Manoj KU has four of his films playing in theatres — Pranayavilasam, Uru, Lovefully Yours Veda and Pakalum Pathiraavum. He has a small but important role in Iratta, now trending on Netflix. A handful of films he has acted in are getting ready for release, including Mammootty’s Kannur Squad and Kunchacko Boban’s Chaaver.
It would be an understatement to say that Manoj is in a happy space now, especially with the kind of appreciation coming his way for his role in Pranayavilasam directed by debutant Nikhil Muraly. In the film, he steals the show as Rajeevan, a government official, who ignores his wife Anusree (Sreedhanya) and has a strained relationship with their college-going son, Sooraj (Arjun Ashokan). But, he becomes young at heart when he meets his college sweetheart, Meera (Miya) at a college reunion.
Manoj is a delight on screen with his comic timing even as he strikes a chord with his nuanced performance in emotional scenes. “The movie has given me a place in the Malayalam film industry,” says the actor.
Pranayavilasam is among the plethora of movies that came his way post his performance as Kuwait Vijayan, the autocratic head of a family in Senna Hegde’s delightful satire, Thinkalazhcha Nischayam.
“When Martin Prakkat, co-producer of Pranayavilasam, told me the story, I was not sure if I would be able to play the love-sick Rajeevan! However, [director] Nikhil was confident I could do it. I still haven’t figured out why and how Martin thought of me in that role, especially after seeing me as the father of three adults in Thinkalazhcha… and a policeman in Iratta,” Manoj says.
Even though Pranayavilasam has got its share of bouquets and brickbats, word-of-mouth publicity is bringing people to theatres. “It has a relatable story. The film looks at different shades of love,” says Manoj.
The story is set in Payyannur [in Kannur district] and that was an advantage for Manoj who hails from the place. In Pakalum Pathiraavum, he had to speak in the Idukki dialect. “My background in theatre helps to a great extent when it comes to switching dialects. But I feel that in some portions of the film, my Kannur dialect has crept in!”
In love with theatre
Manoj adds that he owes his career to theatre. It has been a part of his life since his childhood, especially with his elder brother, Payyannur Murali, leading the way. “Rehearsals used to be held at our home. There were a lot of theatre troupes in our area and rehearsals or camps used to be held regularly. While studying in school, as soon as we got a break, I would run to watch the rehearsals. I wanted to get into one of those sessions badly,” Manoj remembers.
He started by handling light and design in plays and was active in a theatre forum. The turning point was when [director] Priyanandan came to direct one of the plays. “Thanks to him, I got the opportunity to act in a documentary by KR Mohanan. Also, I got small roles in films directed by Priyanandan, which include Neythukaran and Pulijanmam. But even then cinema didn’t enthuse me much. That changed when I acted in Sujith Vaassudev’s Autorsha. While dubbing for the character, he asked me why I could not try for character roles in films. That’s when I started going for auditions,” he says.
Eventually, he got roles in films such as Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 and Kappela. “I had just one dialogue in Android Kunjappan and the rest are passing shots. But Senna [Hegde] called me for Thinkalazhcha… after seeing that role. That film changed my life forever,” he avers.
The 49-year-old adds that he had given up his career as a general contractor once he got hooked on cinema. “I was earning enough from my job. But there came a point when cinema became more important to me. It was a gamble and except for my wife and a few friends, no one else knew about my decision. I believe it is important to take such risks, otherwise life will come to a standstill. At the same time, one has to take the effort. No one will give you roles on a platter.”
Meanwhile, he continues to do theatre and makes special note of the play Khasakkinte Ithihasam directed by Deepan Sivaraman in which he played three characters. “The process which I went through to essay those roles has made me confident as an actor. If people are appreciating me for the way I can switch emotions, that is because of this play,” he emphasises.
Manoj is enthused that he will be acting in the play again when it will be staged on March 10, 11 and 12 at Thrikkarippur in Kasaragod. “Although they had finalised another actor I said I wanted to do it. This would mean I will be missing out on a trip to West Asia with the team of Pranayavilasam. But that’s fine. I didn’t want to let go of the chance to play those roles again,” he avers.
As for films, Manoj says that he does not want to repeat characters. “I am willing to do any role provided it is not similar to what I did before. I didn’t take up two films that came to me after Thinkalazhcha... because the roles were almost the same.”
Manoj stresses that he does not want to be compared with yesteryear actors. “I don’t have it in me to attain the stature of such legendary actors. So I am not even trying to be like them,” he signs off.