Dwija Aami and Sreerag Poickadan
Malayalam actor Vinayakan has received the Kerala State government's Best Actor Award 2016 for the Malayalee film Kammatpadam, recently. His interview by Jimmy James in Asianet News television channel for the programme 'Point Blank' on March 13, 2017, became viral on social media owing to his bold answers, straightforwardness and the assertion of his 'Pulaya' identity.
In the movie, he plays Ganga, a representative of the erased off native communities like the Pulayas, a marginalized caste of Cochin, Kerala, who were pushed out from the margins of the city as it was being built. There was certain criticism raised against the 'Uppered caste' gaze of the movie. However, Vinayakan's character has made a strong impact, which even led to a public campaign for him to get the award. The interview was transcribed by Dwija Aami and Sreerag Poickadan for Round Table India.
Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk1MUQiQUAg
Interviewer: People wished that this person should get the award, they demanded that this award should only go to that particular someone and at last, the award committee's decision also favoured the people's wish. I am talking about this year's Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor. This time we have Vinayakan with us in Point Blank, who has won the state's best actor award. Welcome.
Interviewer: People who are interested in cinema in Kerala are really happy with your award. You haven't acted as a hero, not a very popular actor too, but, this time what could be the reason behind people wanting you to get this award?
Vinayakan: One thing: I think the character Ganga had created a pain among the audience and in everyone. That is the core reason. Another reason which I realized recently while talking to others is that, it is also a protest that has been forming. These two are (the reasons).
Interviewer: Protest against what?
Vinayakan: I think mostly it's among young people, there is a revolution of knowledge happening there. There is a question young ones are asking themselves: what are we living for? They know this now itself, though a lot of old people may not know it yet. Young ones know what they are living for, they know that they live to enjoy, knowing that and starting to enjoy that.
Interviewer: The protests we saw in Delhi campuses, protests we see in Kerala right now.. People are gathering together instantly. For example, the one in Marine Drive, people are coming together naturally to protest, and political parties are forced to join them.
Vinayakan: Yes, the same reason is behind all these, everything is lined up as a chain behind this. Perhaps, I have stood in the front of these protests as a part of the movie, "Kammattipadam" also has stood before them. If we think about it seriously other links in this chain are associated to things that are worse. It starts from the fact that a girl was brutally killed. Before that when Anna Hazare sat (on fast) also, it was not people of his age who came, it was young people. It may be 6 or 7 or 8 people who are ruling, but the people who are being ruled is a big society. It is that society (referring to "Kammattipadam"), it is the pain that society went through, a society being deceived in many ways... I am saying the same the thing about the path to Ganga's house.
Interviewer: Is it?
Vinayakan: Yes, think about it, the path beside Ganga's house is the same, isn't it? He was living in such a wide (plot of) land, but when finally his dead body was being taken, that shot was devastating, though I was not present in that shot. Those who were carrying his body, both their shoulders were scraped while taking through that way.
Interviewer: Because it was narrow.
Vinayakan: In Indian society there is a land like that, where you cannot take a corpse for last rites, conveniently. That's the real "Kammattipadam", where I was born, grew up and sat and walked, that "Kammattipadam" is like that.
Interviewer: Is this how the Dalits in Kochi were pushed out? Has "Kammattipadam" really happened like that?
Vinayakan: There is not even one "Kammattipadam" anymore, that's the most painful thing for me. We can only see "Kammattipadams" 'from above' now, all these have become narrow paths. What I meant by 'from above' is that, only if you climb on a house near mine, then only you can see it. It has become like that. I have seen in Tamil Nadu, in the same way they all live together, they are farmers, they have narrow paths that leads to their settlements too, but after that you can see paddy fields in abundance around. Here in the exactly same kind of plot, concrete kept accumulating and then you level and heighten the plot for buildings, so our houses keep going down, and the dirt from above comes to our place, like have I told you, even now we live in dirt for six months. Even now, "Kammattipadam" is the place where most amount of Ernakulam's wastes gets deposited on. Of all kinds.
Interviewer: There are many "Kammattipadams" like that.
Vinayakan: Many are there, eg: Thevara, I know these places, Kathrikadavu etc. One thing that the "System" did, I don't understand why was this done, in places like Kathrikadavu, or a place where people are staying like in "Kammattipadam", a bridge will come. That's something I have noticed in all cases. In all these main places, first a bridge comes, then people leave these places and gradually it becomes dark. This phrase "under bridge" was widely used, is used even now, in Kochi. Even today, if you use the term, "under bridge", it means something very dark/negative.
