The unconventional looking Mani is the flavour of Malayalam cinema today and recently after a standout performance as the villain who makes animal grunts in Gemini, Mani has arrived in Tamil too! Mani, a former autorickshaw driver from Chalakudy rose to stardom in Malayalam through films such as Sallapam, Vasanthi Lakshmi Pinne Njanum(VLPN) and Karumadikuttan among others. He smashed all the accepted norms of a Malayalam film hero and stood up to the superstars in the industry and succeeded to a very large extent. He was able to achieve this rare feat due to his acting calibre and mimicry. Recently he spoke to Sify.com. Excerpts:
Q: Some Malayalam directors claim that you are no longer interested in doing comedy and villain roles. Why?
A: Who said so? Actually I am scared to do hero roles as films with even superstars are crashing at the box office. It is not the hero roles that Iím interested in, but what I am looking for are, meaty roles that people will accept and talk about.
Q: But director Sibi Malayil has made you the hero of his latest film, Aayirathil Oruvan?
A: Yes. It is one of the best films that Iím doing right now. For a change I did not want to do a blind, dumb or a dogcatcher! In this film I am doing the role of an ordinary man coming from a lower middle class family who has a lot of problems.
Q: Did you start your life as an autorickshaw driver?
A: My life is an open book and there is nothing to hide. I was an autorickshaw driver in Chalakudy and I have even done menial jobs like sweeping roads and even digging pits. Right from my childhood I used to mimic various people. So finally I landed up in Kalabhavan as a mimicry artiste. From there I branched out into cinema.
Q: How did you get your first break?
A: I played a toddy tapper in Sallapam, Thanks to Mr Lohitha Das who was the scriptwriter for the film. Earlier Sibi Malayil had given me a bit role as an autorickshaw driver in Aksharam. But after acting in more than 40 comedy films, I got my first big break in Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njanum(VLPN) as a hero. I will be extremely grateful to Vinayan for giving me that break.
Q: Why did you faint, when you knew that you did not get the state award for VLPN?
A: When everybody in the industry told me that I am sure to get the award, I believed it and when the awards were announced, it was a shock for me. But looking back I want to forget that incident as a bad dream and now I am a more matured person.
Q: How was it working with Vikram in Gemini? It was your first Tamil film?
A: I had done a film titled Vanchinathan earlier with Shaji Kailas as the director, but that film was not a big hit, but now I hear that Gemini is a blockbuster. I had a different get-up in the film and Vikram supported me a lot. I could use my mimic talent to the maximum in the film and it clicked.
Q: We believe that you are flooded with offers from Tamil. Will the Malayalee audience miss you?
A: I have quite a few offers right now and all are villain roles. I am the main villain in the Shaji Kailas directed Ajitís new film, Thirudan. I donít think that I will take up all the roles that come my way. However Malayalam is my first choice!
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I am doing a film for Salim Sattar, the producer of Joker, Then Sibi Malayilís film Aayirathil Oruvan is ready for release and a few Tamil films are also on the anvil.