Sunday, July 26, 2009

‘Oh Captain, My Captain’


Captain Raju’s first role as the devil in N.N. Pillai’s ‘Easwaran Arastil’ was the chance for him to make his dream of an actor come true

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Captain Raju was in Class 8 he joined the Chuttipara Government High School in Pathanamthitta. There he became close friends with Rajendra Prasad, whose family owned the ‘Venugopal’ cinema hall. Thanks to his closeness with Prasad, Raju would see films regularly. “My love for the cinema began there,” he says.

It was an old-style theatre with an asbestos roof and for sound proofing sacks had been placed in piles near the ceiling.

“When I used to walk in, nobody would stop me,” he says. “I would only sit if there were empty seats. Usually, because it was so crowded, I saw the films while standing.”

For Raju the most unforgettable film he saw was ‘Jnana Sundari’, which starred Prem Nazir and Jaishree. In the film, the queen, who is also a stepmother, and the wife of the prince, played by Nazir, can never get along.

One day Nazir’s wife gives birth to twin boys. The queen calls two soldiers and says, “Take the two boys and the mother into the forest and kill them.” The soldiers go into the forest with the trio, but they are unable to do their task. Instead, they chop off the hands of the mother, and show it to the queen. She is convinced that all of them are dead.

“The scene which I will never forget is of the twins lying on the ground with their mother standing watch,” says Raju. “Suddenly, a huge scorpion approaches them.”

The mother sees the danger. Since she has no hands, she uses her feet to send the scorpion flying through the air. “Then the mother kneels down, and with tears in her eyes, she sings, ‘Appan Ippo Varum, Ningal Orangalle Makkale (Your father will be coming soon, don’t go to sleep, children)’” says Raju. “The whole audience was crying.”

When Captain Raju finished his B. Sc. in zoology from Catholicate College he decided to go to Mumbai to try his luck. One day, he saw an advertisement in the newspaper: The Army was looking for graduates in their Short Service Commission. Raju applied and was selected.

“I spent six years in the Army and became a captain,” he says. During this period, he had an arranged marriage with Premila Varghese who grew up in Mumbai. But Raju felt restless. “My heart was in acting,” he says. So he quit and came to Mumbai and managed to get a marketing job in Laxmi Starch Limited.

Raju’s turning point came when his father-in-law, Jacob Varghese, introduced him to a friend, Meesha Kunjukutty, who said, “You are more than 6’ tall and could be a hero. Would you be interested in acting?” Replied Raju: “Very much.”

Subsequently, Meesha took him to meet Venu who ran Pratibha Theatres. Venu, who was about to start the rehearsals for N.N. Pillai’s ‘Easwaran Arastil’, gave him the role of the devil.

“God and I are sitting side by side on the stage wearing barrister suits,” says Raju. “When people died their souls would come to us. The devil is more handsome-looking, and so all the souls come to me thinking I am God and say, ‘Oh Creator, please help us.’ I laugh at God and say, “Nobody is coming to see you.”

The play was a hit and Raju gave many performances in different auditoriums in the city. Soon, he acted in several other plays, all of which did well. Later, through some relatives of his wife he got in touch with Appachen of Jagan Pictures who got him a role in the film, ‘Raktham’, in 1982.

Unlike most beginners Raju never felt nervous. “I came from the Army,” he says. “A man who is trained to face bullets has no fear. I told myself, ‘Even Prem Nazir and Madhu had a first day.’”

The movie turned out to be a hit. “People in the industry asked, when they saw me on screen, ‘Who is that?’” says Raju. “When that happens your career is made. That was a turning point.”

Raju never looked back and has acted in over 400 films in all languages in South India, apart from the prestigious Merchant-Ivory English film, ‘Cotton Mary’.

Of course, his most famous role is of Kalarippayattu master Aringodar in ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha’ (1989), which was scripted by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and directed by T. Hariharan. “I don’t think Malayalis will ever forget my portrayal of Aringodar,” he says.

Raju’s next major turning point took place on October 12, 2003. He was travelling by night in a car, with a driver and an assistant, from Thiruvananthapuram to Salem to take part in the shooting of Vinayan’s ‘War and Love’.

Just after Thrissur, the car hit a culvert, went over the wall and fell 40 feet. “There was no tree in sight to stop the vehicle,” he says. “The car had another fall of 100 feet.”

Raju had multiple fractures on the leg, damaged his ribs, and had a severe head injury. “Even now I suffer from lapses of memory,” he says, looking sad for the first time in the conversation at his Pan Jos apartment at Padivattom.

Owing to the accident, he has slowed down. “This is what I have learnt from that incident,” he says. “In life anything can happen. Be prepared at all times.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)


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