Kunchacko Boban: A star wants to be liked, not an actor

Two of Kunchacko Boban’s films have been garnering attention for different reasons. The Malayalam actor discusses acting and co-producing Ariyippu and Nna Thaan Case Kodu

August 12, 2022 12:35 pm | Updated 03:54 pm IST

Kunachacko Boban at the Locarno Film Festival

Kunachacko Boban at the Locarno Film Festival | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Kunchacko Boban has just returned from the Locarno Film Festival, where his film Ariyippuhad its premiere. It is the second Malayalam film to enter the Competition section of the 75-year-old film festival. Directed by his long-time friend and director-editor Mahesh Narayanan, Kunchacko has co-produced and starred in it. “This is my first time at a film festival — national or international — and what an experience!”

Ariyippu was the first film screened under the Competition category at the festival, making the team feel quite nervous, he confesses. “We are talking about 2,500-odd people. It was a full house, and the response was amazing. The applause followed by the Q&A session was such a great start! This is way beyond my dreams.”    

Nna Thaan Case Kodu

Nna Thaan Case Kodu | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Back in Kerala, Kunchacko’s dance moves to the ‘Devadoothar Padi’ song from his next release, Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval’s  Nna Thaan Case Koduhas gone viral, hitting 10 million views in a week’s time.

“These two films couldn’t be more different,” he says referring to the films. 

Chackochan, as he is known, is more cheerful than usual, acknowledging the hand of God in how things have shaped up. “You can plan your next move however much you want, but God seems to have a better plan. With Nna Thaan… for instance, we were planning on the film’s marketing strategy, but look at what happened with the song! It was organic, we could not have planned it better,” he says over the phone from Thiruvananthapuram.        

Devadoothar paadi moves...
Called ‘happy feet’ by his wife for his sense of rhythm and inability to stay still when he hears a song, the ‘Devadoothar padi…’ dance was a tall task. It is a well-loved song from the 1985 film Kathodu Kathoram. He was aware of the classic status of the song, composed by Ouseappachan and sung by KJ Yesudas and wanted to be respectful of its treatment. 
“For someone who is a reasonably good dancer, this was not easy. Although there was a reference video, this ‘dance’, if you can call it that, is all me. There were no rehearsals or retakes, I just went out there closed my eyes and did my thing. Nothing was right or wrong as far as this dance was concerned.”
Up until now, from Aniyathipraavu on, women have been appreciative of his dance and moves, but with this song, “I seem to have struck a chord with men (laughs). They have taken to it in a big way. Its appeal is that everyone knows or has seen a drunk man ‘move’ like this to a song on ulsavam (festival) grounds across Kerala.”

His moves for ‘Devadoothar Padi’ were not choreographed. The wriggle-meets-squirm dance sequence that spawned a trend on Instagram is entirely his work.

“A friend told me that it took a couple of days to register that it was me in the song.” What made him unrecognisable was the tanned makeup, slicked-back, oiled hair and a prosthetic for the lower jaw.

Although Chackochan has experimented with his looks before, this transformation has got people talking. “This was Ratheesh’s idea. He assured me that I had to be comfortable. There was no compulsion. I tried the look, we felt it worked and here we are.” Located in Kasaragod, Nna Thaan is about a reformed thief’s (Rajeevan) quest for justice. More than the appearance, he says, he was worried about getting the dialect right.

“Let alone speak it, I do not understand it. I was concerned because it was sync-sound and there was a chance I would goof it up. Ratheesh once again convinced me to give it a shot. Since we were filming in Kasaragod, 90% of the people on the set were from that area, so one was constantly hearing the language. I had help from friends and others who would send me voice notes in the dialect so that I could work on it.” 

Chackochan wanted to be part of Nna Thaan from the word go; he had been impressed by Ratheesh’s first film Android Kunjappanfor its convincing, yet humour-backed handling of a futuristic topic. Planned before the pandemic, Chackochan, who co-produced Naa Thaan...with Santosh T Kuruvilla, waited to make it after theatres opened.

In a scene from Ariyippu

In a scene from Ariyippu | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Unlike Nna Thaan... which was intended as a theatrical release, Ariyippu was intended for OTT from conceptualisation. It is about a couple unwittingly faced with a scandal over a spliced sex clip. “Mahesh, who has made films such as Take Off and Maalik, and I could have made a commercial film but we wanted to make Ariyippu. That is how involved we were in the project. We were looking at an OTT premiere when invitations for international festivals started coming in. Once it completes the festival run, it will release on an OTT platform.”

Making ‘Ariyippu’

The film is a passion project for the entire team and reaching Locarno is a big deal; it is vying for the big prizes — the Golden Leopard (Pardo d’oro), for the best film, and the best actor besides in a few other categories.

“Any award is fine!” he jokes.

One of Malayalam cinema’s bankable actors, Kunchacko says he is as much a producer’s actor as a director’s. “I come from a family that made films, I have seen the highs and lows, so I know the impact on a producer. I do not want a producer to lose money on my films.”     

His filmography over the past year, from Nayattu to Ariyippu, points to careful selection. .

So, what is the hook for a role? 

“The hook is something [a role] I have not done before. I want to do all kinds of roles to the best of my capability as an actor. However, what has changed now are the people coming to me. They want me to push my limits, and in doing so, move out of my comfort zone. Now that I have started doing that, I realise that I am no longer uncomfortable outside it [his comfort zone].” In fact, Mahesh has been one of the people who have been constantly telling him to think out of the box and push his limits.  

A film and his role in it are important. In Nayattu and Pada, Chackochan was part of an ensemble cast, but “the length of the role does not matter, nor does what others are doing in it.”

Looking back

He gets introspective, “Everyone has a space in the industry; it is a question of several factors such as luck, timing, passion… Aniyathipraavu did well but then the success did not last. I had to start from scratch in 2009-10, for which I have no complaints. I worked hard to prove myself, I earned my place slowly and steadily. There was talk that for my film to work, I needed a song, dance or something else. With Anjaam Paathira I proved that I don’t need any of that for a film to work.”  

Chackochan does not shy away from roles with shades of grey. Critics have called Ariyippu’s Hareesh a misogynistic and egotistical man, unable to recognise his wife’s trauma over the sex clip. “If women had a problem with Rajeev of How Old Are You? they will dislike Hareesh even more. And that is okay because it is an acknowledgement of my work,” he says. “A star wants to be liked, an actor does not bother,” says one of Malayalam cinema’s well-loved actors who prefers the actor tag.

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