Roshan Mathew is one of the few Malayalam actors of the current generation to have a career that began on stage. The 27-year-old actor, known for his roles in movies such as Aanandam and Koode, worked with several big and small professional theatre companies in Chennai and Mumbai for over seven years before he got busy in films. In February 2019, he directed A Very Normal Family, a play that premiered at the Mathrubhumi International Festival Of Letters 2019, in Thiruvananthapuram. He will soon be seen in two interesting film projects – Shanavas Bavakkutty’s Thottappan, and Geetu Mohandas’ Moothon.
In a short conversation with Silverscreen, the young actor talks about his love for theatre and his film career that is getting better with each passing year.
Roshan insists that he cannot talk about his character in Thottappan, except for the interesting tidbit that he plays a rustic character, different from the urbane roles he had been doing so far. “I had been longing for an opportunity to do such a character. This came at the right time, with the perfect team. He got the part through Rajeev Ravi, the cinematographer of Moothon, the film he worked on before. “An actor who was supposed to play the character backed out at the last minute, and Rajeev sir suggested my name to Shanavas sir.”
In Aanandam, which shot him to fame, Roshan played a young metrosexual musician suffering from an identity crisis. He played a musician in Anjali Menon’s Koode too, but with a bigger, more stellar team. His role in Vishwasapoorvam Mansoor, a tragic drama set against communal riots and divisive politics, required him to tap into his gravitas. He played the antagonist in Oraayiram Kinakkal, a low-profile thriller-drama last year. Now, he is excited about Moothon, directed by Geetu Mohandas, where he plays a pivotal role alongside Nivin Pauly. “I was not involved in the first schedule. She (Geetu) didn’t even know of my existence then. I was just one of the many people looking forward to watch this movie from the day it was announced. Eight months later, after its first schedule was over, I was called in to play the part,” he says.
Geethu is among the greatest directors I have worked with, he says. “I will always be grateful to her for giving me Moothon. It was a big project to walk into. I remember looking at its first poster and telling myself what a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity must it be to work in such a film, with a dream team. It was overwhelming to land a project like this. And, Geetu ensured that I made most of this experience,” he says.
Recently, he also worked in Siddharth Siva’s Varthamanam, a drama set in a Delhi college. Parvathy TK plays the protagonist in the film which touches upon politics in the country. They are now on a schedule break due to the elections.
Roshan’s heart, though, lies in theatre that changed his life in ways he hadn’t foreseen as a teenager. He dropped out of an engineering course in Kochi, and moved to Chennai to join BSc Physics in Madras Christian College where he discovered his flair for acting. “There were theatre events in college, and I tuned my skills. Then, I was introduced to professional theatre companies in the city.”
Roshan felt perfectly at home in Chennai’s vibrant theatre scene. “Theatre production takes a longer time span than movies. I made friends. Most of them didn’t look at it as a career, but as their passion. They had a day job they didn’t like, and it was on stage that they found joy. Everyone was happy to be on stage. The energy was infectious,” says Roshan. “I was doing play after play, and wouldn’t even go home on college holidays but stay back in the city and rehearse.”
To further hone his acting chops, Roshan spent three years at Drama School Mumbai. Cinema happened much later. “I love acting, and cinema was the only other place I could expand my area of work to. In Mumbai, I started attending auditions for films in Mumbai because I wanted a job to sustain myself in an expensive city. I did whatever that came my way – ad films, web series, and Malayalam films such as Puthiya Niyamam and Adi Kapyaare Kootta Mani..”
He moved to Kochi after Aanandam, when Mumbai started tiring him out. “I couldn’t keep up with its pace. The city kept me motivated, it showed me that I had it to live an actor’s life. Mumbai gave me a lot of answers. But then, it became difficult to breathe. I shifted to Kochi when I felt I was running too hard. At that point, Kochi was a very welcome change. It is pleasantly slow, and I could enjoy its silence and lull if I wanted to. But the flip side was that I didn’t have a local friends’ circle, and had to start building one from scratch,” he says. After a year-and-a-half of living in Kochi, he teamed up with a group of artistes to make A Very Normal Family. ” I guess I was missing theatre very much then. So, I decided to direct a play rather than wait for stage acting opportunities.”
Although Roshan’s family was not particularly pleased about his career choice, they didn’t detract him. “They had their apprehensions. There is always going to be a communication gap. Our choices might not always make sense to them,” he says. “I had them to fall back on while living in Mumbai. Aspiring actors around me were living a tougher life. There were struggling actors who didn’t have family support.”
In Mumbai, there are many avenues for aspiring actors to make a living, even if meager, while in the Malayalam film industry, things are different, he says. “When I came in, the payment system for novice actors here wasn’t very healthy. It took me by surprise because I came from Mumbai. But, it has gotten a lot better over the past two years.”
In Kochi, he hopes to make more plays with the team of artistes he has put together. Most of the stories, he says, come from his childhood and formative years spent in Changanassery, his hometown. “No matter wherever I go, it’s that small town I belong to. I want to narrate stories that reflect on the many questions I had and still have about life and the society,” says Roshan. There are political, cultural and social issues that he wants to talk about, although he doesn’t want to limit his plays to one genre, for the sake of it. “I want to connect the narrative to my experiences. I take inputs from my actors, my surroundings, ask questions and weave something out of it. A Very Normal Family came from that approach. It deals with something perceived as very normal in our society. We found a narrative where our questions beautifully fit.”
Although he is preparing to create a permanent home in Kochi, Roshan isn’t sure if he fits in the space. “Working in films is stressful. This field of work offers no security. You go through constant flux. One day, you are hopeful, the next day nothing comes up. Its exhausting,” he says. Luck is an important factor, he adds. “People might say it isn’t and hard work is all that matters, but I can say from my experiences that it’s not true. In this stream of work, luck is instrumental.”
But, he doesn’t feel too uncomfortable too. “I have had a phase where I felt I did not fit in anywhere. While playing Gautham in Aanandam, I derived a lot of inputs from my own experiences. In a way, that film was liberating. It helped me be comfortable in my own identity.”
The Roshan Mathew Interivew is a Silverscreen Exclusive