Stand up comedian Ashvin Mathew talks about how he made laughter his business
Ashvin Mathew loves to laugh and make others laugh. And he does that for a living. So meeting him is great fun. He mimics, jokes, acts and talks while tracing his evolution as one of the best stand up comedians in India. Evidently, making people laugh is no joke!
Now, he is bringing that talent to narrate a story to the silver screen. His first script is for a Tamil movie Uthukuli Amigos, to be directed by ad filmmaker Pramod. Gymkhana Vasu is another script that is awaiting a producer. “It is about these village gyms that used to produce some of our best wrestlers. It is humorous but it also explores why men are violent and delves on different kinds of violence…it is fun,” explains Ashvin, as he bursts into laughter, leaving you to wonder what’s in the script!
He describes himself as “psychotic about cinema.” “I have written about 15 one-line stories but never got around to developing the script as I was busy with theatre, ads and my shows.”
To make up for lost time, this Bangalore boy with Malayali roots who is now settled in Cyprus, is interacting with moviedom on many fronts. His debut as a film star was in English Vinglish, where he played a teacher who taught Sridevi’s character Shashi’s daughter. But Ashvin feels that filmmakers have set notions about how an actor should look like. “So they feel that a city-bred youngster cannot do a rustic guy, or a man with thinning hair cannot do justice to a certain role… A good actor can do any kind of a role,” says the actor who does not see his balding pate as a reason for not casting him in certain roles. With his experience in theatre and show biz, Ashvin is confident he can pull off any role.
From entertaining his family with his imitation of the Incredible Hulk at the age of eight to amusing audiences in theatres, it has been an easy transition for him. He recalls trips to his grandparents’ house in Konni when he was all ears for V.D. Rajappan’s comic act, a cassette of which was being played in their Ambassador car.
But it took the medical aspirant another seven years to realise that the entertainment industry was his calling. That was when he acted in Restless: The Spirit of Youth, a play by Gautam Raja and Meenakshi Menon. “I found that I had the power to entertain people and I felt so much at home when I was doing that,” he says.
So he decided to study theatre. His doctor father and agriculture scientist mother were surprised by his decision but backed him all the way. Studying theatre in Sydney had to be cut short because of “matters of the heart” and he left for Cyprus to study radio journalism. “Cyprus is believed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and I did discover my true love there and married her,” says Ashvin.
After returning to Banglore, in 1999 Ashvin became the first stand up comedian there. A job in Dubai as a teacher of theatre came next. “But I can’t stand censorship and I did not like the way Indians are treated there. So I came back and became an actor.”
He also worked as a consultant for Mudra by presenting their concepts for clients. At present, the versatile actor works in ads, theatre and corporate training workshops. But his sights are set on cinema and the search is on for a producer to make his debut as a script writer in Malayalam cinema.
He is acting in Vedivazhipadu, his first Malayalam film. He is in the city for the shooting of the movie that is being directed by debutant Shambu Lakshmi Purushothaman.
He had worked with Kukku Surendran to tweak the script for the movie Veeralipattu.
He rates Fahadh Faasil “an incredible actor. I saw three of his films and I was stuck by the way he changes himself in each film. His looks, body language and speech look so different.”
He hopes to bring his show ‘South Indian By Nature’ to Kerala, which is a side splitting take on Tamilians and Malayalis. “I make fun of me and my family and then when the audience is rolling on the floor with laughter, I take off on them and their quirks,” he says with a chuckle.
THE MALAYALI AND COMEDY
We have had a great tradition of satire right from the days of Kujnan Nambiar to present-day comedians, some of whom are leading actors in cinema. And artistes like Ashvin are continuing that tradition. “True but I wonder why such talented comedians are called mimicry artistes. Somehow, when you say it, it does not sound the same way if you were to call them an actor,” he says, saying ‘mimicry artistes’ in two different ways. He adds: “I wish we had a different name or phrase for them. Not stand up comedian… that is so Western. But we do need another term because most of them are more than mimicry artistes,” he says. They highlight trends in politics, society and in entertainment and tickle our funny bone with their take on it, he adds.