In conversation Nasser, who has made his presence felt in cinema and theatre, talks about how theatre can mould actors for films too.
Nasser is in Kerala after a long time. The moment he lands in Nedumbassery, he is stricken by nostalgia!
The man is obviously happy to be back in Kerala, but he does not appear to be happy about the transformations in Kerala and Malayalam cinema.
“I came here first for Mohan's ‘Mukham.' Cochin [Kochi] then was such a pristine place. Now it is as chaotic as Mumbai or Chennai,” says the actor as he enthusiastically looks out of the window to catch a glimpse of film hoardings on both sides of the road; he finds some of them distracting and some even intimidating.
He expresses his disappointment over declining standards in filmmaking and the unnecessary tussles between various associations and unions in the Malayalam film industry.
Need for dialogue
“It is sad that members of the film industry and the unions meet up only when there is a problem. Instead, they should be meeting more frequently to discuss and appraise their work. Their efforts should be towards enhancing aesthetics of cinema, improving working conditions, problem-solving based on consensus and previous experience and soon on. Otherwise cinema will soon lose its relevance in a cultural scenario abuzz with other forms of entertainment,” believes Nasser. The consummate actor was in Kochi in connection with the first Abhinaya Summer Theatre Festival.
“Theatre has immense potential as a medium of story telling. It is on par with cinema, or even superior to cinema in many ways. Revival of theatre is an indication of a change in attitude. The public now wants only quality entertainment. Theatre being a live art, gives a wholesome experience,” opines Nasser, an active participant in theatre activities.
His theatre group ‘Kalki' stages experimental plays and Nasser himself is involved in many of them in various capacities. The actor also conducts acting workshops for theatre and cinema and has successfully initiated the careers of many actors, including those of Pasupathi and Shanmukharajan.
“I was trained in two acting schools – South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce School and the Adayar Film Institute. Both oriented me towards acting in front of the camera which I thought was insufficient in terms of giving the complete experience as an actor. Then I joined the theatre movement of Koothupattarai, Pareeksha, Mudra and the like, which gave me an actor's experience from start to finish.
“So I strongly believe that an actor with a theatre grounding can definitely be a better film actor. They also have the capacity to adapt themselves to various roles with ease. Film actors usually have a tendency to get stuck to an image,” says the actor who has enacted a wide spectrum of roles, ranging from the anti-hero to the comedian. He has also a number of supporting roles to his credit.
Not stuck with an image
“I was very particular about not being typecast. So I did whatever roles that came my way. I started off as a villain, but now I don't think my work is restricted to that. It is important for an actor to diversify, both in terms of characters and languages,” he adds.
Talking about his career, one cannot refrain from looking at the period characters Nasser has essayed – Anna Durai in ‘Iruvar,' C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer in ‘Rakthasakshikal Zindabad,' Ponniyin Selvan and Karnan in theatre, to a name a few.
“I am interested in history, so I take extra efforts while portraying period characters. There are two types of period films – mythological and contemporary. For instance, Ponniyin Selvan is mythological while ‘Rakthasakshikal Zindabad' is contemporary."
He points out how he could take artistic liberties while enacting Raja Raja Chozhan, but it would not be possible to do the same while donning the role of C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, because he is recent history. “There are people who have seen C.P. I cannot adopt a body language or action that is contradictory to the original character. So I always do my own homework along with the director or writer if I am donning a character in a historical film.”
“I was apprehensive about doing the role in ‘Iruvar' because my public image at that time was that of an anti-hero. Mani [Ratnam] and I took extra care to see it to it that it did not spill over my character in ‘Iruvar.' C.P. did not pose much of a challenge. But it was the most interesting of the roles I acted in Malayalam cinema.”
His other significant Malayalam films include ‘Ghazal,' ‘Dhanam,' ‘Butterflies,' ‘Guru,' ‘Olympian Anthony Adam,' ‘Udayon' and ‘Pachamarathanalil.' Nasser also has a number of Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and English films to his credit. He has directed four feature films – ‘Pop Corn,' ‘Maayan,' ‘Devathai' and ‘Avathaaram.'
Nasser is currently acting in a number of films in different languages. “My current films are ‘Madras Pattanam,' ‘Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam' and a political satire ‘Irandu Per' with Sathyaraj and his son Karan in Tamil, ‘Puli' with S.J. Surya, ‘Rama Rama Krishna Krishna' and an untitled film with Prabhas in Telugu, and ‘Tamas' with Shivraj Kumar in Kannada.
‘Kireedam' in Telugu
He adds that he is working on the Telugu remake of ‘Kireedam,' where he plays the role of the father played by Thilakan in Malayalam. “My characters in ‘Aavaram Poo' and ‘Thevar Magan' were exceptional and so is the role in ‘Kireedam.' Kerala used to make such touching films. The most wonderful films of my career has been with Malayali film makers like Bharathan. I am looking forward to have such associations,” says the actor.