Tovino Thomas: A wacky and grounded superhero – News
Down to earth, with a gentle face, dressed in mundu. Meet Indian superhero Minnal Murali and the star behind it
Growing up, it was routine at home in Iranjulakuda, Thrissur, northern Kerala, to watch movies.
Tovino Thomas’ parents were movie buffs, and even when they stopped going to the movies after his sister was born, his father rented a VCR for the weekend to keep the whole family gorging on movies. There would be a lot of filming in their area, and he often accompanied his father, patiently waiting in the crowd for the actors to emerge, watching the process.
Not the stuff of his dreams
Although he studied engineering at Tamil Nadu College of Engineering, Coimbatore, and even worked for a year at Cognizant – an American multinational information technology services and consulting company – in Chennai, he completed the living in a cubicle with a laptop and a thong was not the stuff of his dreams.
He quit and started looking for work in the Malayalam film industry. He faced many insults, rejection and discrimination at the start. He was told that he didn’t look like a Malayali, or that beautiful people didn’t know how to behave.
There was a time in 2012 when he was one of several character actors, trying to get the attention of the camera sandwiched between four-five actors in a crowd. “Now I have three or four cameras trained to capture my emotions. It’s not a bad position to be in,” says Tovino.
A shining light of a new wave in Malayalam cinema
Indeed, after playing a sweet superhero in Netflix’s Minnal Murali, Tovino finds himself among the most prominent actors, announcing a new wave in Malayalam cinema even as the two giants Mammootty and Mohanlal continue to excel. Minnal Murali combines the earthy side of Kerala with humor that doesn’t need subtitles. Stopping a fan with his bare hands, putting rings on household items at a circus booth, and giving up the American dream of protecting one’s land. “It was a dream project for me,” says Thomas, who at 32 has already starred in 40 films.
He had to maintain the continuity of his gaze on two blockages induced by Covid-19, but that process changed his life, he says, “in the way the chubby and narcissistic Jason becomes the intelligent and sharp Minnal Murali.”
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Talent triumphs over a meager budget
As the Malayalam film industry does not have big budgets, it needs to focus on emotional drama, with good directors and actors, he says. Visual effects (VFX) are minimal. The story takes place in a small village in Kerala, not New York, so there are no skyscrapers, cars or bikes. “The only vehicle we have is a bus, maybe a car or two, and bikes. We wanted an ordinary man turned superhero, so we had to think about it a lot,” says Thomas, who shares a good rapport. with his colleague. actors Dulquer Salmaan, Prithiviraj and Fahadh Faasil.
With the help of trainer Asghar Ali, who was the national triple jump champion, before joining the Indian army and then training the UAE special forces, he worked on his physique for Minnal Murali. “I’m getting to know my body now, different diets. But I don’t want to look good, I just want to look relatable. If I have huge muscles, I’ll be seen as a bad guy,” he said. with a laugh.
An incessant actor
Thomas, like his contemporaries, works tirelessly. While working on Minnal Murali, he completed the thrillers Kala, Kaanekkaane and the Next Naaradhan, where he plays a journalist. As we speak, he is making a new film, Vaashi, a court drama, with Keerthy Suresh, produced by his father. So does he have 48 hours in a day? No, he laughs, just a lot of courage, determination and lots of espressos.
Prithviraj, an inspiration
Prithviraj is his inspiration, he says, and he has a lot of gratitude for the persuasion of the former that led to him being cast as the villain in Ennu Ninte Moideen in 2015.
“People got to know my name after that,” he says and that led to a lot of lead role offers. Guppy (2016) was a turning point, a box-office failure, but one that elicited a lot of love on DVD. Since then, nothing has stopped him, whether it is Aashiq Abu’s Virus (2019) or Uyare by Manu Ashokan (2019), with whom he continues to collaborate.
Content and quality have never been lacking in the Malayalam film industry, but visibility was. It’s settled now, thanks to the proliferation of streaming platforms.
So, get ready for a lot more from Thomas.
(The author is a veteran journalist and author, most recently of “The Three Khans and the Rise of New India”)