Over the years Vineeth has learnt to effortlessly split his time between films and dance

Kozhikode is Vineeth’s city of memories. Here he knew his passion — dance; it led him to his profession — movies. And he is back to it, albeit briefly, to play his part in Bavuttiyude Namathil directed by G.S. Vijayan and scripted by Ranjith. “It is a very interesting role, a different genre of performance,” says Vineeth sitting in his room at Hotel Maharani — Malayalam cinema’s melting pot in the 1980s and 90s. He vividly remembers filming hits like Sargam here. “There was a time when three movies where shot here simultaneously,” he says, soaking in the quietude that wraps the place today.

History rests serenely in Vineeth. Debuting at 15 in I.V. Sasi’s Idanilangal, he acted in Bharathan’s Pranamam, Nakhakshathangal from the MT-Hariharan duo, G. Aravindan’s Oridathu, Padmarajan’s Nammukku Parkaan Munthirithoppukkal and Priyadarsan’s Oru Muthassi Katha before moving to Chennai to be a regular commerce student. His first stint as an actor is a journey through the who’s who of Malayalam cinema. And he continues to be humbled by his good fortune as one who caught the glorious flourish of Malayalam cinema before it fell limp.

Working with masters

“I cherish every moment of those memories,” he says. Even as a young boy he remained keenly aware that it was the masters he was working with. “After working in an MT-Hariharan movie, I could never bring myself to take up a disorganised project. Cinema was passion. I did not look at it as a lucrative job. Good work mattered. It helps in the growth of an artiste, in the long run you enjoy a goodwill with the audience,” he says.

Vineeth, it appears, has always had that goodwill. In the past 28 years, the audience has given him the affection kept for a boy who grew up before their eyes. Even when he had commercial success, when he didn’t, when he appeared in cameos or played second fiddle, Vineeth remained an instant connect.

He is etched in the public imagination also because of his other strong identity as a classically trained dancer. His innate elegance as a dancer may or may not be a factor in his being largely cast in soft, sophisticated roles.

“There are movies like Chemistry in which I was cast in this crude role, where I played the ruthless, bizarre guy. There have been characters with negative shades, while in a movie like Arike, I did a different genre, a cameo where the character stays on after the film. I get to prove myself in these roles,” he says.

Yet, Vineeth has always remained loyal to dance. He doesn’t remember when dance became part of his life, but he recollects actor Padmini, also his aunt, and Bhaskaran Nambiar, lawyer and family friend, telling his lawyer-doctor parents to teach the boy dance.

What started as the basic steps from the legendary Chemencherry Kunjiraman Nair grew serious as he grew older and began training under Kalamandalam Saraswathy in Kozhikode. That was when the 10-year-old realised he enjoyed his dance. He travelled without complaints from Thalassery to Kozhikode every weekend for his classes. “Those four to five years starting from home on Friday evening and getting back on Sunday evening, dance became part of my routine. It was never forced on me and there where competitions in between which worked at the motivational level.”

In dance Vineeth believes the values a student imbibes depend on the guru. “It is the bond a student shares with the teacher.” He shares strong bonds with his gurus Kalamandalam Saraswathy and Padma Subramanyam. Dance has remained a constant in his life. From the sets of Bavuttiyude Namathil, Vineeth will join the rehearsals for Padma Subramanyam’s epic show on Gandhiji, which will premiere in Chennai on October 2. “The two-hour production will have narratives from Gandhiji’s life performed by 45 artistes,” he says. “There are a lot of folk movements in the performance and I am surely nervous. Gopal Gandhi will be present for the premiere.”

Devoted to dance

Vineeth, now a post-graduate in dance, has travelled quite a path, from the purely classical to semi-classical stage shows to filmi dance. While he enjoys the semi-classical performances he choreographs for the stage, with brilliant music to boot, Vineeth says film dances are often a different learning experience and sometimes his training as a classical dancer creeps in.

Adapting himself as Malayalam cinema travelled from brilliant to mediocre to interesting, he is pleased with the new ideas that are making cinema vibrant in Kerala. He has a few projects in hand. “I am doing Omega.x, a movie based on the IT field, there is Breaking News Live and also Aattakatha, in which I am doing some authentic Kathakali pieces,” he says. For someone who began as the conventional hero, Vineeth has moved on to a point where the size of the role doesn’t matter. “It was always successful, good roles. I did not work towards stardom and money was not the priority.”