He hesitantly tiptoed into our frames in 2002 with a forgettable performance in Kaiyethum Doorathu, and then went off the map for a while. In that period, Malayalam cinema had all but forgotten his gawky demeanour and, then, unexpressive eyes. Cut to seven years later, and Fahad Fasil is at the top of his game. He has incessantly been compared with his contemporaries as well as with “the Mohanlal.” But like him or hate him, there’s no doubt that Fahad is his own man. FullPicture takes a bird’s eye view of the ups and downs in the career of Malayalam film’s leading metrosexual man.
Fahad Fasil’s fermentation as an actor occurred between 2002 and 2009. After making what was perhaps one of the most unremarkable acting debuts in the history of Malayalam cinema with the Fazil-directedKaiyethumDhoorathu(2002), Fahad thankfully went into hibernation. The decision might have been inevitable after the 19-year-old saw himself in that love ditty “Vasantharaavin...” where he awkwardly matches steps with the heroine, his by now famous “hurt puppy eyes” failing to evoke any emotion.
The turn in his story arc came after 7 years—he moved to the USA, enrolled in an engineering course, dropped out midway, and did a course in philosophy.
A strapping new actor
His second coming was a brief appearance inMrityunjayam, one of the segments of the anthology film Kerala Café. “Sameer (Thahir) and I thought there was something distinctive about his look and attitude in the film. We were in the middle of casting actors for Chappa Kurishuthen. His urban look was the decider. On the first day of the shoot, we knew he was an actor,” recalls Shyju Khalid, who framedMaheshintey Prathikaram. Fahad played a journalist doing an investigative story on an old spooky house. Hiran Venugopalan, social commentator and Designer, says he was impressed by the subtlety he brought to the character. “There was a confidence in the way he proposed to Reema Kallingal’s character. In fact, he was equally brilliant in Aami, especially his reaction when he gets another call after his telephonic conversation with Aami.”
Post Mrityunjayam, it’s also interesting how he slowly, but judiciously found his way into the competitive world of Malayalam cinema. Soon after the anthology, he did a nice cameo inCocktail—in a film that revolved around two strong male protagonists, Fahad’s Naveen Krishnamoorthy, a pleasant silver-tongued boss, was hard to miss.
It was at this time that he signedAkam, the debut directorial of Shalini Usha, although it got a releasetwo years later(2013). Adapted from Malayatoor Ramakrishnan’s Yakshi, Fahad played Sreeni, a young architect who suspects his beautiful wife of being a witch, and it remains one of his best performances till date. "He is an actor amidst the legion of stars we have today. He lived, loved, cried, betrayed and died like all of us. A rare phenomenon who doesn't care about stardom and stays a mile away from illogical cinema," says Aparna Prashanthi, film critic.
But it wasn’t until his urban, hi-flying business tycoon inChappaKurishu(2011) that he really broke out of the conventional imagery of a hero. He played Arjun, a brash, rich, spoilt Casanova who finds himself in a soup after a sex tape of him and his girlfriend gets leaked. That’s also when he was labelled the urban, boxer shots-clad, kissing scene expert.
A year later he did22 Female Kottayam,where he played a canny event manager, who pimps his girlfriend and remains remorseless till the end. And not just that, the vengeful heroine doles out her punishment by bobbitising him. “I don’t know how many actors would have done a 22 FK,”wonders Krishna Kumar, journalist who thinks he is one of the most competent performers of Malayalam cinema today. Shyju concurs, particularly about the climax scene— “No one knows how someone with his predicament will react. It was a scene, if not done properly, could change the course of the film, but Fahad was spot on.”
It seems fitting to call him Malayalam cinema’s first metrosexual actor (somewhat in the Saif Ali Khan mould)—as opposed to the legion of moustache-twirling, punch-line spouting, sexist alpha male heroes who have been ruling the marquee for long. That’s evident in the way he picks his films—they never fall under the precinct of celluloid heroism. The materialistic womaniser inDiamond Necklace, the lad with OCD inNorth 24 Katham,the chicken-hearted lover inAmen,the egoistic painter inArtist, the earnest lover inAnnayumRasoolum,the biker nursing a painful past inBangalore Days, or the pompous, selfish politician inOru Indian Pranayakadha. Why, even one of his most feted roles—Mahesh (MaheshintePrathikaram) and Prasad (ThondimuthalumDriksakshiyum) are brazenly ordinary. Both are fighting inner demons and they have been knocked down several times.
