COLUMN: LOCATION DIARY
Actor Kunjan talks about his first experience before the camera, as well as the film, 'Sambhavam'
Photo of Kunjan by Albin Mathew
By Shevlin Sebastian
In October, 1967, actor Kunjan was leading a quiet life working in an office in Coimbatore. One day, he befriended a man named Shanmugham, who made documentaries, which were screened abroad.
Shanmughan asked him whether he would act in one of his documentaries. Kunjan was hesitant. He had no experience of acting. But Shanmugham said he would be paid Rs 250 for his efforts. “In those days, that was a lot of money,” says Kunjan, at his home in Kochi. “So I agreed.”
The next morning, a Plymouth car came to collect Kunjan from his house. From there, they travelled to Mettupalayam, 33 kms away. The shoot was supposed to take place next to a temple. Shanmugham was waiting patiently.
As soon as Kunjan arrived, he was asked to take off his shirt. Then his hands and legs were tied. Kunjan was made to lie on the ground. Suddenly, a few men brought a number of baskets next to him. When it was opened, Kunjan was shocked.
These contained snakes and they were placed all over his body. Soon, one python enveloped Kunjan so tightly, he was finding it difficult to breathe.
“I was in a state of shock,” says Kunjan. “It was like being in a bed of noodles. There was also a terrible smell.”
A fearful Kunjan told Shanmugham, “Sir, please free me. I don't want the money.” But Shanmugham ignored Kunjan and continued shooting.
When it was over, Kunjan had a splitting headache. After he got the money, he felt very hungry. So he went to a hotel at Coimbatore, and had a plate of chicken biriyani.
While he was doing so, he noticed an eruption on his skin, along the forearm. After a while, the same mark appeared on his other hand.
“I thought it had something to do with my encounter with the snakes,” says Kunjan.
Immediately he consulted with Prakash, a homeopathic doctor. “He told me it was chicken pox,” says Kunjan. “The stress, fear, tension, and body heat had made the pox erupt.”
In the end, Kunjan stayed in bed for 28 days. “Apart from the Rs 250 from Shanmugham, I had to borrow another Rs 250, from a friend, to pay for the treatment,” says Kunjan. “So, finally, I did not gain anything.”
Eventually, Kunjan entered Mollywood, and has acted in 650 films till now.
In 1981, during a break in the shooting of 'Sambhavam', which starred Madhu, Srividya, and Adoor Bhasi, Kunjan finished his dinner at the Hotel International, at Kochi, along with producer Ravi Menon.
When they came out, to go to the Bharat Tourist Hotel, where they were staying, they noticed that it was raining heavily. So, one of Ravi's friend, Sooraj (name changed) offered to take them. While Kunjan sat in front, Ravi was at the back.
On MG Road, near Maharaja's College, a lorry hit the car head-on. “The door was hanging from my arm,” says Kunjan. “There were cuts on my legs and arms. And I was bleeding from my face. Ravi's lip had split open. He had hit the seat in front.”
Kunjan managed to get out of the car. He saw an autorickshaw driver and asked him to take them to the nearest hospital.
But the driver said, “Please allow me to look at you for some time. This is the first time I am seeing a star.”
Says Kunjan, “In those days, people were crazy about actors. It is only now that because there is so much of shooting taking place in Kochi that people have got used to seeing the stars.”
The driver finally took the three of them to the Medical Trust hospital. At the intensive care unit, it was discovered that there were some glass pieces stuck to Kunjan's body. When it was being taken out by the nurse, Kunjan moaned in pain.
When the nurse saw that, she said, with a smile, “Acting in films and acting in the hospital, too.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)