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Interview | Arjun Ashokan: My role in ‘Bramayugam’ is a career milestone

Arjun Ashokan in the film  

After 12 years in the film industry and a mixed bag of roles, his Thevan in Bramayugam may well be Arjun Ashokan’s breakout role. His role in Rahul Sadasivan’s blockbuster fantasy horror thriller film is not an one easy for many reasons, especially the absence of a point of reference for his character. The story is set in 17th century Kerala. “There is not much to really go back and do ‘homework’ or to research,” says Arjun over the phone from the set of Anand Sreebala

As the hapless paanan (singer) trapped in Kodumon Potti’s dilapidated mana (mansion), he has proved his acting chops in a role that his father, actor Harisree Ashokan, called a ‘defining’ one in Arjun’s career. “It is a milestone that I will count among my best. A lot of hard work went into it; all of us put in a lot of work,” he says.

Shot in black and white, visually the film is stark, the focus constantly on the actors. The camera captures every minute expression that flits across their faces. And Arjun’s face is a kaleidoscope of expressions — the navarasas, almost. His eyes convey the paanan’s awe, horror, fear and, even, arrogance.  

Arjun Ashokan in the film

Arjun Ashokan in the film
| Photo Credit:

He explains, “I did not ‘prepare’ because I did not want to ‘judge’ the character or how he should be even before I landed up on the set. We had a few script-reading sessions which also helped with the dialogue delivery — the tone and the way of talking.” 

Arjun agrees he is a director’s actor, everything he was able to do he attributes to Rahul’s guidance. “He told me what to do and how to go about it, and I did exactly that. That [the director’s instructions] was the only thing for me to go by!” 

Not an easy role

Becoming paanan was demanding, “physically it has been one of my challenging roles,” he says. Bramayugam cinematographer Shehnad Jalal reveals that parts of the film were shot in an air-conditioned studio. “It was very cold, but the characters had to be ‘sweating’ which meant they were sprayed with water. They would be shivering.”  

Arjun Ashokan in ‘Bramayugam’

Arjun Ashokan in ‘Bramayugam’
| Photo Credit:

Arjun’s is one of the three characters around whom Bramayugam pivots. The three actors shoulder the film almost entirely.

Did he realise it at the time [of filming]?

“Quite frankly I did not realise it at the time because there would always be 200-odd people on the set. But when I saw the film in its entirety during post-production, it hit me! But then you can’t ever predict or anticipate the response of the audience. We can never know how they would ‘see’ a film. With someone like Mammookka (Mammootty) in the film, the response had to be great,” he says.

Working his way up

When I tell him that it has taken 12 years to get to where he is, he is surprised. “It’s been that long, has it?” He made his acting debut in Orkut Oru Ormakoot (2012). He acted in another film, following which he became an assistant director (AD). “I always wanted to be in films. If not acting, then as an AD.  I would still learn something about films.” Despite being his father’s son, he has carved an independent space for himself. Arjun has charted a course different from his father’s, whose roles (in the past) were primarily comic. 

At 30, the roles he has essayed are an eclectic mix, a showcase of his versatility. Neither has he shied away from mixing it up nor does he get bogged down by the pressure to be choosy. “I cannot be as selective as I want to be. I do, however, try roles that are different from what I have done before,” he says. 

The two characters that got him noticed early in his career were Hakeem in Soubin Shahir’s Parava (2017) and Anand in Ahammed Khabeer’s June (2019). Despite not being a full length role, the audience registered the affable Hakeem in actor Soubin’s directorial debut. Arjun also became part of Romancham because Soubin asked if he could.

Arjun Ashokan in ‘Romancham’

Arjun Ashokan in ‘Romancham’

The murderer Vineeth in Ozler is a dark world apart from Romancham’s Sinu Sebastian, whose mere presence onscreen had people in splits. While he has done versions of the easier, relatable guy-next-door effortlessly in movies such as Theeppori Benny, Member Rameshan 9aam Ward, and Super Sharanya, he throws in a Hamza from Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham. His quiet, resolute presence is a foil to Moidu’s (Nivin Pauly) belligerence.

Arjun’s filmography is peppered with roles such as Mandaram’s Kevin, the rowdy Kannan in Ajagajaantharam, the terrifyingly toxic Johny of Varathan and the unassuming police constable Gireesh of Unda

The journey to Bramayugam’s paanan has taken its time but, he says, “For now I am going with the flow. I want to do solid characters and grow slowly but steadily.” His filmography seems to suggest just that.   

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