Interviewer : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar | Camera : Rijeesh | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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Kumaravel made people take notice of him as the ‘Chitappa’ in Radha Mohan’s Azhagiya Theeyae and later as the attitudinal beggar Ravi Shasthri in Abhiyum Naanum. Founder of theatre group Magic Lantern, Kumaravel’s creative pursuits are varied. Catch Kumaravel in conversation with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar where he opens up on theatre, films and Radha Mohan’s Payanam, to name a few.

How did you enter the celluloid world?

I had staged Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan in my theatre group called Magic Lantern and Nasser had played a role in it. That was when the discussion about the film Maayan was going on and Nasser suggested that I make an entry into filmdom. That’s how Pasupathy, Jeyakumar and I got introduced into films.

Magic Lantern

After completing Masters in Performing Arts from Puducherry, when I came back to Chennai, Muthusamy of Koothu-pattarai suggested that I join his group and I was in it for 5-6 years. After which, I formed a group called Magic Lantern along with my friends Pravin and Hans. Initially we did plays for children and later felt that we should take up something from Tamil literature as well and that’s how Ponniyin Selvan began. Maayan happened in 2001 and then Thankar Bachchan’s Azhagi where I played a small but beautiful role Kaakaiyan with long flowing hair as Nanditha Das’s classmate.

Influence of theatre experience over cinema?

There is no link between acting in cinema and theatre but there is a connection too. Theatre experience helps you understand a character and deliver as per the director’s expectations. But acting as such is very different in films. You need to give what is being asked instantly at that moment in films. That’s the criteria for films. That way acting in films is different. If you understand this, you will realize both are same.

There is no link between acting in cinema and theatre

There is a huge movement for theatre in Kolkata

Do you think the theatre in Chennai is as vibrant as in Mumbai or Kolkata?

There is a huge movement for theatre in Kolkata. It has been like that for a long time. There is no big domination of cinema there whereas in Mumbai, you have English theatre. However, in Chennai, cinema dominates the scene. Here, people choose the path of theatre to gain an entry and to make it big in films. Hence theatre is not very vibrant here.

How can this be improved in Chennai?

Of course, it can be better! There are many television channels and serials here. Despite that, dramas are still going on which by itself is a big achievement. Sabhas are still organizing plays here and many youngsters are also in fray and there are many theatre groups too. On an average, there are around 7 plays running per month in various sabhas. In that context, it is a healthier scenario.

How did your association with Radha Mohan begin?

We did a play called Virtuous Burglar which is called Minnal Ravi in Tamil. I did the role of a burglar. Visu, Radha Mohan’s cameraman who also happens to be my friend came to the play and he suggested I meet Radha Mohan. That was the time Azhagiya Theeyae was being made and Visu said that there is a role of a friend in the film. I met Radha Mohan in Prakash Raj’s office. Radha gave me a narration of the film and I liked it very much. To my luck he also liked me and gave me the role. I had previously met Prakash Raj in Bengaluru during a theatre workshop and he just then walked in. He was also glad to offer me the role, thanks to my theatre background.

Working with Radha Mohan is very easy.

Working with Radha Mohan is very easy. Once you understand what he says, he gives you complete liberty to maneuver around your role. If you don’t understand him, he makes you understand. It is good to work with him and that’s why you will find my participation in most of Radha’s films. I was there in Ponniyin Selvan; have dubbed for Bhramanandam in Mozhi; did a wonderful role in Abhiyum Naanum and I’m now in Payanam. That’s how my journey with Radha continues.

On your role in Payanam?

Radha only can elaborate more on my role. I am doing a character called Subash. In our society we come across many people with innocent anger and my role will reflect such anger. It has really shaped up well.

How come you are seen in most of Radha Mohan’s films?

It is not like that. Recently I have acted in Vijay’s Madrasapattinam. Although a small role, it was a good experience working with him. He had kept me very comfortably. I am not at ease driving a car and I told him that. But he told me the scene and asked me to try it if I liked it and I did it. That’s how it works. Radha gives me good roles and I do it.

Krishna is a director who is good in his craft.

