Mahesh Narayanan's Malik, starring Fahadh Faasil, Nimisha Sajayan and Joju George is releasing on Amazon Prime Video on July 15. In this interview with Anupama Chopra, Fahadh Faasil and director Mahesh Narayanan talk about the character Sulaiman whose life the film tracks, the real-life inspiration behind the film, and why Fahadh Faasil, who has often superbly played psychologically complex characters, wants to play a simple boy next door. Edited Excerpts…
Fahadh, the arc of your character in Malik, Sulaiman, is so vast, the physical character, the ageing… did these challenge you in new ways as an actor?
Fahadh Faasil: I never played a role that's above my age in my career. It was a conscious decision as it's very uncomfortable for me. But after Trance, I wanted to unlearn and do something new, and that's when Mahesh came to me.
More than my own character, I was excited about the story. The film had strong foreign narratives and was new to Malayalam, at least in the recent past. I didn't want to put on weight and grow a stomach to play an older character. My mother sent me a picture of my grandfather in his late 60s, he looked thinner and more powerful than me. I sent that picture to Mahesh as a reference and we shot those parts of the film first.
Tell us about your fascination with morally ambiguous characters…
It's what's given to me (laughs). I want to play a boy next door or a DDLJ, but this is what I get. Can you imagine? Shyam [Pushkaran] was telling me that he couldn't imagine anyone else could do justice to Shammi [from Kumbalangi Nights]. "You don't even need makeup; just come and do it" (laughs). No one's cast me as anything close to the chocolate boy romantic hero.
You wrote a long note on Facebook where you spoke about your personal life, which you rarely do. You mention that you asked Nazriya out with a letter and a ring. So, you asked her out on her first date and also proposed marriage?
No, we had been talking about it for a long time. We were shooting Bangalore Days between Cochin and Bangalore. We kept talking about it then. At that point, I was very sure but she had just started her career. I wondered if it was the right time to do the right thing. And then, I just gathered courage to just speak to her.
Mahesh, Malik is stunning in its scale, ambitious in the way the story unravels, it's got such a cast of characters over many generations. What is the origin story of this film? I read that it's fiction, some say it's real life stories or something inspired from the area you grew up in, where did it come from?
Mahesh Narayanan: I was brought up in a coastal area called Kovalam. I have many friends there and witness the struggles faced by those people regularly. How do we differentiate borders? For borders between India and Pakistan or China, it's a land border. But there's also something called a sea border. While different coastal areas might look different, the texture of the people living in and their ideologies have similarities. Their living is communal. I didn't know how to put these ideas to paper, though.
Finally, I decided to create a fictional place that everyone could relate to when I talk about this idea. When I pitched the idea to Fahadh [Faasil] initially, it was set in a shorter time period. And then the script developed. I felt it was a story that needed to be told.