While Nivin Pauly had already made his debut in Malarvaadi Arts Club (2010), it took him two years before he finally got a big break in the 2012 Vineeth Sreenivsan directorial Thattathin Marayathu. With this, everyone wanted to know 'Who's that new guy?'. His transformation, even in this period, was a tiny miracle. From one of the boys in Malarvaadi to THE lover boy of the decade, his popularity may be attributed to two factors. The first, obviously, is his boy-next-door persona, and the second, his nonconformity to the cliched hero stereotype. He came in as a flawed guy, with a sense of humour, who didn't mind being the butt of jokes. Nivin's career graph may have hit a few lows before seeing consistent highs, but he is a classic example of an 'outsider with talent' who made it to the star league on his own. Let's dig a little deeper to understand the characters that came alive with his charm.
In hindsight, it's impossible to imagine another face as George from Premam. At a time when the effort and the pain an actor undergoes are linked directly to talent, the man showed us the beauty of effortlessness. Premam may have depended on its screenplay and dialogues, but it was an out-and-out Nivin Pauly show. George was very much within Nivin's territory, but it was clear that George was a far more complex character than Vinod (Thattathin). From his silly antics in the phone booth in the beginning to that heartbreaking scene where he cries after losing Malar, Premam's graph alone is wide enough to accommodate great performances. But there's always a connection, an interiority that kept the character alive through all of life's stages.
1983 revolves around Rameshan (Nivin Pauly), a die-hard cricket fan with a rural upbringing. Rameshan is naive, unassuming and just like in Premam, we see his journey from a school kid to a mature man. George and Rameshan are poles apart, though. Rameshan is a charming 'natumpurathu payyan' who is in his elements while playing cricket. It is perhaps harder to keep the audience invested in a character with no major life-altering incidents, and Nivin holds his ground in this one. He bagged the Kerala State Award for Best Actor for this film, and with Rameshan, Nivin also proved a point to everyone who dismissed him as a 'limited' actor.
Anjali Menon's well written family drama relied on Nivin's character for its light-hearted moments. Remember him going on and on about his 'Malayalee thanima'? Or the scene where he proclaims from the shower, "Varthaman mathram alla… njangal Anthakshari kallikayirnu!" Kuttan was not outlandishly comic but he was a rare combination of old-school naivety in a new-gen man's shoes. Nivin owned this role like none other, making it hard to watch even a talented actor like Bobby Simha, reprise his role in the Tamil remake.
Nivin happily took on what can be considered a supporting role in Mili. The titular character of a shy introvert is played by Amala Paul, and Nivin's portion is confined to being a supporting person in Mili's life. The appreciation here is not for his exceptional performance but for him supporting content-driven films irrespective of screen time and his stardom.
One of the few realistic cop films in recent times, Nivin's Inspector Biju is every bit worthy of applause. While we've known police officers to bash up goons and walk away unharmed, Biju's role, written by Abrid Shine and Muhammad Shafeeq, was a refreshing take, rooted in reality. Biju neither has murder mystries to solve nor an evil politician to pull down. He rather goes about a hundred trivial cases on a daily basis and Nivin shoulders this character with ease. He doesn't conform to the usual bracket of what a police officer should be like but rather spins his character with equal parts earnestness and humour, traits synonymous with his earlier roles. Until Action Hero Biju, it was hard to imagine cop heroes, without some heavy weight lifting and choreographed action sequences. But after his phenomenal performance, we seldom want to go back to age-old genre-conforming tropes again.
The best part about this film is that every character is evenly fleshed out, and the best part about Nivin Pauly is that he doesn't need to bring on his machismo to be the hero. When his other films were coming-of-age in terms of well…age, here we see a man-child become a caregiver when responsibilities are thrust upon him. Nivin happily takes the backseat in the first half, and while the later part revolves around his character, he is in no hurry to prove a point, but yet manages to leave a lasting impact.
Geethu Mohandas' Moothon is perhaps the most talked about film at recent film festivals, and a major part of the acclaim is reserved for Nivin. With films, our indulgence with characters is majorly limited to their looks, behaviour and emotions. But with Moothon, Nivin paints such a vivid picture of Akbar that by the end of it, you even get a sense of how he smells. When we first see Akbar, his eyes reek of anger. He is the inhumane kind who is unrepentant seeing a helpless young kid behead a goat. If 'filth' were human, it would've been Akbar. But in a short episode, we see younger Akbar's first brush with love, and a hopeless romantic who grapples in its forbidden terrain. While romance is Nivin's territory, he explores a strikingly different palette in this one. Akbar's character arc is equal parts white and black, and Nivin's acting prowess is explored like in none of his previous films. He seamlessly transforms from a coquettish young man to a callous demon, leaving no scope for criticism. Prior to Moothon, it would've been blasphemous to even think of Nivin playing such a role but now, menace has a whole new identity.
Nivin Pauly plays Jude, a young man who struggles to comprehend emotions and lives life according to his precisely-curated set of principles. Jude has Asperger's Syndrome, and this could have given the maker much scope for a tearjerker, but we are shown otherwise. Jude's eyebrows are furrowed, lips pursed and he ceases to make eye contact. He talks in a specific way, is finicky when it comes to food, and is a whiz at Math. Nivin ensures Jude is not turned into a caricature, and meticulously draws us into Jude's world, endearing himself to us in one of his most experimental roles, yet.