Guru Somasundaram on ‘Minnal Murali’: I wasn’t prepared for this level of adulation

In conversation with Guru Somasundaram, who has been getting rave reviews for his portrayal of a ‘soft’ villain in Basil Joseph’s superhero movie, ‘Minnal Murali’

“After Minnal Murali’s premiere, someone in the audience walked up to me and asked, ‘Can I hug you?’.” Guru Somasundaram breaks into a laugh remembering the incident. Life has changed overnight for him after the film dropped on Netflix on Christmas eve. His nuanced performance as the antagonist has been widely appreciated by critics and audiences alike.

There is a child-like joy in Guru as he talks about the movie. “I generally don’t watch my movies. In fact, I rarely check the monitor after giving a shot. But when I started working on Minnal Murali, I felt it was going to be special. So I watched it with the whole team before the premiere and I was shocked. It was as if I had been struck by lightning, just like my character in the movie,” he laughs.

The film, set in a village called Kurukkammoola, revolves around two men — Jaison (Tovino) and Shibu (Guru), who are struck by lightning on the same night. Both gain superpowers and circumstances pit them against each other.

Unrequited love and society’s indifference to his plight make Shibu an embittered man. In Basil’s words, Shibu is the “second hero” and not the villain.

Guru Somasundaram in a scene from ‘Minnal Murali’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Rarely does the audience root for a villain. But Shibu’s character design managed to do that. Not many know that Guru is the same deplorable villain in ‘Sethulakshmy’, one of the segments in the five-film Malayalam anthology, 5 Sundarikal (2013). He acted as a studio owner who abuses a school girl (Anikha Surendran) in the segment directed by cinematographer Shyju Khalid. “I know how much people hated the character in ‘Sethulakshmy’. And here is Shibu who wins people’s hearts despite his actions. I was not prepared for this level of adulation,” he says.

Becoming Shibu

Basil and his team met Guru in 2019 to discuss the project. “He narrated the full script, playing the background music on his phone! I didn’t expect that I would get to do so much; I was prepared for the physical and emotional transformation of the character. Things went on to another level once I started shooting,” says Guru, who made his debut with Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s cult movie, Aaranya Kaandam.

Guru believes he owes it all to his decade-long association with Chennai-based Koothu-P-Pattarai, one of the prominent theatre groups in the country. “I grew up in Madurai, which had so many theatres. I have watched a lot of movies in my childhood with my mother. Becoming an actor was the last thing on my mind during my growing up years because I was shy. I took up a job after finishing my studies. However, after a point I felt lost and didn’t know what to do. That is when I read about Koothu-P-Pattarai and I fell in love with theatre.”

He recalls that during Navarathri, his mother would take him out dressed up as a girl. Probably the acting part came from there!

Theatre gives the confidence to improvise, he adds. “When writers give space for me to improvise, I always make use of it. It is like blowing a balloon to its maximum capacity. You have to ensure that it doesn’t burst, though. Similarly, I improvise without changing the crux of the scene,” he explains.

Guru Somasundaram in a scene from ‘Minnal Murali’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The first step to becoming Shibu, says Guru, was learning Malayalam. He took lessons from YouTube and can now read and write the language. “I believe that it is important for an actor to learn the language to portray the emotion. It was also about establishing a bond with every one on the set. Knowing the language gave me a special energy and that helped my performance,” he says.

Actor-director Dileesh Pothan had dubbed for Guru in 5 Sundarikal. “Initially, when I struggled with the dialogues, Basil used to pull my leg saying ‘I will have to call Dileesh again’. However, after a scene with Harisree Asokan where he gets murdered, Basil told me that I should dub for my character.”

He also watched Malayalam movies to pick up the language. “I saw many movies of Sreenivasan sir, such as Nadodikattu, Angane Oru Avadhikalathu, Akkare Akkare Akkare… One movie I watched multiple times was Njan Prakashan. It had simple dialogues,” says Guru, who has also acted in critically-acclaimed Jigarthanda (2014), Joker (2016) and Jai Bhim (2021).

Guru is elated that he is acting in Mohanlal’s directorial debut, Barroz in February. His upcoming Malayalam release is Abhilash S Kumar’s Chattambi, along with Sreenath Bhasi and Chemban Vinod.

His dream is to do a full-length comedy role. “Many people have told me that I remind them of Nagesh sir. He is a fabulous artiste even though we have seen him more in comedies,” he adds.

Does he have a favourite villain-actor? “Raghuvaran sir. I believe that a villain has to be have some honesty about him. That is something I learnt from a Brazilian theatre artiste. He observed that heroes in our films remain good and villains are always bad. According to him, there should be a mix of good and bad in the characters. Raghuvaran sir’s villain roles had that blend. I like to play such characters,” he concludes.

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