PP Kunhikrishnan
PP Kunhikrishnan won the 'Best Character Artiste - Male'.

Kerala film awards: The accidental actors who made it big

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Tharun Murthy, the director of Operation Java, had a distinctive artist in his thoughts while envisioning his second film Saudi Gracy, a septuagenarian stage actress with an immense passion for performing in movies, which she seldom got an opportunity for. After zeroing in on her, Murthy had started working on the script and discussing the same with her, before she was contracted with COVID-19 in 2020.

“Even though she was hospitalised with pneumonia-related complications, she was very keen on hearing about the script and pre-productions. I had shown it to her on a video call when I completed the screenplay. But she caused us the greatest sadness when she succumbed to the pandemic.”

The 86-year-old first-time actor Devi Varma. 

Devi Varma, the 86-year-old first-time actor, who won the Kerala State Film Award for the best female character actor, was a replacement for Gracy. Tharun Moorthy found her accidentally. She is the grandmother of one of his friends in the film circles. He chose her as the main character of his movie Saudi Vellakka, after discovering her picture in one of Siddharth’s WhatsApp statuses.

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“When Tharun came to me with the request, I was not at all in a mood to act. I have several health-related issues including vertigo, so I was so reluctant. Moreover, I have not even watched a single movie in theatre for the last 15 years,” says Varma. “I only watch movies on television that too not in full,” she quips. “But I was very particular that my part should go well once I signed up for it, and I think I have performed reasonably well. After all, it’s our destiny and no one is capable of preventing it,” she goes philosophical. “I am not so concerned about how people think about it, but it’s heartening to see them coming to me and congratulating.”

She received accolades for her depiction of Ayesha Rawther, a helpless octogenarian from Saudi, a coastal village of Kochi, who is entangled in a never-ending legal labyrinth, at the International Film Festival of India, Goa last year, as well as the Prem Nazir prize.

Interestingly, the character Rawther played by Varma was awarded twice, as Pauly Valsan, who lent voice for the character, also won the award in the dubbing category.

Devi Varma, originally hailing from Wadakkanchery of Thrissur, lives in Trippunithura, Kochi with her son Devadas and daughter Subha. Even though she is not very keen in taking on acting as a profession at this age, she is ready if right roles come to her.

“I will definitely act if Tharun or Binu Pappu cast me for their future projects, if my health permits,” she says confidently. Binu Pappu was her co-actor and the chief associate director of the film.

PP Kunhikrishnan, a retired teacher and local politician, was happily serving as the member of Padanna village panchayat of Kasargod district until he got a call from the casting team of the film Nna Thaan Casu Kodu in 2021.

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“P-P-Ku mash” (the Malayalam short form of PP Kunhikrishnan Master), as he is affectionately called by the children of Balasangham, the children’s wing of the CPI(M), and party comrades alike, was very active in the rural theatre initiatives as part of political activities. After retirement as a Hindi teacher, he was a full-time politician and had been elected as a member of Padanna village panchayat in 2020 elections. When Rajesh Madhavan, actor and casting director of the film, invited him for an audition, he was not so keen initially. But he decided to take a plunge after he was the first one to get selected in the audition.

“It was very different in films, rather than acting in amateur plays. There was a rehearsal camp before the shoot and it was fun working with real ‘film stars’. Ratheesh Balakrishnan Pothuval, the director, knew exactly what he wanted from the actors and we were skilfully communicated. The rehearsal camp and the shooting days were great learning experience for us. There were so many fresh actors, who are otherwise different professionals, like advocates of the likes of Shukkoor, and Krishnan of Kasargod bar,” recalls Kunhikrishnan master.

The character of the magistrate he played in the film was a sensational hit and master became a celebrity in no time. He has been the most sought-after ensemble actor in Malayalam, signing more than 10 films last year. “Three of them have been released and another three are completed and the rest are work in progress,” says P-P-Ku Mash.

“I am not a former politician, but I am political at this moment. I have my responsibilities as a panchayat member and I am delivering it well. Acting is always there in me, and now I have become a little busier, that’s all. I dedicate this award to my people of Tadiyankovil, my native,” Kunhikrishnan Master tells The Federal.

Child artiste Thanmaya Sol in a still from the film

A video of the eighth grader Thanmaya Sol, who won the best child artiste award, went viral after she was seen coming back from school completely oblivious of the accomplishment she had achieved. Her grandfather is seen in the video telling her about the honour, to which she answers with disbelief, which was captured by her uncle from a moving vehicle.

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Thanmaya, daughter of Arun Sol who is an actor and associate director of the film, got the first taste of acting by taking part in her sister’s short film. The short film Lunch Box was made when her sister Thamanna was a seventh grader.

“My father was the chief associate director of this movie Vazhakku (Quarrel) by Sanalkunar Sasidharan and my sister (who is still a student) worked as assistant director in the same project. My involvement in the film came about when Sanal uncle visited our home, noticed me, and subsequently invited for an audition, where I was eventually selected,” Thanmaya recounts.

“The award is for the moving depiction of a young girl’s struggle and helplessness while living in a volatile household between quarrelling parents,” opined the jury.

Thanmaya, who is very passionate about acting, wants to pursue it through studies so that she can take up acting as a profession.

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