Interviewer: Yeah like underworld.
Vinayakan: Actually this "under bridge" is the place where people used to live earlier. We should call it "town" only. All these things became dark by calling it "underbridge". It is a place where police keeps coming. They have made it a dark place, even lights are set like that. It has become that other side of the city. People like me live in that dark.
Interviewer: While you were coming up in your life in Kochi, you must have put on a lot of roles. Ganga in "Kammattipadam" is a character who had to take up the knife on many occasions without planning it in life. Do you have a story like that?
Vinayakan: It's not a story, it's a part of my life. It has happened as part of this process of pushing-under-the-bridge act, that I mentioned. If I explain how it is: you must have seen my house, when I get up in the morning and open my eyes I would see a person who has come to take a shit right in front of my house, some 10 meters away. Then I would talk to him in Sanskrit to leave that place (joking). He would still be there, then I will talk to him in a little Malayalam, "chetta please leave". Then some intellectual jargon like "coincidental -swinging", I could use, nevertheless these things won't work there. Everybody knows what will work there. That slang is something I use even today, otherwise people will only increase in front of my house.
So, after doing it on my face what is the rightfulness in saying the language I used was wrong? Who are saying that? They can do this to me, and what's the point in saying my language is derogatory. I am never going to change that as long as I live there. That's my way. There are words to be used in the army, for computers also there are particular words, there is a slang to be used for the guy who comes to shit in front my house, another one to be used in a temple. They will go on like that.
I have only twenty years ahead of me, I am someone who has known twenty years like two days, sometimes. I have only two more days. I may die even, should I change so? I should not change. If I change it will be a problem for my friends. If you ask me what the problem is, I have lived so far by resisting when resistance is needed. And telling the truth. If I change today, if I change today because I got an award, they will not see truth in what I say tomorrow. I, who sees 20 years as two days, who is going to die when I am sixty, should I do that?
Interviewer: Vinayakan who came from that old Kammatipadam, where we have the KSRTC stand now - you now live near the bus stand, close to that "Kammattipadam" - has done Ganga's role.
Interviewer: What's your role in Kochi's real story?
Vinayakan: In reality, my story is a brighter one. I have never had a tragic story associated with my life. I was a flamboyant Michael Jackson. Looking at the mirror, I would just decide that I am handsome like MJ. Even if there is nothing, I would think that I am really good at everything. I never stopped thinking that way, it's only that. Like I said yesterday, many vicious things will come to drown us, like caste, religion, skin color, hullabaloos like that. Fighting all these are about physical and mental power. The same are needed for taking part in a war, only when you think of the inhibitions, it will pull you back. I would feel that nobody is pulling me back, if you fight and go forward, that pull cannot exist any longer.
Interviewer: Have you ever felt that, caste, religion, skin color pulled you back, or have tried to pull you back in any way?
Vinayakan: I have felt that only when I started thinking about it. When I look at my friends otherwise, I feel they are all kings, they are kings. In fact a lot among the highly privileged persons in the "system" are my friends, so that's it. 'Inferiority complex' - isn't that the word for it? I should be using that right? Okay. I have cut that word, I don't know how to use that word, I don't how that word is pronounced, because that doesn't exist in me. Because of that people even say "he has some damn thick skin."
I will just keeping going ahead, just like that. I will just wipe it off and keep going up, otherwise I would not be sitting in this place. I am someone who thinks in an Ayyankali thought. If it's possible to come in a Ferrari car, I think of coming in that, that's how I think. I won't go back thinking I am a 'Pulayan'. I have that Ayyankali thought. If I can, I will have a golden crown also. There is only but so little time, I am 43 already, a little more time left.
Interviewer: How did you start dancing?
Vinayakan: I am a pulayan, so dance, rhythm - these exist heavily inside me, it's in my body. At home, even if its muddy, we, including my mom, will play "Onakkali" for all ten days in that mud.
Interviewer: You have said that dance is an inborn thing for you.
Interviewer: How did that pave the way for your dancing career?
Vinayakan: One: Michael Jackson, 'Remember the time', I can never forget that song. While I was tapping on the mud also, I had these things in my mind. I love dancing. Automatically Jackson got into my mind then. Before that it was Bob Marley who caught my attention. Then Michael bro came (giggles). I liked dancing through him, then the concept of following U.S began, I too followed.
