'The actor is just a tool in cinema,' says actor Saran Jith

The theatre actor steals the show in ‘41’ even as he is globe-trotting with his play ‘Chandala, Impure’

November 21, 2019 05:30 pm | Updated 05:30 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Saran Jith in a scene from ‘41’

Saran Jith in a scene from ‘41’

Curtains are up. A playful Cupid makes his entry in the English play Chandala, Impure ; the audience is struck by his impish grin. The god of love, dressed in flowers and armed with a bow and a quiver of arrows, cycles the lovers around stage. Romance has arrived; so has the actor, Saran Jith, on the modern Indian stage.

Theatre lovers already know Saran as the playful Cupid and endearing maama , a well-wisher of the lovers, in the Puducherry-based Indianostrum’s play. Today, he has created a buzz in Kerala, his home state, with a role in Lal Jose’s latest, 41 . He shoulders the film along with Biju Menon. Saran has poured his sweat and heart into the rustic character, Vavachi Kannan, a feisty alcoholic and Communist. Whenever the film slipped into monotony, he adds life through his convincing emotional outbursts. However, he is not in Kerala to experience the love and limelight, as he is globe-trotting with Chandala’s foreign tours.

Theatre actor Saran Jith

Theatre actor Saran Jith

Theatre reached out to the student of Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in Kalady quite accidentally. While doing his graduation in painting in the University, the Pattambi boy used to spend time with his friends from the theatre department. He would sit for play readings and do set work for productions. “I soon realized my potential lay in this field.” He pursued MA in theatre arts on the same campus, and MPhil from School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University. The actor followed this up with a highly specialised three years’ training module at Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) in Singapore.

ITI training moulded Saran’s body and mind as an actor. “The place carves out unique artistes, and not brands. They train you in diverse art forms of Asia as well as contemporary acting methods. But, no one tells you what is right or wrong. It’s what we take away from each form, and, how we relate it with contemporary theatre.” The film had a Singapore release. And, Saran was overjoyed to watch a video of his teachers in ITI sharing their reactions after watching the movie. “I got the spirit of acting from home and the body of acting from ITI.”

Gut instinct

His acting process involves the entire body. “Imagination plays a key role in giving back to the body what it needs. Facial expression is a reflection of what happens in the body. It all comes from the gut.” The 32-year-old, who is a certified lecturer, also trains aspiring actors. However, he warns, “You must leave anyone who sells you a technique as the “only right method”. You can never give acting/art one definition. Art’s characteristic is its open nature.”

Music has been a close ally of this performer. As a part of ITI’s final theatre making project, he devised a solo show called Dwau Anthyarangau- Two Dying Scenes . Saran learnt a traditional percussion called mizhavu , used for Sanskrit theatre Koodiyattam, for this show. In Singapore, he has worked with Chowk Productions, a dance company, as a set designer, musician and performer.

41 also unleashes the singer in Saran; Vavachi crooning a love song to his wife is one of the adorable moments in the film. A sharp sense of rhythm flows into every pore of his body. You can see this in a scene in the film, when the actor flees from a gang of hooligans. Saran’s whole being reverberates with a nervous energy and primal instinct for survival in that fast sequence.

Acting is a serious art form for him. “The actor is just a tool in cinema. In theatre, the actor’s imagination can transform the view of the audience; you can use a piece of Thermocol as a door or a human being. A relationship is forged between the actor and the spectator.” ITI also taught him that theatre is also about exploring one’s own potential. “I had gone to Singapore looking forward to learning about other cultures, but they taught me to look into mine own.”

Saran dug deep into his performative past in Chandala, adapted from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the grim realities of honour killings in India. The actor, as maama , performs Karinkaliyattam , his community’s ritualistic dance. “I have heard that my father used to perform this. My previous generations have experienced untouchability.” Hence, he could relate to the play, which dwells on caste and hate politics in India. In the long run, Saran wants to give back to his land and people through his medium.

Home is spread all over Kerala. Family includes his professors, University friends and collaborators. As far as blood ties go, the last time he saw his father was as a child before the man got estranged from his family. Later, a 20 year-old Saran left home over differences of opinion with his family. But, after the film, his native community in Perumpilavu in Kerala has been responding to him in “interesting” ways, says Saran. “Some put up a flex board alongside the name of my father. It’s all because of the colour of cinema.”

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