Kalabhavan Mani - Rugged, Rough & Ready

Aug 14, 2006 NR

Kalabhavan Mani is among the many talented performers that Malayalam Cinema has produced in recent years. He has made his presence felt all over South India as an actor with commercial appeal. This one-time auto rickshaw driver from Chalakudy in Trichur District of Kerala has fought his way up, doing various kinds of menial jobs in his early days and then taking to mimicry, from where his acting career took off.

Mani, who was seen long back in the Sibi Malayil-directed Aksharam as an auto rickshaw-driver, has come a long way and has played characters of all shades, not only in Malayalam, but in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada too. The toddy tapper in Sallapam, the blind singer in Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njaanum, the mentally-retarded guy in Karumadikuttan, the wicked police constable in Saaphalyam, the villainous minister in Rakshasarajavu, the eccentric villain in the Tamil film Gemini, the revenge-seeking Police Officer in Ben Johnson, the blind character in Anandabhadram - many are the characters that bestowed upon Kalabhavan Mani the status of a popular actor.

With films like Ben Johnson, Malsaram, Ravanan, Chacko Randaaman and others making the cash registers ring, Mani has become a kind of minimum guarantee to producers investing in him. This 'darling of the masses' takes a trip down memory lane in this casual interview with Unni R. Nair during the first week of August. Excerpts:

How do you feel, looking back upon the past?

Happy, satisfied - what else? I began my life without anything, doing all kinds of menial jobs, struggling hard in life and then becoming an autorickshaw driver. And from there, with God's infinite grace and the blessings of everyone, I have come this far in life. I am obviously happy and contented. And I am thankful to all those who have contributed to my success. This includes my mentors, friends, well-wishers and the film loving public who have accepted me.

It was director Vinayan who gave you a big break with Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njaanum and later Karumadikuttan too. But it was later heard that your relationship with him became strained. Would you like to comment?

These are but rumours. Our relationship never became strained. It was something that people close to him made up for their own selfish gains. He has been and continues to be a mentor to me and I will always be indebted to him.

There is also talk that you want to take on only hero's roles and that you are reluctant to do comedy-oriented or villainous characters any more. What have you got to say about that?

This too is a rumour. Of course I have been playing the hero in many films. But that doesn't mean I am bent on doing such roles only. I have always been willing to do all kinds of characters - big or small. This will be evident if you just take a look at the characters I have done over the years.

Though you keep getting several offers from other South Indian languages, you seem to be concentrating on Malayalam films. Why so?

Of course I get more money by acting in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films. And I won't say that I don't need money at all. I have a family to look after and I too have needs to meet. But at the same time I am not after money alone. The characters I have done in these languages bear testimony to this fact. They not only got me money, but won for me a place in the hearts of the people of these states. At the same time, I focus more on Malayalam films simply because I am a Malayalee and I enjoy doing films here more than anywhere else. Working in Malayalam gives me a kind of satisfaction that money cannot give.

How was it working in Gemini, the first Tamil film that won you acclaim?

Gemini was of course a very thrilling kind of experience. I had acted before that in Tamil in the film Vanchinathan. But the character in Gemini had a different get-up and gave me much scope to display my acting caliber. The director as well as Vikram helped me a lot. It was a very memorable experience.

One of the most discussed things related to you was the fainting incident when you heard that you hadn't got the award for Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njaanum?

Everybody told me that I would surely get the award and I too began to expect it. And so, when I failed to win the award, it came as a shock to me. Anyhow I look it now as a bad dream and have learnt from experience that it is the love of the people that surpasses all awards.

You have always been dubbing in your own voice, even while working in other languages. Why so?

I consider my voice to be my biggest asset as an actor. And I cannot even think of acting without my voice. That is why I prefer to dub in my own voice even though it is difficult at times since I am not fully conversant with the other languages.

What, in your opinion, is the secret of your success and your popularity?

The first thing that I would like to point out is that I have no enemies at all. I have always been trying to make friends out of those who come to be my enemies. Another thing is that I show the same dedication to all kinds of roles whether they be lead roles or supporting ones or even bit roles. And above it all, the main reason for my success is the love that has been bestowed upon me by the people around me, who see me as one among them.

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