The Malayalam actor, who recently won the Kerala State Award for Best Actor, looks back at his career so far and the kind of characters he wishes to play in the future
Suraj Venjaramoodu is in the middle of a shoot for Jana Gana Mana with his Driving Licence co-star Prithviraj Sukumaran, when he got the news that he has bagged the 50th Kerala State Film Award for the Best Actor.
Speaking over phone from Kochi, Suraj agrees that 2019 was indeed a good year for him with respect to playing characters and the subsequent box-office successes. He adds that the characters written for him were challenging and helped him stand out. The Kerala State Film Award for his performance in Android Kunjappan Version 5.2 and Vikruthi, is the crowning glory for an actor who came up the hard way.
“Both the films and my characterswere appreciated. That in itself is an award. Now, the State award has come as a bonanza and doubled my joy. It feels good when one’s hard work is recognised. It is a responsibility that is placed on you to better yourself and prove yourself to be worthy of that award,” says Suraj.
After having essayed several comical characters, Suraj says he longed for characters with substance; the ones that would make a difference. “It is only now that I have begun to get the kind of roles I had always wished for!”
Suraj wished to play the character of Bhaskara Poduval in Android Kunjappan when he heard the thread of the story during a programme in Canada nearly a year ago. “The casting was done. Yet, I could not help thinking how wonderful it would be if I could play the cranky octogenarian Poduval. Mahesh Narayanan was supposed to direct this well-knit movie about a cantankerous father and his caring son,” he recalls.
Eventually, there were some changes and scenarist Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval came on board as the director. “I was in Thiruvananthapuram for my father’s funeral. Around that time, my producer Santhosh T Kuruvilla called me to ask if I would step into the role of Poduval. As soon as I heard a few scenes of the script, I replied in the affirmative,” recalls Suraj, making no attempt to mask the glee in his voice.
In Vikruthi, Suraj plays Eldho, who has hearing and speech impairments. Incidentally, in both films, Suraj and Soubin Shahir are the lead actors. He ended his 2019 run with Driving Licence, which was a massive success at the box office.
During the lockdown, Suraj was among the few actors who managed to complete two films: Sunil Ibrahim’s Roy and Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen, in which he teams with his Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum actor, Nimisha Sajayan.
The long shot
Winner of three State Awards for the Best Comedian, Suraj has come a long way from the time when he was used to lighten the mood of a film by doing slapstick comedy. Even while doing the routine acts, he requested directors he was acquainted with, to give him something that is different.
In 2013, he won the National Award for his poignant performance in Dr Biju’s Perariyathavar, where he played a character from the marginalised community. “However, what was sad was that many did not watch the film in theatres. Even many of my well-wishers might have wondered how and why I got the National Award since they missed it. Their doubts were set to rest with a couple of scenes in Abrid Shine’s Action Hero Biju (2016), in which I played Pavithran, which was far removed from the characters I had essayed up until then,” says Suraj.
That small role did the trick and since then, Suraj has become the Mr Dependable.“At present, I am trying to select characters that excite me. I feel that if my work excites me and makes me deliver my best, then it should, hopefully, entertain viewers as well,” he says.