Siju Wilson’s first character on the screen does not have a name. He was cast as the president of a fans’ club in Malarvadi Arts Club in 2010. Twelve years later, he is making his name as an actor, playing the swashbuckling warrior, scholar and social reformer, Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker, in the period film Pathonpatham Noottandu.
All it took was one call from maverick film director Vinayan to catapault Siju from the sidelines to centrestage. Cast as the lead in Pathonpatham Noottandu, Siju has given the role his best shot. As the film continues to do well in theatres, Siju is all gratitude to the director for the lead role.
For six months, the actor trained in Kalaripayattu, weight training, Parkour and horse riding to do justice to the role of the 18th century warrior and social reformer who fought against unjust laws and caste-based discrimination. The film’s team had decided that they would announce the film only after Siju achieved the physique and look, Vinayan had conceptualised.
In the past, many period Malayalam films have chosen to narrate stories of royals and warriors who belonged to the upper echelons of society of the time. A film on Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker, a wealthy Ezhava landowner, cultural connoisseur, social reformer and martial art exponent, who has many firsts to his credit, has moved away from that template.
Siju says, he had to learn to be comfortable in the role of a tough warrior. “The physical training and hard work helped me become the character in Vinayan sir’s eyes. Thanks to him I got a role that I had been waiting for ever since I stepped into tinsel town.”
After his debut in Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Malavarvadi Arts Club, Siju did well in several character roles in films such as Premam, Neram, Varane Avashyamundu, Sara’s and so on. The kind of roles that came the way of Nivin Pauly and Aju Varghese, who also made their debut in Malarvadi..., however, did not reach Siju although he did well in all the roles assigned to him. Viewers remember him as the actor who provided the laughs or was the ubiquitous boy-next-door.
He could not believe it was for real when he was offered the lead role in the film on a valorous character, Siju says. Vinayan, always his own man, has played an important role in the career of many A-listers in Malayalam cinema.
Siju knew that this was an opportunity like never before for a makeover. Since Panicker lived in the 18th century, there were no pictures or documentation to go by how he looked or spoke. Siju had to depend on Vinayan to shape the character for him. “Vinayan sir painted a word picture of him, which I followed faithfully. The dialect was that of Central Travancore and the dubbing took time as I had to speak my lines with care to get the right accent. Vinayan sir was right there to help me correct mistakes or if something needed clarification.”
He says that although he had read about Panicker, once he was cast in the role, he read up more about him and watched a couple of YouTube videos on his achievements. “Vinayan sir had studied a lot about the great reformer. I depended completely on his interpretation.”
As Siju points out Pathonpatham Noottandu is not a biopic on Panicker. It is a fictionalised narrative of a man who led from the front to fight social injustice in many forms.
Shot in Palakkad, the forests of Dhoni, Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha, the film has a huge cast including Anoop Menon, Deepti Sati, Indrans, Chemban Vinod Jose, Sudev Nair, Tiny Tom, Poonam Bajwa, Jaffar Idukki, Suresh Krishna, Sunil Sukhada and Kayadu Lohar.
Siju will next be seen in Rosshan Andrrews Saturday Night, releasing on September 30 with Nivin and Aju. The film according to Siju is about a group of friends and the bonds they share.