It’s also interesting to draw parallels with two of his contemporaries—Dulquer Salman and Nivin Pauly. While Dulquer has never shied away from experimenting (Kammatipaadam, Njan), he hasn’t really dodged the “hero” trap yet. Nivin seems to have fallen headlong into the celluloid virtuous hero image if his recent outings inSakhavu or ActionHeroBijuare anything to go by. “Dulquer, I would say, is more in the superstar mould. Especially, in CIA, he showed glimpses of that flamboyance. Nivin wants to have a finger in every pie but he is better off in the familiar boy-next-door image. Fahad falls into neither category. He is more a dependable performer. We trust his choice of films,” says Asha K, film academician.
Of his 37 films,10 were declared hits, including a record-breaking hit in the multi-starrerBangalore Days.Social media is already crowning him the next Mohanlal. That’s where Krishna Kumar begs to differ— “TheMohanlal comparison is undeserved. He is a smart man, but not always necessarily in his choice of films. Remember he also did an Olilpporu, Haram and AyaalNjanalla. What he has is clarity as to the kind of films he wants to be part of. I am keen to see him in a typical action hero space—maybe a cop or a gangster. That would be out of his comfort zone and will be interesting.”
Film critic Sreehari calls him an actor who tries to be in the “Mohanlal mould.” “There is nothing theatric about his expressions or body language. He keeps them at the basic ‘just about’ level. But such energy-conserving histrionics could easily be mistaken for instinct. Truth is, unlike Mohanlal, the man is more method than instinct. For proof one only has to look at how inclined he is to stylise even the most natural of actions (witness how he turns coy in ‘Amen’).”
More importantly, Fahad is an actor without an ego—a rare phenomenon these days. And he is hungry for roles. Any kind of roles. That’s his main selling point. And he generously gives dates for new directors. In fact, veteran directors have often come strongly against him for backing out from projects he has given his word to or for refusing to be part of their films. “I think it’s better that way for either of us,” Fahad had said in a television interview.
“All his films that have made a mark are character-driven films. (Annayum Rasoolum, Thondimuthalum…, Bangalore Days). He has an innate charm and a cultivated instinctiveness,” maintains Sreehari.
While Shyju talks about the scene where he springs on the stairs after seeing Jimsy as his personal favourite, Sreehari thinks it’s a scene a Mohanlal would have done like a breeze— “Fahadh’s triumph, therefore, lies is in giving method acting a 'just about' Mohanlalian charm. The sad thing is, he cannot crank up his mechanics to demonstrate the cataclysmic passion of a Mammootty. In other words, he is neither here nor there”
Women talk about his large, expressive eyes and gentle smile. “There is something disarmingly honest about his eyes, that’s why in 22 FK, it was easier for Tessa to trust him. Fahad is one actor who uses it effectively,” says Shalini Thomas, film blogger.
It is also a laughable irony that Fahad, for all his metrosexual appeal today, is one actor who pulls off rural characters with élan. “I was impressed by the way he quickly slipped into the role of the auto driver inFriday. And he was driving the auto like a pro,” saysFriday director Lijin Jose.
Fahad, according to Shyju, is a lazy actor, but someone who doesn’t take time to switch from one role to another. “During Maheshintey…we first took the song portions. There his moustache was trimmed…as it grew, his character also grew.”
Good friend and filmmaker Amal Neerad says he is an actor who starts working from a brief character sketch— “He is a very intense actor. There are actors who will try to bend a character for their own comfort, but Fahad will try to grasp the character and mould himself to be like him. I haven’t been able to explore him properly as an actor. Iyobintey Pustakam was just the tip of the iceberg.”
In fact, Hiran Venugopalan talks about this scene inIPwhere he runs to a factory and dismantles the gun— “Nothing over-the-top, but just enough to show his skill, power, and attitude.”
As of now, he has four films under production—Naleyhelmed by newcomer Siju S Bhava,AnengilumAllengilumby debutant Vivek Thomas, Venu’s Carbon,and Anwar Rasheed-directedTrance. “I would say as an actor, Fahad is in his golden phase right now. Neither is he bogged down by box office numbers or stardom. He is just acting his heart out. We trust his judgement,” says Shalini.
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Fullpicture is an exclusive, comprehensive, online English magazine on Malayalam cinema, put together by a team of experienced journalists who share a passion for everything about Malayalam cinema. The idea is to put out well-written and well-researched features, exclusive interviews,...