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From stage to screen

K. PRADEEP

Although Kalasala Babu has been an actor for more than three decades, it is only now that he has got his due.


I have always been very particular about my reputation, even when it came to roles. Kalasala Babu



BORN ACTOR: Kalasala Babu's experience on the stage has stood him in good stead. Photo: H. Vibhu

For 32 years he has been acting, on stage and the screen, big and small. His face and distinctive acting style have always been applauded. But somehow the actor and the name, Kalasala Babu, began to be noticed only in the last four or five years. A seasoned stage actor, Babu began to attract attention first through television serials and then with some powerful cameos in films. Today, Babu has smoothly slipped into the space left vacant by character actors like N.F. Varghese and Narendra Prasad. This recognition, though late, has been reward for his resilience and belief in his abilities.

Illustrious parents

Of course, acting was there in his genes. The son of Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and Mohiniyattam exponent Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Babu, however, never stepped into the field of classical arts.

"Maybe my father did not encourage me to take up Kathakali because he knew fully well about the trials and tribulations that a Kathakali artiste had to go through. When I completed my graduation he asked me what I intended to do and when I told him that my first choice was acting, he did not object. Once, actor Thilakan asked my father why he did not initiate me into Kathakali. And I will never ever forget the reply he gave. He said that whether I was good or bad, either way, his reputation was at stake," says Babu, in his baritone voice.

The shadow of his illustrious parents has always hovered over Babu. It made him very conscientious and responsible. "I have always been very particular about my reputation, even when it came to roles. It is not that I have reached a stage when I can afford to be choosy. But I have very often politely rejected roles that I thought would not suit me. Even in a soap, I try not to get the worst role. I surely got a lot of respect because of my parents, but it was never used to secure roles."

Although Babu began acting in radio plays even while he was in college, it was in 1973, after his graduation, that he really began to take acting seriously. In his very first play, `Paanchajanyam,' produced by Drisyakalanjali, Babu did a good job.

He was offered roles by the late O. Madhavan in Kalidasa Kala Kendram, where he worked for two years, and by K.T. Mohammed in a few of his plays. It was during this time that Babu was offered a chance to act in a film.

"That was in 1977. The film `Inayethedi' was the first venture of John Paul, George Kitho, Kaloor Dennis and Antony Eastman. I was cast alongside Silk Smitha, who made her Malayalam debut in this film. The film, made in black and white, was released at a time when films were being made in colour. That was one reason why it flopped."

A year after this, Babu started his drama troupe, `Kalasala' in Thripunithura. "The idea was not to be just another group. For us, drama was not merchandise. We had Thilakan, the late Surasu and some other excellent artistes. Our first play `Thalavattom,' based on a script by Surasu turned out to be a big hit despite having an anti-hero as its main character. We did nine plays in all, based on scripts by eminent theatre personalities like P.J. Antony, Sreemoolanagaram Vijayan, N.N. Pillai and others. Finally, in 1980 we pulled down the shutters. Lack of good scripts was the prime reason for doing so."

For four years after this Babu tried his hand in the rubber business.

"That was a terrible phase in my life. I had a family to support. That was when I realised that acting was my destiny." Babu was back at Kalidasa Kala Kendram and even went on to tour the United States with them.

For a couple of years he also worked with Chalakudy Sarathy at the request of Thilakan.

A new chapter

"I had just begun afresh when I got an invitation to act in a 13-episode television serial `Kala.' The role of Rowdy Dasappan went down well with the audience. This happened towards the fag end of 1999. In the three years after this I must have acted in around 28 mega serials. It was the beginning of a new chapter."

Babu made his comeback into films through `Kasturimaan.' The role of the stingy moneylender, Theevizhungi Lonappan, stood out for its precise, unpretentious portrayal. It was the emergence of a new character actor. Babu was flooded with roles. Films like `Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum,' `Sasneham Sumitra,' `Balettan,' `Vajram,' `Ullam,' `Runway,' `Made in USA,' Thommanum Makallum,' `Ben Johnson,' Rapakkal,' and the recently released `Sarkar Dada' and `Lokanathan IAS.'

"For the first time, in `Lokanathan IAS,' I got a positive role. I play Koyakka, Kalabhavan Mani's godfather. I hope this will pave the way for more such roles.

One film that I'm looking forward to is Joshy's `The Lion.' I'm slated to play a significant role in this film."

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