Experience with Gomatam Krishna in Mudhal Mudhal Mudhal Varai

I know Krishna very well and for a very long time. He is a very taxing director who keeps shooting in all angles and expects perfection in every aspect from the performing artist. However his final product will floor you completely and will leave you in awe about yourself. Krishna is a director who is good in his craft. That was my experience with Krishna and the film was a good one. The film M3V won the award at the Cairo Film Festival. After Omar Sheriff, Krishna is the first one to have got this award. I think he has got his recognition.

Which do you like- script writing or acting?

Both are dear to my heart and it depends on what I write and what I perform. When I was doing Masters in Performing Arts in Puducherry, I was exposed to all facets of a play. I adopted all the plays that our group performed and was actively involved in choosing the play, author and all the allied functions. Later when I was with Koothu-pattarai, Muthusamy also involved me in similar assignments. That’s how my script writing commenced.

Would you like taking up direction?

I have directed plays but am not keen about pursuing it. I prefer writing and acting especially as I would be on stage where I have 100% control.

I am very fond of Mani Ratnam and Mahendran

Directors you admire

I am very fond of Mani Ratnam and Mahendran. Of course, now there are many good directors and if I say Radha Mohan, you will say that I have worked with him a lot. I like Suseendiran, Sargunam, Sasikumar. They have brought about changes in the old way of narrating a story; they move a story through characters. It is fantastic.

Films you liked in the recent times

Angadi Theru captivated me; it was a fantastic work of Vasantha Balan. I also liked Bala’s Naan Kadavul which explored the lives in ‘other’ world. I liked Kalavani, it’s a simple film.

Trend in Tamil cinema

As far as creative side is concerned, Tamil cinema is proceeding in a healthy direction. Generally spoof films will receive good critical acclaim but will not succeed. However, Thamizh Padam was received well in all the sectors. Audiences appreciate new attempts. The trend is healthy and good directors and producers are catering to it.

Audiences appreciate new attempts

What are your other pursuits?

I do plays for children. As I had told earlier, I am doing a play for Chettinad Vidyashram, Chennai. Every year, it is a ritual for me for three months when I work with these school children wherein I share my theatre experiences with them and in return learn a lot from them. Besides that, in whatever I do, I do it with passion and sincerity.

Theatre alone can give you that richness

Advice for people who want to take theatre as their career

I have taken theatre as my career and now I am talking in front of you. So, you decide! If you want this as your career, don’t listen to anyone. Choose that and you are sure to be richer by varied experiences not only in performances but also in life. In cinema, after you are done with a momentary act in front of the camera which (the moment) again is colossal, that moment is gone but in theatre, it keeps changing with respect to the place, the audience, your co-actor and sometimes yourself. You will realize many things.

Theatre alone can give you that richness. At the same time, the theatre that gives you such richness can also give you difficult times. If you are prepared for this, you can take the plunge.

Challenges in Abhiyum Naanum

I was too nervous about two things in Abhiyum Naanum- the song sequence and the scene where I call Trisha as amma. As per Radha’s first narration, there is a beggar who becomes a part of a kid’s family and I was ok with it. Later, Radha called me and said that the beggar is fast developing and he has a partner and is also singing a song. I immediately refused saying I can’t dance and Radha assuaged me saying I don’t have to dance but would only be a spectator. But when we went to the location, dance master called me for rehearsal and I was shocked. Somehow I pulled it off.

Beggar is fast developing

Secondly, at a time when ‘amma’ sentiment is archaic, it was a tightrope walking to deliver it in the right manner.

I did these two scenes with a lot of trepidation but fortunately, they were well received.

What is Payanam about?

A flight that departs from Chennai is being kidnapped and is made to emergency land in Tirupathi. There are negotiators, terrorists, demands and there are 138 passengers in the flight with different characteristic traits. How people react in such a situation is narrated with good humor. It is a very different Radha Mohan’s film. This time around he has tried a completely different genre from his earlier works. It is a good film, a comedy thriller and has recorded the happenings in five days. The film revolves around what people outside do; the relationship between the terrorists and the passengers and so on. Radha Mohan has approached this realistically.

Tags : Kumaravel, Abhiyum Naanum , Radha Mohan , Payanam
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