Most priceless concept in the world is art. When I am saying art, I mean including the person who is spreading this carpet (pointing at the carpet in the studio). There is a measurement for everything, only those who know that can be artists. Even if someone who owns a Ferrari is wooing a girl, and someone else, let's say it is you, draws her portrait and gives it to her, she will think before going to the rich guy. That's what art is, it is priceless.
Interviewer: Someone like that, who thought of art like that, when he came to cinema, was sidelined with small roles and villain roles for ten - fifteen years, were you intentionally continuing like that? Also, music, was it that you didn't try in music industry or they did not call you? What was happening in those 15 years?
Vinayakan: For me music has to be truthful, it's only me. I can't collaborate with another person, whatever happens, whatever I make has to be only mine. I have always wanted it to be my own, but when you do it for a movie, it becomes about it. Music as it is used in the movie, is more like a BGM, it's only a small part of the real music. It's like putting RR for this programme. Because there are songs in movies, that's why music is getting involved.
Interviewer: When they said you have a role in '"Kammattipadam"', you said you would like to do a song too, in the same movie. Did you have that tune already on your mind?
Vinayakan: Rajiv Ravi has mentioned how it's going to be, almost. I hummed and made him listen on phone, and he liked it. So I gave the idea to Anwarettan (lyricist of the movie '"Kammattipadam"'), he wrote it. Then only it was made. Mainly there is a rhythm in that song, because I am a pulayan, that rhythm of onakkali tap steps are in there. Even now we have onakkali for ten days at home every year, I hope it will continue as long as my amma is there.
(Singing a song from "Kammattipadam"):
Akkanum maa malayonnum
Ee kayal kayavum karayum
Puzhu pulikal Pakki parunthukal
Puzhu pulikal Pakki parunthu kal
Pala kaala Paradeivangal
Narakichu porukkum ividam...
Kalahichu marikkumm ividam
Ihalokam en thirumakane...(Ending)
Vinayakan: Then the sound mixed is bus stand announcement, that's the first sound that came to my mind, that's something I grew up listening to.
Interviewer: Was it your idea to add that?
Vinayakan: Yeah, in making, many elements like that will be added to music. It starts with the chirping of birds and then a bus' movement and ends in this sound of a busy bus stand, that is '"Kammattipadam"' (place). When you stand in the bus stand you would know that this is "Kammattipadam".
Interviewer: So, it's this kind of songs that you have in your mind?
Vinayakan: No, not just this kind of songs. My rhythms are dance based. I am not joking. Here club dance is cut down, people won't do exercise here. In other countries, they dance after drinking. We won't even move here. Why won't we just jump around? Why are they keeping all the happiness knotted up inside themselves? You are not supposed to dance after eating or drinking? I don't understand that logic. It will only get burned if you dance. Those who are saying this must have some serious diseases. They all have Diabetes. If you drink and eat like that you will have Diabetes. All you got to do is to dance. No need of power, if body is not there what's the need of rule? For whom? That's when we doubt ourselves. You just have to take care of your body first and then look at other things.
Interviewer: Are music and dance the things that make you the happiest?
Vinayakan: Yeah, we close our eyes then, right? There is no vision. It is a concept where we stop being ourselves. It is the absolute truth. Greatest in the world. There are two words, me and the other half of me should join, like the concept of 'Tandava'.
Interviewer: The day the awards were announced was a day you got a lot of fame all of a sudden. All the cameras turned towards you, reached your home. But some of your responses I found quite strange. What happened that day?
Vinayakan: I got to know about the award through TV at a friend's house. That's when I officially got to know. That's how I come home to meet my amma. Mostly she doesn't want to meet me, she just wants to know I am around. I came by the railway station and called her, she came to me and I said, "I will stab you dumbass". This is how we talk at home. How this become a phrase at home, is because of Haneefka, he was a very close family friend. That's his famous dialogue. But when you people came, it literally became, I will stab my mother.
Interviewer: In front of the media you mean?
Vinayakan: Media means ignorance. Because of this media person's sheer ignorance he is ordering me next: "Hug your mom"!
Interviewer: Yeah someone said that.
Vinayakan: What does that mean? That is not how you are supposed to do. People would like to see the real me, if I am dancing, that.. they would like to see that, other than that I wouldn't have media persons ordering me around about my postures. I can sure do better than that. I can give such amazing postures, you know. By the time I got down from the car and was reaching, someone was already asking me to do some cheering action. Yesterday while talking to a family friend who was visiting me, he asked me, "Brother, did you understand what was he asking you to do?" I said no. So he tells me: "He meant what you did while receiving Cinema Paradiso Club award, it became viral on Facebook. So you do it again so that he will again get a viral video."
