Kerala State Award 2019: A profile of the Best Actor winners, Soubin Shahir and Jayasurya

Neelima Menon

Mar 04, 2019 16:02:06 IST

Mollywood actors Soubin Shahir and Jayasurya are both winners of the Best Actor award at the recently concluded Kerala State Award this year. Their journeys are vastly different — in time, space and direction. One is an established actor, the other is a find of this decade who came in as an aspiring director. In this profile we provide a quick look at both their journeys.

Soubin Shahir, an actor purely by chance

Kerala State Award 2019: A profile of the Best Actor winners, Soubin Shahir and Jayasurya

Soubin Shahir. Image from IMDB.

However much of a cliché it sounds, Soubin Shahir became an actor purely by chance. For someone who slogged behind the camera as an assistant director (his father has been a long-time associate of director Fasil) for 14 years, destiny has never taken a more unpredictable turn. Or a kinder one.

As he had collaborated with a lot of young and old directors (from Siddique-Lal to Anwar Rasheed), he was already familiar to most of them. So, the friendly fill-ins soon extended into lengthy cameos and full-fledged roles. By then Kochi had already turned into the unofficial film capital of Malayalam cinema and a few talented bunch of filmmakers were slowly, steadily ascending into prominence. Malayalam cinema was also ideating with fresh talents, radical themes and technology. It seemed the ideal time for Soubin Shahir to make his entry.

His first registered act was in Rajeev Ravi’s desi spin on Romeo and Juliet, Annayum Rasoolum (2013), where he played one of Fahadh Faasil’s friends, Collin, a small-time drug peddler. “Most of the roles I did were the result of an insistent nudge from friends. I can’t say no to them.”

Then came his breakthrough role. In Alphonse Puthren’s Nivin Pauly starrer, Premam, he brought in a unique brand of poker-faced comedy in Malayalam cinema. He played a physical education college teacher who voluntarily provides tips on wooing women to his colleague, and manipulates him into getting free lunches in return.

There was no stopping the actor after Premam. The goofy Crispin in Maheshinte Prathikaram (2015) seemed to be the cherry on top. Shahir had already cracked the code to entering a cynical Malayali’s heart. Crispin was a quaint little guy — as ordinary and rooted as anyone from a small town can be — who, apart from getting the best punchlines in the film also played a core part in the crucial final fight.

Jayasurya in Njan Marykutty and Soubin Shahir in Kumbalangi Nights. Images from Youtube.

In 2017, Shahir fulfilled his long-cherished dream of turning director with Parava. With an ensemble cast (fresh and veteran actors) placed in the backdrop of Mattanchery’s culture of kite-flying and pigeon rearing, the film revolves around two teenage boys, their crushes, heartbreaks, school and pigeon fixation. For Shahir, it was about a narrative that was familiar to him and it won over the critics and the masses. Throughout this time, as an actor, the 35-year-old has experimented with a variety of comic roles (Charlie, Kali, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, CIA) and even attempted a touch of villainy in Kammatipaadam and Parava.

He also sprung a terrific surprise in debutant Zakariya’s Sudani From Nigeria (2018), a film about sevens football in North Kerala. Shahir played Majeed, the manager of a local sevens football team, who brings immigrant Nigerian players on board. Majeed’s character evolves slowly — from a jovial football manager to a man battling loneliness and insecurity since childhood. Soubin shuttles between his trademark punchlines and emotional breakdowns with practiced ease and it’s an incredibly moving performance.

“No one in Malayalam cinema has embodied innocence in its purest form as Soubin. He also has a pronounced feminine side to him, especially in his gestures and eye movements, that makes the melancholy of his characters seem even more heartbreaking,” says Ramachandran, a freelance film writer.

And this year he topped that performance with another one—as Saji, the eldest of four brothers in a dysfunctional family, in debutant Madhu C Narayanan’s film Kumbalangi Nights. Saji is a subversion of the typical elder brother trope in Malayalam cinema. Shahir handles the complex and layered role with the refinement of a seasoned actor. So, for those who have followed his graph closely, the Kerala State Award for Best Actor holds no surprises.

Jayasurya — an impressive graph

Jayasurya. Image from Twitter.

Jayasurya, who shares the Best Actor award with Shahir, is already a seasoned actor with over 100 films to his credit. But what probably brings them together is their meteoric rise from a junior actor/assistant director to the position of a leading actor in Malayalam cinema. While Soubin never wanted to be an actor, Jayasurya's has been a determined, meticulous pursuit to be an actor. And he has literally worked his way up to stardom.

From being a junior artist and dubbing artist to making an uneventful debut as a mute hero in Vinayan’s Oomapenninu Uriyada Payyan, Jayasurya is a prime example of an actor who worked passionately hard on his craft, refused to set a boundary for himself and always swam against the tide.

It’s been an impressive graph—from playing wimpy lover roles to being part of ensembles films (1998-2006) to finally finding his niche.

He made his debut as a junior actor in 1998, but it wasn’t until Lal Jose’s Classmates (2006) that “the actor” in him surfaced. He played a canny student leader with grey shades. It probably gave him courage to try out more such roles—Arabikatha, Lollipop, Kangaroo, Vairam, Gulumal.  “Kangaroo was a role I asked for and it was a turning point in my life. That’s when I started to take acting very seriously,” he had said in an interview.

From 2010 till now, the sheer range of roles he has tried is nothing short of remarkable. If one were to pick the experimentally courageous ones, it would be the quadriplegic who amazed us with his positivity and caustic humour in Beautiful, the terminally ill patient in Apothecary, the shady, sleazy orphan in Trivandrum Lodge, the caricaturish local gunda in Aadu Oru Bheekara Jeeviyanu, the troubled drunkard in Lukka Chuppi, and of course the award winning roles this year — a transwoman in Njan Marykutty and as VP Sathyan (former football captain of Indian team) in his biopic, Captain.

“I have been astonished by his range and growth. Though I have loved a lot of his performances, I would rate VP Sathyan as his most complete performance. He internalised the footballer, leaving all traces of Jayasurya out of the performance,” says Maneesh Narayanan, film critic.

Strangely, most of his films rode on his performance alone. After Mammootty he is one actor who has the ability to pick dialects and deliver and maintain it with perfection throughout the narrative.

It’s also true that no other actor before or after him in Malayalam cinema has used their body as such an effective tool in performance, and without the help of prosthetics.  For Su su Sudhi Vathmeekam he had a wispy body language, while in Captain, he looked sturdy and fit. The biggest test of all, seeping a delicate and graceful feminineness into his body to play the role of transgender person in Njan Marykutty.

“He knows to pick roles that highlight his acting skills and he delivers them in right doses, there is no melodrama anywhere, just an earnest intensity,” sums up film academician R Achuthan, succinctly, about Jayasurya’s two-decade long career.

Updated Date: Mar 04, 2019 16:06:27 IST