When you watch the epic Ponniyin Selvan I, there are moments when you struggle to recognise the actors behind the characters. This is especially the case for Kishore’s Ravidasan, the head of the Pandya rebellion, whose face is covered in thick black tresses. The first time we see him, he is fighting Vandhiyethevan to get back a signet ring. While you get to witness the vileness in him, it is until much later that you recognise the actor behind Ravidasan’s garb.
In Rishab Shetty’s Kantara, on the other hand, you see a forest officer bickering over the natural resources exploited by a local village, and you identify Kishore almost immediately, as he seems at ease in a role he essays best – a firm yet soft-hearted officer.
Both of these films, which shared the same release date, are now recording huge numbers at the box office. Apart from their shared release date, the films have yet another commonality. They are both films rooted in their own culture, a parallel that Kishore was instantly drawn to — Ponniyin Selvan to the historic Tamil Chola reign, and Kantara to the Bhoota Kola tradition of Karnataka.
Being an organic farmer himself, the actor believes local traditions promote sustainability and that there is no better medium than cinema to address that. So when asked what draws him to films — be it Kantara, Ponniyin Selvan I, his upcoming Pettakaali (a series about Jallikattu) or Vadakan (a Malayalam-Hindi film under production which has Theyyam festival as the backdrop) — Kishore says it all boils down to the films’ “localness” and its focus on culture. “Working in such films helps a lot. Cinema can bring about a change in the mindset of people. Since I am into farming, I know the importance of the local lifestyle that promotes sustainability and the need to pass on the resources to the next generation. That is what I believe in and that is how I understand it.”
When asked if he was nervous or excited in double measure about having two releases on the same day, the actor immediately says, “I didn’t feel anything. I guess I am getting old. It is now just work for me. But I am happy that both the films did well.”
For someone who is constantly occupied with projects in all industries, acting, for Kishore, happened by accident. In fact, the first time he tried his hand at acting, it was because he was forced into it. “I was studying in a convent and my headmistress liked me a lot. I was not fond of these school plays and I somehow managed to escape. But she punished me and made me sit outside the classroom and forced me to act. That’s my first stint with acting,” the actor, who has completed 18 years in the industry, recalls.
But this event did not leave a negative impact on him. As he joined high school, he volunteered in plays. He nurtured this talent later at the National College in Bangalore, where the theatre scene was thriving. The actor, who still holds the highest regard for theater, would love to go back to the stage. But he complains he has no time.
Like his first acting stint, his big break in films too happened by accident. The actor, who dabbled in fashion design a few years ago, met with Kannada filmmaker S Bharath to speak about the scope of fashion in cinema. But Bharath, who was quite impressed with Kishore, had other plans. He offered him a role in Kanti (2004). Kishore says, “I should say I was at the right place at the right time. They selected me to play that role and it was a big break.” As a debutant, he also went on to win a State award for this film.
After starring in a few Kannada titles, Kishore tried his luck with Tamil films. “Many told me that people like me who can’t act should try for opportunities in the Tamil industry because it was a time when Kollywood was focusing on natural and realistic films. They said my style would fit in there. I tried many ways but nothing worked.”
Opportunity finally knocked on Kishore’s doors when Vetri Maaran was looking for an actor who could speak Tamil with a Kannada slang for his film Desiya Nedunchaalai 47. “Vetri Maaran was actually looking for someone on the lines of Nana Patekar and Prakash Raj, like a mix of both. So, I was roped in, but Desiya Nedunchaalai 47 got shelved.” But the actor eventually went on to make his Tamil film debut in Vetri Maaran’s Polladhavan (2007). “Their original choice was Nana Patekar, but they couldn’t afford him, so they went for a cheaper option. And that’s how it worked,” he adds. And ten years later when Kishore reunited with the same team for Vada Chennai in 2018, it was like going back home.
Fast forward to 2022, when we talk about Ponniyin Selvan I, he lets us in on a little secret that he was initially approached to play Chinna Pazhuvettariyar (now played by Parthiban). But the makers thought he would be a better fit as Ravidasan. “I got a few chances to act in Mani sir’s films earlier, but they didn’t work out for different reasons. So, I am very happy that I finally got to fulfil that wish now.”
After 18 years of acting, Kishore feels privileged to have worked with filmmakers who seek him out for roles. For Kantara, filmmaker Rishab Shetty wrote the determined forest officer with Kishore in mind. The actor, who was drawn to the film for the way it depicted traditions, considers himself lucky when this happens. “If directors had not written roles for me, I would have had the longing and would have felt satisfied when things finally happen. But I have been spoiled now. I understand that I am lucky. After 18 years in cinema, directors write roles with me in mind and even wait for my schedule. So I am enjoying this privilege.”
Having acted in close to 130 films across different industries, it’s surprising that he calls himself a lazy actor. It is perhaps code for the term ‘director’s actor’. Kishore says he doesn’t prepare and credits the writers and directors for creating unique characters.
Speaking about switching on and off between roles, the actor points out that he is nothing but himself in all the sets. “I think it is very easy for lazy people like me. I will be the same in all the sets. The writers and directors tell me how the character thinks, walks, and everything. You have to just consume what they have prepared about the character and make it your own. That’s how I work.”
The actor, who made his Hindi series debut with Imtiaz Ali's Netflix She (2020), is currently filming his Hindi big-screen debut, Red Collar, helmed by Rathavara director Chandrashekar Bandiyappa. Speaking about his role as Nayak, the mysterious and menacing drug lord in She, he says, “Imtiaz Ali is an expert in getting into a character’s psyche and bringing it out beautifully on screen. He wanted Nayak to look super ordinary but have some fire within him. While he has not seen any of my films, he watched one of my interviews and believed I was the right choice. Nayak is a wonderful character. What more can I ask for?”
Kishore’s upcoming lineup also includes an independent film and a Tamil film with Vasanthabalan, in which he plays a Chief Minister. But doing multiple films in different industries comes with its own problems. When you do so many projects and travel to different places for work, you might miss out on a lot in your personal life, Kishore notes. “I am not able to spend a lot of time with my kids when they are growing up. That is my only regret.”
But in a career spanning 18 years, the key learning for Kishore has been to be mindful of the big moments and live life to its fullest. “The takeaway is to do nothing, that is let life take its own course.”