Do you have any idea how many of my friends are in print media? So many are there. I can give this viral news to one of my friends, right? I was being frank then, I lead my life in a clear way. That's why I had the decency to conduct a press conference. I expected everyone to show that decency, it didn't happen though. You know why I am special, I became a prodigal son for my amma, the media portrayed me like that. They wanted me to kiss my amma, I swear I have never kissed my amma in all my life. We don't have jalebi at home, not just that, we don't even keep salt at home. Then why is he coming to a house like that with sweets, isn't that just to make money out of it next day?
Interviewer: Yeah, for next day's picture.
Vinayakan: No, it's to get paid that month by creating that hype. Then some people will comment on Facebook, "wow, what a shot!", to impress women like that. It is exactly that. But you should not use my mother for that. My mother is diabetic, you will leave after all this, my amma will faint and I will have to carry her to hospital. You know what's happening then, people who ignored me for 20 years are selling me again. That concept is 'page three'. It's pure cheating, it's the same page three deception that happens everywhere. They will say they will give you this and that in cinema, they will finish their shots and disappear.
Interviewer: How long do you think you can you defy 'Page Three' and be the same?
Vinayakan: Towards the end of life. That's why I am saying this, page one and six and seven have included me, I am blaming only page three. It is deception, other pages are genuine. I didn't come for a programme titled Badai Bungalow in Asianet, this is Asianet's programme too right? I didn't come for that, for me life is not a comic act, it is serious like this. I am coming from a system like that. So I wouldn't want to sell myself there for comedy. I don't want to stage such comedy at my home either. Now I won't change, even for the next twenty years I won't change. If I change I would have been deceiving my friends. I would have been deceiving my family, for forty years. For me it's deceiving all those people who stood with me for forty years. How can I change then? They will know how Vinayakan is like, if he gets mad, he will say things, if he is happy he will be jovial with you, that's the whole idea of me. So, a new senseless journalist is asking me to do something.
Interviewer: That would be page three.
Vinayakan: Obviously, and I am not page three.
Interviewer: If we look at your characters on screen, most of them belong to oppressed caste or class or are villains, it has a tone like that. Breaking this design also would be desirable for you.
Interviewer: Are you planning on doing on something of that sort?
Vinayakan: To break this I may have to operate by myself firstly, I am thinking about all these. Then it has to come from outside also. Personally I wouldn't approach people asking that. I mention this to friends during discussion. I will do such characters of different roles. Vinayakan needs a Paramasivan or a Suresh or a Thomas again. They are all suffering the same pain. I will do that. Ganga is over. Now it's got to be about Vinayakan.
Interviewer: For this year, Vinayakan will be the best actor in Kerala. From now onwards where all we should expect Vinayakan? What are you going to do? In other words, in one year's time. where you will be standing?
Vinayakan: Vinayakan would be still at "Kammattipadam" (laughs). I am thinking of group oriented activities. In them, my voice will be there, others' voices will be there. May be I could make some new music, new styles may come, a new band maybe. My style would be for dancing, like a free style dancing. Like "Dappan Koothu" in Tamil Nadu, to dance without any rules, to create music for this ruleless dancing, is my wish in life. If four or five dance to that music, that will make me very happy. That's my greatest wish. We may like music; I think music can also enter our body. It will enter without us knowing. If I can enter it through my music, it becomes the absolute truth.
Interviewer: Isn't it going to be really difficult, since in India or Kerala, people may go to watch the sea, but won't get dipped in it, or listen to music or watch a dance performance, but never partake in them.
Vinayakan: I think we Malayalis do it the most. We are always pulled back, We just fool around instead of dancing, only if you keep doing the silly steps, you could dance in some time. People who don't know how to dance should try dancing at least. Seriously. It makes you really happy.
Interviewer: Is it that great?
Vinayakan: Of course. In the sense, you could do it at home, I am not asking you to do it at a bar after getting drunk. Just do some steps at home for a wedding or some function, with all your family. Just do it, just give yourself some happiness, then you will realize the pleasure of dancing. All people have this inside them, but they won't, but they won't just show it outside.
Interviewer: Thank you so much Vinayakan for taking part in the interview and talking.
Vinayakan: It's a pleasure.
Transcribed and translated by Dwija Aami, Research Scholar, Department of Translation Studies, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, and Sreerag Poickadan, Research Scholar, Centre for Study Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, University of Hyderabad.
Pictures courtesy: the internet.