In the trailer of his upcoming release Love Action Drama, Nivin Pauly's character says — "Am gonna work out some jaada moves, man," and Aju Varghese wriggles his eyebrows and says — "Ulakka Chakka Cha." It's a smartly-staged self-troll by the actor, if you are one of those who managed to survive his action drama Mikhael that released earlier this year. Widely panned for his incapacity to pull off the mass action hero role, LAD seems like an attempt to go back to what Nivin is known for—the quintessential boy next door. But, it's also clear from the trailer that even that image has been given a radical upgrade, with quite a few fight scenes added and quite a lot of slow-motion shots. Moothon, directed by Geethu Mohandas, is Nivin's next release (tentatively, by the year-end) and will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and also be the first South Indian film to premiere at the MAMI Film festival. There is also Rajeev Ravi's Thuramukham, a lesser-known slice of Kochi's history starring Anurag Kashyap (who plays Nivin's onscreen dad), Indrajith Sukumaran and Poornima Indrajith. "Rajeev Ravi is a genius. He views cinema differently, it's a fascinating process to watch him on the sets. This is an ambitious project and will excite everyone. Can't reveal more," says Nivin. Excerpts from a long conversation with the actor.
'Love Action Drama' — did it feel like you are back home after a while?
It was also about the excitement of working with friends after a break. When Dhyan narrated the script, all I was looking forward to was a reunion of friends. Such sets are always fun to work in. Dhyan never seemed like a debut director. He has the potential to become a great filmmaker. Just like Vineeth, he has an impeccable sense of humour and brings it all on paper. Vineeth is a master storyteller and a brilliant craftsman, and knows exactly what he wants from his actors.
You have seldom gone wrong with your choice of films. How do you figure that out?
It comes with experience. You meet a lot of people, hear stories, observe and read a lot. I have now learnt to judge a story, and always go with my intuition. After Premam, I heard similar scripts, but I have always looked out for diverse roles. I take time to read a script. I try and play the character in my mind for many days, and if the character excites me, I say yes.
The Nivin Pauly-Aju Varghese onscreen partnership is even part of memes now. How do you see the evolution of your onscreen and off-screen partnerships, and what's the secret behind your crackling chemistry on screen?
It all began with Malarvadi, and now we are like one big family. I think what, perhaps, works is that we love each other's company on and off screen. It's a big deal that I am the hero of his first production. When we appear on screen, the audience expects the laughs to follow.
'Moothon' is one of the most awaited films of this year. What was the biggest takeaway from it?
Moothon is very special. It has already brought us two big honours by getting selected at two of the biggest film festivals in the world. I don't want to give away the details of my character, but this is one project I jumped into when I heard the script narration from Geethu. She worked really hard for this. As an actor, the biggest takeaway was to spend some time and learn from some of the best technicians in India today. You have two of the best filmmakers, Anurag Kashyap and Rajeev Ravi, associating with the film. What more can I ask for? But, all credit must be given to Geethu for the way she envisioned this film.
Has your process as an actor changed over time?
Every movie is a new journey. I stick to the basics and go with what works for me. I only take up films I am confident of pulling off. Script is the key. But, having said that, I am eager to do characters that test me as an actor. It's been an eventful journey. These are times where you are judged rather hastily — on and off-screen. I think, like everyone else, that I have also evolved thanks to the filmmakers, writers and co-actors I have worked with. Can there be a better reward that people telling you that they can relate to your onscreen role?
'Hey! Jude' remains one of your finest performances. I have heard that Shyama Prasad has a special way with actors. What were your references and challenges?
I enjoy working with Shyam sir. He has a clear vision of his project and he expects his actors to be in the same league. When he narrated the script of Hey Jude, I didn't think twice. We took some time to shoot this film. I did a lot of research with the help of friends and Shyam sir. It took me a while to figure out Jude, but once that happened, it was smooth sailing.
Have you objectively tried to analyse what makes you click?
If you analyse too much, you become conscious of what you're doing. I don't like that. I like to keep things simple and perform to the best of my abilities.
Has there been a phase in your career when you needed direction?
No one enters this world prepared. We learn over time and from people who are good at it. Friends have been my sounding board. If I feel their opinion is right, I will take it.
At this point, will you be okay with a collaboration such as 'Bangalore Days'?
If a script comes that excites all three of us, why not?
Do you think that actors need to take a political stand?
Actors are also human beings, right? We all have an ideology, be it political or social. We all have our own views and those need to be respected.
What inspires you as an actor?
A good story, a good movie or even a phenomenal actor can inspire me. Recently, I watched Thaneer Mathan Dinangal and was amazed at the talented young actors. I was truly moved.
You have been an outsider, unlike Dulquer Salmaan and Fahadh Faasil. What's the one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to make it big in Malayalam cinema?
You don't need to pay anyone to dream. So, dream big and work hard towards your goal. Never give up and always look for an opportunity. Always believe what your heart says.