Actor Biju Menon has been part of every trend of Malayalam cinema in the past 20 odd years. And yet, he was out of every industry clique. Somehow, there is a non-threatening nature to Biju that makes him endearing to one and all. He is not overly ambitious and he is happy to confess about his laziness.
Once billed to have been the next superstar, he has preferred his own pace – which perhaps is also what gives him the staying power.
So when Vellimoonga, now playing at theatres in the UAE, went on to smash box office records and emerged as the surprise hit of the season, suddenly, all eye s are on Biju. So is this man aspiring to be the solo hero superstar?
Biju laughs at the suggestion. “Not at all, in fact the next three films I have committed, one is with Kunchacko Boban, and the others have Prithviraj and Fahadh Faasil.”
He says the script takes the first priority in his choice of movies. Doing solo hero roles is in fact not new to him. Many moons back he had done Shivam, directed by Shaji Kailas, in the vintage mould of action-thrillers.
Had the film been a success, perhaps, Biju might have been on a different turf altogether. He doesn’t begrudge such setbacks either, taking things easy and going with the flow with friends taking a high priority in his professional and personal life.
As you read this, Biju might have started on his 25-day tour of North India with his friends in a car to cover the northeastern states and venture into Bhutan, the happiest nation.
Vellimoonga, he says, was story he heard about one-and-a-half years back. “I was hearing about 20 stories a week, and nothing really stood out.”
So when cinematographer Jibu Jacob called him to say he has a story to discuss and potentially direct it, the first reaction from Biju was, ‘why do you really want to direct now?’
Jibu insisted for the meeting and along with writer Joji Thomas met Biju for a session that was the start of several story-sittings. “The allure of the story was that it was simple. It was not puffed up to be new generation or aspiring to be high art. It was a story rooted in a village and of people that Joji personally knew.”
From the character and mannerisms of three or four local politicians whom Joji and Jibu knew, was evolved Biju’s character inVellimoonga, the local opportunistic politician CP Mammachan, who is seeking a bride.
The superb success of Vellimoonga, which came with zilch expectations, has surprised even Biju. “We knew it will succeed but the acceptance it has received now is truly overwhelming. It is truly the success of teamwork.”
The success of the film has also added to Biju’s credentials in doing comedy. His own style is to be deadpan. “Just as the saddest tale makes the most impact when narrated with a smile and not by crying out loud, comedy must be presented with a tinge of subtlety and a deadpan approach. It then stays with the people.”
Of late, Biju has carved his niche in comedy with the superhit films Ordinary, Romans and Seniors, all drawing on his coming timing. “That was all a matter of chance and I am happy that the people accepted the films and my humour.”
He, however, prefers roles that challenge him as an actor. “That could be a villain role, or a hero or a supporting actor. What matters is the role must be remembered.”
In that, he can take solace. From Krishnagudiyil Oru Pranayakalathu to Madhuranombarakattu to even Pranayavarnangal, films early in his career where he played second fiddle to heroes and heroines, Biju’s roles continue to be memorable for the gravitas he brought to them.
However, venturing out to do solo heroes still brings out the humane side of Biju. “I now receive a number of offers to play lead but I think it is a big responsibility because I cannot and will not gamble with the producer’s money. If the film fails, I will not have the courage to look up to his eyes.”
That is a policy he adopts even when it comes to his friends. In fact, Vellimoonga could have been produced under his own banner, Thakkali Films, in which his friends writer-director Sachi and actor Suresh Krishna are associated. “But none of the others was part of the film, so I didn’t want to drag our banner for my personal interests.”
After the success of Vellimoonga, Biju went with Jibu and Joji to the village Shanthipuram in Wayanadu, from where most characters were drawn. “I met several of them in person, and was marveled by the close observation of Joji in making his characters.”
As for Mammachan, Biju could not meet all the four real-life people – but he feels there is a Mammachan in every village. His promise to Dubai viewers is that Vellimoonga is a film they will love. “As expatriates, they will feel closer to the film, and it is my guarantee they will enjoy it. It is like having a delectable country meal after living on fastfood.”