As the eldest of four brothers in Madhu C Narayanan’s Kumbalangi Nights, Soubin Shahir unleashed a breakthrough performance that pulls at the heartstrings. After years of struggling as an assistant director and then tickling the funny bone with his comic timing in various movies, Soubin proved that he is equally at ease playing a ruthless villain or a rustic, kind-hearted manager of a sevens football club team in last year’s Sudani from Nigeria . Even while performing characters of myriad shades, he is eagerly waiting to start his next film as a director, after his much-appreciated debut with Parava.
Edited excerpts from an interview with Friday Review .
Becoming Saji in Kumbalangi...
I got to understand Saji’s nature through scenarist Syam Pushkaran’s elaborate descriptions. I was told to take enough time while delivering my dialogues. I could feel his emotions and, often, my eyes became moist while performing the character. Saji truly touched my heart.
Was it difficult to come out of such an intense character?
I had put in so much effort to make the character work and it did take a toll on me. At times I couldn’t talk to anyone even after the shoot was over. After doing an extremely emotional scene at a police station scene, I was so down that on reaching home, my wife wanted to know if I was fine.
Is there a certain comfort zone while working with your friends?
During the shooting of Kumbalangi Nights, we all used to go to the sets every day, regardless of who all were facing the camera on that day. We have been friends for so long and the intimacy is strong. So if I go wrong in a scene, they point that out to me without any qualms. Even when I was not in the frame, Fahadh used to make me sit with him so that he could give the correct reaction during our scenes together. That kind of bonding certainly helps. I have been part of this industry for quite long and I know almost everyone on most sets.
You started acting with Annayum Rasoolum while working as an assistant director and got instant recognition...
Yes, it all happened that way, just by chance. All I had in mind was direction. I am happy that I could direct Parava but to have this space as an actor is a blessing.
You generate laughs through dialogues and mannerisms, instead of resorting to mimicry or slapstick comedy.
Is that so? Actually I haven’t thought about it that way (laughs). I do observe people and their mannerisms. Then there is the experience of working with directors who are adept in handling comedy. All that would have remained in my head and I use all that to suit a situation. It’s an organic process. When we try to become natural, I believe the humour will work.
Your character in Kammattippaadam was in stark contrast to your roles as a comedian till then.
When director Rajeev Ravi called me for that role, he specified that there would be no space for comedy in the film. Initially, I was surprised when he told me there would be a couple of action scenes. The character doesn’t speak even a word. The fight master showed me some moves and I was astonished when I was told to do the action scenes. I did the stunts in my own way and managed it somehow.
It is refreshing when films like Sudani from Nigeria , in which you played the lead, succeed on its merit and not on any star value?
It was the first time that I was doing a role where I was there in almost every scene. Usually, I speak a strong Kochi dialect, while my character in the film, Majeed, hailed from Malappuram. I used to memorise the dialogues as we were shooting with sync sound. There were certain scenes in Sudani from Nigeria that could have been made emotional but we chose not to. For instance, there was a scene at the airport, when Majeed and Samuel hugged each other and exchanged their T shirts. But there was not a singe tear shed. It was left for the audience to feel the emotion.
Turning director with Parava.
I had two stories in my mind. The first was a school love story and the second was about some groups into flying pigeons. I decided to connect both these tales. I narrated it to director Anwar Rasheed while we were returning after the censoring of Premam. I wanted him to direct it. He loved the story and told me to direct Parava myself and that he would produce it. I always wanted to become a director but the project became a reality all on a sudden. It was a dream come true. Frankly, for me, acting is still scary.
You have announced a project with Kunchacko Boban, as your next directorial venture.
There are quite a few acting assignments to complete before starting my next film as a director, hopefully, by the year-end. Actually two projects are there and it has not yet been decided which one to start first.
Your current films as an actor include Ambily and Android Kunjappan ver.5.25 , in which you play the lead.
Right now I am doing Oru Yamandan Premakadha, Trance and Virus. The next schedule of Ambily will start soon. Though the first-look poster of Android Kunjappan ver. 2. 5 has only me and a robot, there is another important character and it has not been finalised who will play that one as yet.
Does breathing life into intense characters affect you as a person?
Yes, it does. I felt it more during the shooting of Kumbalangi Nights. While canning some of those intense moments, Madhu and Shyam used to hug me.
For me, that was extremely reassuring. I am an emotional person. Although I am joking all the time when I am around with my friends, I tend to become sad quickly. Maybe, that was why the role of Saji in Kumbalangi Nights came to me .
Though you stay away from the limelight, you seem to enjoy being active on social media...
I haven’t changed. It’s only that now everything I do gets noticed or discussed. For instance, on a day of a hartal, I was riding a bicycle with one hand, as the road was practically deserted (laughs). That became popular on social media.