When the 61st National Awards were announced almost every Malayali was pleasantly surprised when they knew that Suraj Venjaramoodu has won the best actor award along with Rajkummar Rao. The movie was Perariyathavar directed by Dr. Biju. Sadly that movie never got a strong release across the state and like how Suraj jokingly said in a recent interview, most people doubted the ability of Suraj as an actor as the industry was only using him as that loud comedian who was mostly repeating the same thing in every film. Then came the second movie of Abrid Shine that had Nivin Pauly in the lead role, titled Action Hero Biju. The realistic depiction of a police station in a never before seen way impressed the audience immensely, but there was one actor in that movie who delivered a spectacular slice of acting in a role that hardly lasted for 10 minutes if you check the runtime. That actor was Suraj Venjaramoodu and in those 10 minutes, he demolished everyone’s doubt about his capability.
Post the impact he created through his character in Action Hero Biju, there was a definite change in the way the industry looked at him as an actor. The same year we saw him in that slightly grey shaded character in Manju Warrier’s film Karinkunnam 6’s. It was in 2017 we saw another major shift in Suraj’s acting career. That was the year where he starred alongside Fahadh Faasil in Dileesh Pothan’s second directorial Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. Subtle humor, extreme dilemma and a fight to prove his capability, Prasad of Thondimuthalum Driksashiyum offered Suraj a space to show his ability to pull off a much-nuanced character. That year there was another movie named Varnyathil Ashanka that garnered polarized reviews but saw Suraj Venjaramoodu exploring the humor track in a different and effective way. This Siddharth Bharathan movie was also an indication that the industry is no longer looking at Suraj Venjaramoodu as a mere comedy actor.
In 2018, most of the roles he did had a serious shade. In Ranjith Shankar’s Njan Marykutti he was offered the role of a collector who supports a trans woman in getting societal acceptance. In Neerali, he was sharing a fairly good amount of time with Mohanlal and here also he wasn’t a mere comic relief. In Theevandi he got the role of the heroine’s father and he did it very neatly. In the same year, he played a very exciting character in a movie that I feel deserved a little more appreciation. He played the role of Kuttanpilla in Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri. An actor who at one point of time was somewhat an annoying comic addition to mainstream masala films had transformed to play roles ranging from being a district collector to a very peculiar police officer.
I decided to write this article because in 2019 it feels almost crystal clear that the man of the year is Suraj Venjaramoodu. Out of the 13 releases he had this year there were 4 movies that had people talk about him and his performance in a big way. They were Finals, Vikruthi, Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 and Driving License. What is so amazing is that in any of these movies, you can’t really label his role as a hero character. They were all very much precisely designed character roles and his ability to pull off each role with uniqueness makes him an actor who will definitely make us proud in the long run.
Finals was released during the festival season against biggies like Ittymaani, Love Action Drama and Brothers Day. I clearly remember going in optimistically thinking that it will be a Rajisha Vijayan show. But the movie directed by Arun PR never tried to be a single character-oriented film and we got to see the struggle of Alice, her father Varghese and her friend Manuel. While the other two characters had a very specific portion in the movie where the focus got shifted to them, Suraj’s Varghese was there throughout. It was easily one of the finest internalized acting performance I saw this year. Varghese was never aggressive or emotional in an evident way, but Suraj made sure that the pain and frustration of that character will be reflected in his performance.
On a making level in terms of writing and presentation, the movie by debutante Emcy Joseph is very simplistic. It was easily that movie that had all the scope to be a preachy film about how to use social media responsibly. But what made the difference here was Suraj Venjaramoodu. Suraj played the character of Eldho who had difficulty in speaking and hearing. There was no dialogue here for him. I remember struggling to control my tears when he sort of asks the police to forgive Soubin’s character in the climax and that was a great example of an actor single-handedly lifting the entire movie to the next level through his performance.
Android Kunjappan Version 5.25
In debutante director, Ratheesh Poduval’s Android Kunjappan Version 5.25, Suraj Venjaramoodu stunned everyone by playing the role of a really old Bhaskara Poduval who was an extremely orthodox person. From slang to the body language of the character, this performance was undeniably one of the finest we have seen this year. It was an astonishing transformation and I was wondering this is the same man who used to repeat himself in mostly useless comic roles in the initial stages of his career. In fact in my own reviews in the initial stages, I have written multiple times that Suraj’s comedy was annoying.
In terms of cinematic quality, Driving License may not be a fabulous movie. But I felt that this movie delivered some kind of poetic justice to the fabulous form Suraj Venjaramoodu enjoys this year. In Lal Jr’s Driving License scripted by Sachy, Suraj played the role of MVI Kuruvila who was as important as Prithviraj’s Hareendran and his face is there in every single poster along with Prithviraj with pretty much the same importance. He delivered a performance that effectively portrayed the pain of a man whose dreams got shattered in a matter of minutes and had to go through humiliation.
2019 was undoubtedly a year that belonged to this actor. In 2019, through his various performances, Suraj Venjaramoodu announced that he should no longer be considered as a mere comic relief in movies. In all the four movies I mentioned in this article, Suraj Venjaramoodu was playing the role of a father and each performance felt distinct and unique. If anyone is still doubting his ability and wondering how he managed to get a National Award, I think they must be living under a rock.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended