Currently, the two are leaving no chance to flaunt their love in public
Time was when aboard the passenger buses plying through the National Highway 47 of Kerala, people would peer their heads out to watch two ‘monuments’; one, a little far, the transmission tower of All India Radio, Alappuzha, and two, the cocky rooster of Udaya Studios, its logo adorning the entrance arches.
Just as radio has morphed, after a near silent death, into something valiantly vibrant, Udaya Studios has its rooster crowing now from the haloed halls of Locarno International Film Festival, and across theatres in Kerala, thanks to its third-generation leader, actor and producer Kunchacko Boban.
Two of his home co-productions are making waves: Ariyippu (Declaration), directed by a genius of an editor-director Mahesh Narayanan which was selected to Locarno in-competition; and Nna Thaan Case Kodu, by the talented Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval, now playing at theatres in the UAE.
In a freewheeling interview, Kunchacko Boban endearingly called Chackochan - who takes his first name from his hitmaker grandfather and founder of Udaya Studios, and his surname from his father, also a producer, shares more about his new films.
But first, a short background for the uninitiated: Chackochan had the dreamiest of solo-hero debuts in 1997, at the age of 21, with Aniyathipravu by director Fazil, that turned him into an overnight teenybopper sensation. What followed was a series of romantic roles that also punished him with the label of being the ‘chocolate hero’ and ‘boy next door.’ From several films a year (some superhits and a few duds) to just one in 2005, it seemed Chackochan was being edged out.
Tough years followed as he tried to ‘fit in’ even as his contemporaries marched ahead. He found a foothold again as the ‘second hero’ recording success in several comedies with Biju Menon, another actor who too was making a comeback. Chackochan’ s first attempt as producer, under the banner of Udaya Studios, Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho, was critically acclaimed. But that was it.
In 2019, Chackochan’s son Izahaak was born after some 14 years of marriage, and something equally magical happened to his career. He transformed as an actor. It was as if Malcolm Gladwell wrote about him: “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
As Gladwell also observed, “People don't rise from nothing. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't.”
So, we asked Chackochan his story, and he shared it in a conversation peppered with long stretches of merry laughter.
What a joy it was to talk to the man, and what an infectious spirit he brings!
Excerpts from the interview:
You are in a dream place now. Both your co-productions, Ariyippu and Nna Thaan Case Kodu, are making waves. How do you see this?
This is much more than what I dreamt. I had never wanted to be in movies in the first place. So, when I returned to movies after a break, I wanted to work hard and change how people perceived me. I started characters with shades of grey and comedic roles. It was a slow process of change, but steadily and meticulously all the steps I made were in the right direction and in a surefooted manner.
With Ariyippu and Nna Thaan Case Kodu, I worked with directors, who are also close friends. Mahesh Narayanan had edited most of my movies and we wanted to make not just a pan-Indian but a truly global film. The effort paid off, and Ariyippu was only the second Malayalam film in some 30 years to be selected to the competition section at Locarno.
With Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval, the director of Nna Thaan Case Kodu, my rapport is clean, transparent, funny and lively. I had earlier turned down his first film, Android Kunjappan, because I didn’t understand the script. But when I saw the film, I was mind-blown. I approached him to do a film together, and when I heard the story, I knew that despite it being a serious subject, it would have his trademark humour and satire.
Both the films came out simultaneously; it was a coincidence, and I am super-thrilled. I think it is the prayers and wishes of my grandfather and father. Their wishes are being realised through me.
You started your acting career as a child artist in Dhanya, a film produced by your father. Your grandfather was the doyen of the industry. You would have seen massive success and some failures. What did you learn from them that you put into practice as a producer?
I haven’t seen my grandfather; he passed away on June 15, 1976; I was born the same year on November 2. Contrary to what many may think, I haven’t seen massive successes. At best, I have heard of them from old-timers. As a child, I have only seen massive defeats and disasters. I have often told my father to sell the banner and studio. But then, life is so unpredictable. I became an actor and a producer.
My grandfather was a real fighter; he established the first studio in Malayalam, made the first Muslim-oriented film, the first political film and the first ballad-based movie. My father, on the other hand, was not a businessman. He was very emotional. After my first film as producer in 2016, I made changes to myself as an actor and producer, and I have positioned both my new films based on the respective vision I had for them – Ariyippu for the OTT/film festival circuit; and Nna Thaan Case Kodu strictly for the theatre experience.
We could have made a table profit pre-release with it. But we knew it was to be enjoyed in theatres; it would give audiences a lot to laugh, think about, and ultimately, if they can do something to make a difference that is the victory of the movie.
Returning to your career, by the time you returned from a break, many of your contemporaries had established themselves as powerful actors and stars. Did you feel disappointed, frustrated?
Surprisingly, no. That is because I had no intention of joining the industry. I was handed success on a golden platter. I didn’t deserve that because I hadn’t put any effort into it, and I knew that the success would wear off easily. But it was during my break that I realised how much people loved me. My family, my wife, they were my strength. I knew I had to give back, for the love that people had for me. I could do this only by doing good characters.
I started again from scratch, almost like a newcomer given a second chance. I started with cameos, supporting roles, did multi-starrers, women-oriented films. In fact, some directors didn’t even think it was wise to give a good close-up shot of mine, and although I was considered a good dancer, I would be sidelined during dance sequences…
Didn’t all that hurt you?
No, it just ignited the passion… the fighter in me. In my first phase, I had no competition in my category. When I returned, my contemporaries, and even those who came after me, were doing good. They are the reason I was able to reinvent myself. I don’t see them as competition but as catalysts.
Mahesh and Ratheesh pushed me and urged me to do characters that are not within my limits. They asked me to try something different in every next movie… and that has worked wonders for me. I am now in the ‘uncomfortable zone’ and I am enjoying it. I am happy and excited and have become more like a kid trying different things…
Being the father of a young child must have helped too…
(Laughs out) … yes, it has done wonders. I am more carefree, reckless and very dangerous…
In Nna, Thaan Case Kodu, your maverick dance to the song Devadoothar paadi has become a sensation… How did you prepare for it?
We shot the sequence in three nights. It was totally unrehearsed. Ratheesh had shown me a video of a man in his zone in a crowd. I told him I was not good at imitating, and I would do it my way. When the shot was ready and Ratheesh called me, I did whatever came to my mind, with whatever way my hands, legs and body were moving. There were no retakes and no mistakes because the mistakes were the correct steps.
What next for Kunchacko Boban the actor? You have raised your own bar…
(Laughs) Don’t make me nervous. In some interviews people ask me what my dream role is. I say that the roles that are coming to me are beyond my dreams. I have to do justice to those characters. And I am determined to give more than my 100 per cent to all the roles.
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