi branched out into roles that seem complete on their own. Bonny in Kumbalangi Nights, Dr. Abid Rahman in Virus, the geek Andrew in Anjaam Pathiraa, Kunjan in Trance and Roy in Kappela are roles that make us go, "If not Sreenath Bhasi, then who?"
It took Vinay Forrt six years in the industry before he landed his most noteworthy, serious-comedy role as Vimal Sir in Premam. In an interview to Film Companion, director Alphonse Putharen talks about how Premam could have become a dull love story, but for the characters played by Vinay Forrt and Soubin Shahir. Amongst the truckloads of moments we love in Premam, right on top will be Vimal Sir teaching Java in class and the boys giving him tips on how to impress Malar teacher. Vinay later went on to be cast in significant roles in Kammatipaadam, Unda, Kismath and Tamaasha, but he is an actor who needs more roles that justify his talent.
Shivan Sir (Premam), Crispin (Maheshinte Prathikaaram), Mr D'souza (Charlie) and many other striking characters later, Soubin bagged his debut lead role in Zakariya Mohammed's Sudani from Nigeria. Then on, the actor has essayed a range of roles rooted in absorbing content. His brilliant performance as the sensitive, naive Saji in Kumbalangi Nights, one-scene appearance in Mayaanadhi, the adorable Ambili in Ambili and whistle-worthy cameo in Trance, all have one thing in common — a brilliant actor who hasn't let genre, screen-space and preconceived notions affect his choice of scripts.
Who else misses Suraj in his zany, slapstick Dasamoolam Damu kind of roles? For years, Suraj played the 'can't-do-without' comedian sidekick. His roles may or may not have added to the storyline, but his epic comic timing, complemented by unmatched dialogue delivery and expressions (a close second to Jagathy) made him a prerequisite in every film. Having swept the Kerala Film Awards for Best Comedian thrice, it still took Malayalam cinema and the audience some time to accept him as a serious actor. And then, he won the National Award in 2014 for Dr Biju's Perariyathavar. The film saw Suraj play a nameless man, who, along with his son, faces the harsh oppression that marginalised communities do.
After a series of flops post his debut film Mayookham, Saiju Kurup got his big break in VK Prakash's Trivandrum Lodge. Since then, his career has been on the rise. Quirky characters, slapstick comedies, shady police officers, serious cops…he's done them all. Pretty hard to think of someone else in the shoes of Aarakal Abu (Aadu series), Samyukthan (Janamaithri), Prasannan (Android Kunjappan Version 5.25) and Johny Peringodan (Driving License), no?
Having started his career with several uncredited roles before moving up the ladder with notable ones in Cousins, Action Hero Biju and Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum, to name a few, Joju George's titular character in the 2018 Joseph remains one of the most nuanced performances by an artiste in recent times. Joju later bagged roles that validated the performer in him.
Be it the happy-go-lucky father in June, the hospital worker in Virus or Constable Minimon in Action Hero Biju, Joju's impeccable style makes his characters seem like a convincing extension of the person he is. After his starry performance in Porinju Mariam Jose, one might have been tricked into believing the actor would only opt for heroic characters, but Joju's latest outing Halal Love Story is proof that a good script and well-written character still remain his priority.