How National Award winning actor Appukutty waited on success
Appukutty in a still from Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai
Moviegoers might find themselves recollecting the plot of the1964 Tamil film Server Sundaram when they realise that Appukutty, now a National Award-winning actor for his turn in Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai (The Horse of Azhagarsami), had worked in several hotels and restaurants as a cleaner and server before he turned to acting.
“Life was not kind to me,” says Appukutty, whose real name is Shiva Balan. Originally from Nathan Kinaru, a remote village in the Thiruchendur district, Appukutty came to Chennai to make ends meet with odd jobs. “I was employed in a hotel in a Chennai suburb which housed many of the known shooting and recording studios. Junior artists and technicians from these studios used to be our regular customers.”
It was one of these regulars who introduced himself as a production manager to Appukutty, asking the then-waiter if he was interested in acting in films. “I just laughed. But he turned out to be serious, and asked me to meet him on the studio floor the next day for a possible acting job,” remembers Appukutty. But the meeting turned out to be a disappointment: the ‘production manager’ was nowhere to be seen and the studio staff said that no one with that name worked there. With the restaurant manager and his colleagues taunting him over this turn of events, Appukutty quit the job and began searching for jobs in film studios. “It took me 17 years to establish myself as an actor,” he says.
Bhagwal Singh is an aspiring director who has many memories of Appukutty in his starting days. “He managed to get roles as a junior artist. In fact, some of the movies he worked in did not even show his name in the credit titles. But Appukutty wasn’t deterred by such details,” remembers Singh.
Appukutty enjoyed his first success with Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu (Full Moon Kabaddi Team), a 2009 movie directed by Suseendran. It was Suseendran’s maiden venture as director and the movie quickly became a hit. Though Appukutty’s character was that of one of the seven members of the Full Moon Kabaddi team, his portrayal of the village lad received rave reviews.
“He may not be a conventional star, like Rajnikant or Kamal Hassan or Surya, but Appukutty has the makings of a full-fledged artist. He is here to stay, and winning the National Award is only the beginning of his career,” says Saranya Mohan, the actor who played opposite him in Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai.
According to film critic Sundar Das, Appukutty is a director’s delight. “Appukutty’s assets go beyond his immediate, behavioural acting. He makes full use of his physique to bring his character of the horseman in Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai to life.” Das also points out that Appukutty’s brand of comedy is different from the slapstick kind, as done by Tamil comedian Vadivelu. “Most actors err in knowing the difference between acting for a camera and acting on stage. Appukutty knows how to manage this area,” Das points out.
Who influenced Appukutty in the development of his style? “My God!” he exclaims. “Don’t ask me such questions. How can someone influence me when I do not have the wisdom to differentiate the styles followed by superstars?”
Appukutty gives credit to director Suseendran, as well as his colleagues. “Suseendran moulded me into a Kabaddi player as well as an Azhagarsami,” he says, referring to his earlier film Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu. The actor dedicates the honour of the National Award to his unit as well as other artists. “Usually our directors make stories and scripts to suit the convenience of the stars. Suseendran, on the other hand, wrote the script and only then found actors to portray each character.”
“Its going to be Appukutty’s golden days in Tamil films, because he is not a one-film wonder,” says Das in conclusion. Eight films till date with a commendable striking rate — that’s Appukutty; nay, that’s Nathan Kinaru Shiva Balan.
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