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Pursuit of happiness

Posted October 8th, 2018, 10:25 AM IST

Pursuit of happiness

Manikandan Achari is just back home after the shooting of his upcoming Tamil movie Petta in which he acts alongside Rajinikanth and Vijay Sethupathi. The excitement of meeting the idol of thousands of film buffs reverberates in his voice, “I was surprised to see Rajini sir’s attitude towards his work and co-actors. Always punctual on the sets, he was willing to give any number of takes for the perfection of the shot.”

In Petta, Manikandan plays a co-traveller of Rajini’s character. “He still possesses the energy of a newbie. It’s his humility that made him a superstar. As a viewer, I was happy to witness in close proximity the acting style of a star I admired on screen so far. I enjoyed the time I spent with him. He said I am a natural actor,” he smiles, adding that he was equally amazed by Vijay Sethupathi’s performance.

What he finds common in the two actors is that they leave their co-actor in awe of them. “They act so amazingly that for a moment, the co-actor slips from the character and admire them. Even I did that,” he laughs.

Not just these good moments, Petta has been a lesson to Manikandan in many ways. “The energy Petta gave me is immense,” he says, adding, “So far, I have been in my comfort zone. Petta taught me that there is more to learn.” Manikandan compares the enlightenment to that of a smoker! “A massive heart attack might force a smoker to quit his way of life and improve. Petta was such an attack to me. It dawned upon me that I need to work hard and spread my wings,” he confesses.

“The energy you gather while fighting for life is quite different from what you experience while you are in the comfort zone. I did Kammattipaadam while struggling to make both ends meet. If we run keeping in mind that we can be thrown out of the stage at any time we will be able to run a long way. That is what I learnt from cinema.”

It was such an urge that encouraged Manikandan to contact Karthik Subbaraj for a role in his movie. “Petta is my third project in Tamil. My first, a Subramaniam Siva directorial, didn’t get completed due to many issues. The second one was a comedy movie made by friends of Theatre Lab in Chennai where I learnt acting. Petta brought me to limelight,” says Manikandan, who knew Karthik after Jigarthanda. “Karthik and friends have a group that works for cinema and social issues; I liked that concept and followed them. After Kammattipaadam, I got into a project of his friend. Karthik was the producer, but the movie got shelved and Petta happened. I was not offered any role in Petta, but I contacted Karthik and expressed my desire to work with him. He said he could give me a role, but that might not be relevant as Balan in Kammattipaadam.”

Manikandan was not aware of the big cast. In his words, whatever happened after that came as bonus. He maintains the same attitude towards cinema too.

A theatre actor, he moved to Chennai with dreams of becoming an actor. “It was Lenin sir (editor B. Lenin) who sowed the seeds of cinema in me. I was into theatre. He told me I have got the look of a movie actor. I left theatre and moved to Chennai, but I couldn’t get into cinema,” he recalls.

Then Kammattipaadam came his way, changing his life, earning him the Kerala State Film Award for Best Supporting Role. “I had done many odd jobs to support my journey as a theatre artiste. Before Kammattipaadam, I worked in a fish market,” says the actor, who was later seen in Ezra, The Great Father, Ayal Jeevichirippundu, Alamara, Basheerinte Premalekhanam, Varnyathil Ashanka, Eeda and Carbon. Coming up are Kayamkulam Kochunni, Mamankam and Ripper.

Though films made him what he is now, Manikandan is well aware of the peaks and valleys awaiting him. The industry has taught him to handle success and failure with a balance. “I didn’t come here expecting any of these. Whatever I have now is a bonus,” he says.

Narrating an episode in life, he explains, “The offer to act in Mamankam came while I was going through a low phase. I had acted in a period movie that took a long time to complete and hence I could not accept any other offer. It was neither the problem of the makers nor the crew. The anatomy of the movie was like that. It required time to complete. I couldn’t take other projects as I had a different getup in the movie. All the actors in the movie might have faced the same. So, when another period movie was offered, I was reluctant about it. I couldn’t afford to lose other projects. But, then they said it was Mammukka who asked them to approach me. The role was meant for another artiste, but he suggested my name and made sure that I was comfortable on the sets. My birthday was celebrated on the sets. Mammukka cut the cake and the photos were circulated on social media, reminding people of my presence. I am grateful to Mammukka for that. It helped me bounce back,” believes Manikandan, who hopes to continue the journey, with its ebbs and flows.