The makers of the latest Malayalam superhero film Minnal Murali kept the details of the main antagonist under wraps till the film’s release. While we knew that Tovino Thomas gained the superpowers after being struck by lightning, we had no clue what kind of enemy he would be battling. And little did we expect him to fight a middle-aged man with no discernible qualities of a super-villain that we have been fed by the Marvel and DC universes.
When we first meet Shibu, he comes across as a dreamer who wouldn’t hurt a fly. And despite his superpowers, he appears vulnerable, naive and a decent man who knows how to treat a woman. In many ways, he is a mirror image of the superhero he is battling — both outsiders who have been battling prejudice. They are defined by how they respond to this prejudice and grief. The character clicked with the audience because of actor Guru Somasundaram’s shrewd understanding of Shibu’s personality, which allowed him to play the role with an infantile wickedness.
“To me, Shibu was a 40-year-old baby,” Guru told indianexpress.com.
Guru never nurtured the ambition of becoming an actor. Like an ordinary middle-class man, he wanted a steady job that assured him a monthly paycheck. “After I finished my diploma in mechanical engineering, I worked in a couple of companies. But, they didn’t work out for me,” he added.
He noted that his friends are still in disbelief as to how he ended up being a successful actor. “I used to watch a lot of movies. When I saw Baazigar, I got a clean shave and wore glasses like Shah Rukh Khan in that movie for several weeks. But, I never nurtured the dream of becoming an actor, let alone act in movies,” he said.
As fate would have it, he stumbled on Koothu-P-Pattarai, which is a Chennai-based theater group. Founded by Padma Shri awardee Na Muthuswamy, the theater group has been instrumental in giving Tamil cinema some of its finest contemporary actors. Guru’s seniors were the likes of Pasupathy (Sarpatta Parambarai), Kalairani (Vedalam), Elango Kumaravel (Jai Bhim) and George Maryan (Kaithi). His peers were Vimal (Kalavani), Vidharth (Myna) and the likes. National Award-winning actor Vijay Seuthpathi is also an alumnus of Koothu-P-Pattarai.
“Within three months of joining the troupe, I played the lead role in a play called Chandragiri. After that, I decided to pursue acting seriously. That was the biggest turning point in my life. If not for that play, I wouldn’t have taken up acting seriously,” recalled Guru.
He became a member of Koothu-P-Pattarai in 2002. In a span of 11 years, he has acted in about 11 major productions. “On an average, each of those plays would have had at least 10 reruns. So, I have stepped on the stage for at least 600 shows,” he noted.
Guru’s long and fruitful theater experience shaped his personality and enriched his acting talent. He made his screen debut with the 2010 gangster drama Aaranya Kaandam, which was also the first feature film of Thiagarajan Kumararaja (director of Super Deluxe). In the film, he played the role of a good-for-nothing father, who tries to make quick money by trading in narcotics he accidentally stumbles on.
“After watching my performance in Aaranya Kaandam, people started to ask who is this Guru Somsundram? And even now (after Minnal Murali) people ask the same question, who is this Guru Somsundram?” quipped the actor.
Guru has been building on his reputation as a fine actor with each film. He swept everyone off their feet with his performance in director Raju Murugan’s socio-political drama Joker (2016), and he struck again in the 2018 crime drama Vanjagar Ulagam. He went onto share screen space with Rajinikanth (Petta), Kamal Haasan (Thoongaa Vanam) and he was also seen in the widely-acclaimed film Jai Bhim, starring Suriya.
It was his performance in Joker and Vanjagar Ulagam that caught the attention of director Basil Joseph and influenced the latter’s decision of offering him Shibu.
“I kept asking Basil and Tovino how they ended up selecting me for this role? After a point, they both got irritated by that question. I was still in a state of surprise,” he recalled.
The filmmakers, however, had solid reasons for picking Guru. “They explained to me that if they cast a Malayalam actor, people would easily guess who’s the villain. And they didn’t want to reveal the villain during the production. I was in Munnar and Basil came over there and narrated to me the script with all the background score and all. And I immediately decided to do this film,” he added.
Minnal Murali was not Guru’s first movie in Malayalam. He had already acted in the 2013 anthology 5 Sundarikal and 2015 comedy Kohinoor. But, it was his first time dubbing in Malayalam. “Dileesh Pothan had dubbed for my character in 5 Sundarikal. And Basil used to tease me that he will have to get Dileesh Pothan to dub for me in this film too. I used to get a little irritated. Malayalam was a new language for me. And I tried my best to learn it and perform it as well as I could. Still, my enunciations were not perfect. But, after I performed the scene in which Shibu kills Das, Basil told me that nobody else can dub for me. And I had to do it myself,” Guru recounted.
Guru also hopes that Minnal Murali would make people kinder towards those suffering from mental problems. He strongly believes that the awareness about mental health in our country is zero.
“I was in 11th or 12th standard when I was not feeling right. And my brother took me to a psychiatrist. The doctor told me that the issues were related to adolescence and he guided me on the dos and don’ts. It helped me to make sense of my situation and choose the right path. But, not everyone is mindful of one’s mental health and seeks professional help when one is under stress or in confusion. And when there is enough awareness about mental health, there won’t be questions like whether Shibu deserved to live or die?” he said, adding “Every living creature has a place to live in this world.”
Like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, Shibu’s family also has history of mental illness. His mother’s mental illness becomes a reason for his village to stigmatize and mistreat him. A girl who showed him a little kindness becomes the only light in his life.
“If you recall, Shibu narrates the story about his mother while killing Das. It reveals that he was battling childhood issues. All he wanted was somebody to accept him. But, people held on to their social status and chased him away. That’s when he loses it,” Guru remarked.