From playing supporting roles to becoming one of the most popular stars in Malayalam cinema, Tovino Thomas has come a long way. In a decade-long career, the actor has carved a niche for himself. One of the most sought after actors, Thomas will be seen in Minnal Murali, a superhero film which is streaming now on Netflix. In a conversation with News18.com, Thomas talks about playing a superhero, how India can come up with their own version of Avengers, the rise of Malayalam cinema in recent years and how he looks at competition.
For every kid, their father is like a superhero. Your daughter turns six next year and your son is just a year old. How did your daughter react when you told her that you are going to play a superhero?
Initially she wasn’t excited as she hasn’t been introduced to the concept of superheroes. But on Basil’s (Joseph, the director of the film) wedding anniversary a couple of months back, I took my father, mother, daughter, my wife, and even my manager to watch the movie at his home theater. Both Basil and I didn’t watch the film but we were checking our families expressions. There were people from various generations and we could see that all of them were loving the film. We wanted to know how they would react to the film. I particularly remember Basil telling me that he saw my daughter who was really proud of me. We could make her believe that her father possesses some superpowers (laughs). As a child, I always wanted to have superpowers but growing up I realised it is not going to happen. I felt really happy that my daughter felt that her father is a superhero. I also saw my father in tears which was a very emotional moment for me.
How did Minnal Murali happen?
Basil and I have been really good friends. Even if we are not working together, we keep calling each other and chat about a lot of things. I have a lot of trust in Basil. I also believe that the Malayalam industry is blessed with amazing directors, who have got the craft and amazing actors and amazing technicians. And for any emotional drama, that’s what we won’t. I feel budgets don’t really matter. It all depends on the craft, or the performances, or the technicians. But in the case of Minnal Murali, budget played a very important part as it is a superhero film. At the same time, we didn’t want to overdo it. I have mentioned in the past, that even if we take out the superhero element from the movie, the film still remains the same. We didn’t make the film to show off our superhero skills. We made this movie because we love cinema.
You once mentioned that looking at yourself in the mirror helps you get into the rhythm of the character. Was that the case with Minnal Murali too?
My process is to have long and multiple discussions with the director and the writers. And that’s when I get to know more about the character so that I can give input to them. I try to change my look for every movie. Right now I am ten kgs less than what I was for Minnal Murali as this look is for another movie. I try to look like the character off screen also. My idea is when I am playing a character and look in the mirror, I don’t want to see Tovino Thomas, I want to see that particular character as it helps me subconsciously. Also, I have told this in many interviews but I use a single perfume for every movie (laughs).
Which perfume did you use for Minnal Murali?
Bad Boy by Carolina Herrera. I like the shape of the bottle. It looks like lightning and my character in Minnal Murali gets struck by lightning after which he gets his superpowers (laughs). I don’t know if I am right or wrong but I am obsessed with smells and they are associated with my memories. I think this exercise helps me get into character.
Do you feel that Minnal Murali will start a new genre of superhero films in Indian cinema?
Yes. We see a lot of superhero movies and series outside India. In India, we have immense possibilities to make this genre even more than the West. We are trying to do it. We are also planning a sequel for Minnal Murali. Basil has got a basic idea and we can make use of the myths. With this film, we wanted the film to be simple and realistic. I am aware that superhero movies cannot be realistic but we have tried to make it look like it is grounded. It is set in a village of Kerala. There are no skyscrapers or any usual elements. This superhero is very different from what we see in Hollywood. We have seen films like Bhavesh Joshi and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and they aren’t the usual superhero characters.
Do we see all these characters coming together?
Yes we can have our own version of Avengers. But which language will they speak? I am very curious to know (laughs). I don’t think Jaison (his character from Minnal Murali) can come out and speak in Hindi and Bhavesh Joshi can speak in Malayalam. But I feel that we can also work out by adding it as comic elements. It will be interesting to see all our superheroes coming together and make other countries jealous.
What do you think makes Malayalam cinema stand out in recent years?
I think it’s a golden phase for Indian cinema. And like other industries, there is a new wave in Malayalam cinema too. We never had a strong distribution system but now that we do, people are recognising the potential of Malayalam films. The audience has more access towards our films. Malayalam cinema always had the recognition of making good content but that was only among our limited audience. Now the entire world is aware. Earlier, only Malayali diaspora across the globe or people in Kerala would watch Malayalam movies. I believe OTT has changed the game altogether. Thanks to streaming platforms, people can watch the film on the day of the release and whenever it is released on the platform. They don’t have to make an effort to go out to a theater and watch it. People can be skeptical about watching a film when it’s an alien language. OTT was a game changer for Malayalam films.
In recent years we have seen the lines blurring and many actors of South are working in Hindi cinema and vice versa. Does this increase your competition?
There is constructive competition and I consider all my contemporaries as teammates. We all are working hard to make good movies. So Malayalam cinema gets more recognition and it grows. When the industry grows, we all will grow too. Also, for me comparisons are a matter of pride but I’m someone who doesn’t want to be compared. Like I said, I feel like all actors are equal. I’m a new person, and comparing me to someone big or more experienced is a burden to me. I prefer to create my own space.
But where does this sense of security come from?
Stardom never fascinates me. Being called a good actor is more important. When it comes to cinema, I am never laid back. This is something that I have dreamt of since childhood. I always wanted to be an actor. My beginning was really humble. I still remember my first shot was on January 28, 2012 at 9am in the morning. I was standing behind three or four actors and was trying my best to show my face to the camera. And from then on, I have been doing supporting roles, comedian roles, main lead and every other part. Recently I did a cameo in Dulquer Salmaan’s Kurup because I just loved the character. I am not necessarily interested in playing the main lead. I can be playing a villain or a supporting character. What matters to me is to justify my role. I don’t want to be typecast and repeat myself. I may not have done a perfect job in every movie that I have done, but I know that I have improved over the years.
But is there a temptation then to do a straight Hindi film?
I believe I should do Hindi movies only if that movie demands of me. I would definitely do that but not just for the sake of acting in a Hindi movie, or for getting higher remuneration. Bollywood is already blessed with amazing actors, so why would they need me for a regular character? But if the character wants someone like Tovino Thomas, I would like to do it.
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