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Challenge is for those who don’t have the ability to do it: Kay Kay Menon – Birthday special

On the actor’s 52nd birthday, here are some of the thoughts Menon expressed at an interaction at the 9th Jagran Film Festival.

Blessy Chettiar

Kay Kay Menon’s acting prowess is unquestionable. His act as the firebrand revolutionary Siddharth Tyabji in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005) brought him the recognition that had been eluding him because his first film Paanch (2003) never got released.

In Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar (2005), Menon played Vishnu Nagare and won the Filmfare award for Best Performance in a Negative Role. He went on to act in memorable films like Black Friday (2007), Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007), Gulaal (2009) and Haider (2014).

His recent films include The Ghazi Attack (2017), in which he played the hot-headed sailor Captain Ranvijay Singh, and Vodka Diaries (2018), where he played the fumbling ACP Ashwini Dixit.

Vodka Diaries was screened to a packed auditorium at the recently concluded 9th Jagran Film Festival in Mumbai.

On the actor’s 52nd birthday (he was born on 2 October 1966), here are some thoughts Menon expressed at an interaction after the screening of Vodka Diaries.

On how easy or difficult it was to play ACP Ashwini Dixit in Vodka Diaries (2018)

Actually, it wasn’t Ashwini Dixit, but Rishi Gautam trying to be ACP Ashwini Dixit. This becomes a problem as an actor. It’s very easy to play a robust cop and fool the audience, and then become a writer. But the idea was to play a writer who was trying to be a cop and which is why he doesn’t do things like a cop. He is quite a weak person.

Sometimes the audience gets slightly confused as to why is he doing this. He doesn’t look like a cop. It’s like [lyricist] Gulzar saheb trying to be a cop. He is basically a writer, essentially a sensitive man. In Vodka Diaries, this sensitive man has a mental illusionary problem, which is why he does these things.

On playing a cop many times but delivering something new every time

I present a person, not a role. I don’t present a cop or a lawyer or a professor. I often said this that if I am playing Mahesh the cop and Suresh the cop, I am playing Mahesh and Suresh, not the cop. This is how I normally approach acting. And maybe that’s why it seems different.

On which role was tougher — Khurram Meer in Haider (2014) or ACP Ashwini Dixit in Vodka Diaries (2018)

Kay Kay Menon in Vodka Diaries (2018)

I don’t count roles as easy or tough. For me it’s either interesting or boring. I don’t look at it as a challenge. Challenge is for those who don’t have the ability to do it. Films can either be extremely interesting or extremely boring.

On what can be done to preserve craft as well as artiste in a market-driven industry

If I find an answer to this, I could be awarded the Nobel prize. Market is a mystery, nobody can say with full conviction that they have found a formula. People like or don’t like films. Films are successful, sometimes bad films become successful, good ones don’t. There is no solution for this right now. One should fund research on this and someone should get a Nobel for finding a formula.

On working with new directors

I have a long connection with new directors. I have worked with a lot of new directors, including Anurag Kashyap. It’s in my genes to work with new people. There are new angles, thoughts and a new perspective that comes in, and that excites me. When a new thought comes in, your enthusiasm increases too. I love working with new people. There’s good and bad too, and it’s your judgement that you associate with the good people.

On leaving behind an intense character

I do deep characters, but I have a ladder close at hand to escape. I understand that acting is my passion as well as my job. If someone is a pilot and can fly well, he can’t fly a plane in his house, can he? We have to be passionate about our work, but at the same time dispassionate after a point.

I follow the principle that I am a dispassionately passionate actor. Till the dubbing stage of a film, I am completely passionate, and then completely dispassionate. I have that ability given by providence.

On acting being just talent or a product of upbringing

You have to see your whole life, the way you have grown up, how your thinking has been moulded in your formative years. If you go in a proper mould at that time, life becomes very interesting as far as your profession is concerned. You have to think about it in depth in your younger days itself.

For me, it was the stage that I liked from childhood. For the first time I felt completely free as a person. That prompted me to get into acting, and not the fact that you could buy a car or a bungalow by acting. That wasn’t my aim. It’s a different kind of freedom that you don’t get normally. I believe that an artiste is always born, not made. Stars are normally made.

On finding one's inner calling

You need to find your swadharma [calling] as early as possible. When I was 22, I got lost and went to pursue my MBA. It’s helpful to be educated. But I realized it’s not my swadharma. I was pursuing something that was my desire, not my calibre. So I did advertising, but it was not for me.

If you can find your calling beforehand, and keep at it, you can be an expert in it. But if it’s just your desire, there will be a limit to it. Whatever you take from life, just analyse it for a minute and you will know what you are an expert in. And I believe I am an expert actor.

On change brought about by content-driven films today

Until a change does not remain constant, you can’t call it a change. When I came into films, there used to be a parallel cinema movement and we thought everything would change now. But nothing changed. Change has to be consistent for at least 10 years, only then can you say, yes cinema has changed. We have had many false alarms. I hope this change of content-driven films remains constant for a while and I’ll be the happiest man alive.

On playing DCP Rakesh Maria in Black Friday (2007)

Like any other character, the credit for this also goes to the director [Anurag Kashyap]. I interact with the director a lot and read the text. I keep finding something or the other in the text. I had not even met Rakesh Maria. I sincerely believe that in any kind of cinema, all cinema is fiction. There is nothing called autobiographical cinema. For example, when I see a film like Gandhi (1982), I see Ben Kingsley. The moment I see Ben Kingsley, I have already got into the make-believe world. I know it’s not Gandhi. Then I am willing to suspend my disbelief.

So, all cinema is fiction. Documentaries can be real. For Rakesh Maria’s character, I felt I don’t need to meet him. I tried to look into whatever I could find in the text. I got to know from his family members that I played him well.

On honing skills as an actor and ‘learning’ acting

Initially, you take training. Later, you just keep a sense of life around you. The way you deal with daily life that you come across. My whole motto when I act is that my work should outlive me. I learnt from the university of life, just like my character in Vodka Diaries (2018).

One of my theatre gurus said, ‘Acting cannot be taught, but it can be learnt.’ It is a paradox, but it’s true. There’s a meter to everybody’s life. You need to identify that meter and learn how to act, rather than being taught about it. There is no formula. [Konstantin] Stanislavski [Russian theatre practitioner] never said that it’s ‘the’ method, he just said ‘method’. It is the only profession in which you portray life.