Nasser interview: On ‘Killer Soup,’ wanting to be a creator’s actor, and the curse of playing similar characters

Veteran actor Nasser talks about working with Konkona Sen Sharma and Manoj Bajpayee in Netflix’s ‘Killer Soup’, how ‘Sholay’ and ‘Chandralekha’ were pan-Indian films before the terminology came into place, and how he panics on the first day of shoot even after 700 films

Updated - January 16, 2024 06:00 pm IST

Published - January 16, 2024 03:29 pm IST

A still from ‘Killer Soup’ / Nasser 

A still from ‘Killer Soup’ / Nasser  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement / Thamodharan B.

Nasser has been in the industry for almost 40 years with more than 700 films under his name, playing everything from soldier to chief minister, mad scientist to godman. Unsurprisingly, the role of a cop in Netflix’s latest series, Killer Soup, is not the first time the veteran has donned khaki. In fact, in one of his first major hits, the cult-classic Nayakan, Nasser played an ACP; over the years, he has played the righteous police officer in several outings like Pudhiya Mugam,Hey Ram and a hilarious one in Vettai. He gets to indulge in both those characteristics in Killer Soup.

“I don’t believe in having my own style,” says Nasser, as we discuss the new series. “That’s why I try to change how my character looks, even if it’s another cop. When I read this script, I realised I needed a different approach. I took the cop part of the character away from the narration and characterised him based on what makes him.. him. Then I interpreted that he got a job, which happened to be that of a cop. I didn’t make his profession his character; that’s what the director wanted too, and it worked out very well.”

Nasser

Nasser | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B.

The actor played the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M Karunanidhi in Thalaivii a couple of years ago. Ask him how he compares taking direct references to such roles and coming up with his own interpretation for others, and he says, “I was just talking to Manoj Bajpayee about how getting similar roles again and again is a curse as it stereotypes you.”

The veteran has no qualms in stating that most of the mainstream film characters are two-dimensional. “For example, for the role of a rich and strict father... that’s literally the brief I’m given. That’s not enough for an actor to play a role! That’s where the interpretation comes in; did I get rich by winning a lottery, was it inherited, did I rob a bank, cheat a friend or was it because of years of hard work? These reasons make a difference as they take us deep into the skin of the character and make us more comfortable. Getting paid so much, I just can’t be delivering lines in a particular manner (laughs). I make that interpretation even if the script or director don’t demand them.”

But Nasser affirms that he would prefer the director to flesh them out for him. “This might sound dramatic, but I would like to surrender to the creator who has already created the character I should be. If that base is created, I work atop that. A director will have his/her way of narrating a story, and I have to give space to my co-actors while retaining my space; otherwise, the synchronicity isn’t there. I cannot call the shots just because I’m a senior.”

“If the makers give us the details on the type of character we are playing, it would be great, but it rarely happens. That’s the case with almost all the characters, and when they’re acting in a certain way, I will have to tag along as well. Otherwise, my performance would stand out. That’s why even after 700 films, I panic on the first day of a new film’s shoot; I need to settle down and know what the director wants and what the character demands. That’s why it’s nice to work on projects like Killer Soup.”

Konkona Sen Sharma, Manoj Bajpayee and Nasser in a still from ‘Killer Soup’

Konkona Sen Sharma, Manoj Bajpayee and Nasser in a still from ‘Killer Soup’ | Photo Credit: Anu Pattnaik/Netflix

The veteran also heaps praises on Killer Soup’s lead actors Konkona Sensharma and Manoj Bajpayee. “They’re too good; they approach their work ritualistically and patiently read the 800-page script. On the first day of reading, I felt ashamed to have not read the script! I had to give a lame excuse that I was busy travelling (laughs). But Konkana and Manoj were ready to even start shooting the next day. With talents like them next to me, I have to be at a similar pace and that’s such a comfortable place to be in; that’s why Killer Soup is such an important title in my career.”

The Baahubali films, which Nasser was a part of, were some of the first titles to get the pan-India tag. Killer Soup, on the other hand, is an interesting tale starring actors from across the state in a fictional town in Tamil Nadu, with the language shifting from Hindi to Tamil frequently. “I think it comes down to the content; it has to be strong, clear and complete,” says the actor, adding, “It’s nice to interact with the next breed of filmmakers, and they are watching Korean and Turkish films. A pan-Indian film does not mean it should have actors from different industries across the country. Films like Sholay are beyond terms like pan-India. Nowadays we can hear a little Hindi here and there, but when Sholay came out, the language wasn’t known to many in the south. But many knew at least a line, like ‘kitne aadmi thae’ from the film. Even before that, Mr SS Vasan had made Chandralekha. So such films had always been there.”

However, he does not feel that such big-budget films are blurring the lines between different industries. “Most of the big films want to entertain the whole country. When, for example, you make a big-budget Tamil film, you only think about dubbing it in Telugu. They aren’t making a complete Tamil film that will surprise the Telugu audience. Parallel films could probably blur the so-called lines but I don’t think mainstream ones will,” says Nasser, who gets humble about being one of the earliest Tamil actors to cross borders to do Hindi films.

“I was called after Nayakan came out. I was hesitant to do Telugu and Malayalam films because I didn’t know the language but now, I’m doing more Telugu films than Tamil. I am also doing a lot of Hindi films even though my Urdu is terrible. But when the responsibility comes, I have to learn the language. Nowadays, sync sound is preferred and while it’s convenient for an actor to act and then dub, this process needs more concentration. It’s good because it challenges the actor in you.”

Killer Soup is currently streaming on Netflix

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