A Thespian, Acting Coach, and one of the few Theatre Actors to work in the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, the United Kingdom, British Royal National Theatre and Tara Arts Company which is a leading Asian Theatre Company, Murali Menon needs no introduction.
The humble actor was kind enough to allow us the privilege to discuss an inspiring journey of passion and determination that started when he was just 12 years of age. A thought-provoking discussion with a lot of takeaways for aspiring Actors and Artists out there.
Can we start with the beginning, How did it all start? What inspired you to get into acting?
” Well, at the age of 12, I was already on Stage. Even before that, there was an indication of my inclination towards performing arts. My First Play was a Radio play, and right next to my house, back in Calicut, there was a children’s club called ‘Priyadarshini Bala Jana Sakhyam‘, I joined the Club and started performing there. And I continued performing there for the next 4 years or so. “
“And, it was a huge experience for me as a kid, I did almost 4 plays in a year. From there, I performed at YOOC ( Youth Organization of Calicut ) and then at ‘Aniyara‘, Kozhikode, one of the best amateur Theatre groups of the ’70s. I was lucky enough to be part of a Play that was directed by my Guru ‘Sri. K. R Mohandas‘ and was written by the Legendary Playwright ‘Late. P.M Taj‘. I portrayed one of the iconic roles of a ‘Panan’ in the play Kanallattom, it was the character of an 80-year-old. “
“And finally, that is what lead me to Thrissur School of Drama, I took up the Acting course and while I was there, I traveled across India performing with a repertoire group called CULT( Calicut University Little Theatre ). This propelled my journey to the realm of Theatres and in the coming years, I did plays across Europe and England for almost 20 plus years as an Actor, Director, and Actor Trainer.”
How did Cinema happen to you?
” My First Movie was in 1986 called ‘Pandavapuram‘ and right from the first shot I knew that this was not meant to be. I never wanted to be a cinema Actor, not even in my wildest dreams, and I have not become one either. Though I have acted in few films at my friends’ request, I did not enjoy it. I am through and through a Theatre Actor and that is how I want people to know me and remember me. “
” Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like Cinema, I love Cinema. I enjoy the technical aspects of cinema like Direction and Scriptwriting. “
So How is a Theatre Actor different from a Cinema Actor? Can a Cinema Actor perform in Plays?
“Of course. However, that is an individual thing you know, it’s a choice, those who want they can. “
“See, Theatre is a live thing. Cinema is not. That is the main difference. You perform in front of the Audience and a connection is established in the course of your performance between the performer and the audience, this does not happen in cinema acting. “
” The Audience should feel every pulse of the character that is performing on stage and stay with the performer throughout, this can only happen when the performance is live. That is where the main difference lies between a Theatre actor and a cinema Actor. “
How prevalent is Theatre Arts in India and Kerala ?
” Well, Maharashtra, Delhi, Bengal, and little in Karnataka. These are the major states where Theatre Arts is flourishing. From a perspective where people still stand in queue with families to watch plays like they would for cinema. “
” When it comes to Kerala, there is a strong Amateur Theatre presence. However, in terms of professional Theatres we are way behind. Like a century behind. “
When you say that Professional Theatres are way behind, Why do you think it is so?
” Look, like I mentioned earlier I have been lucky enough to travel across the world and watch great Theatre plays of great performers like Anthony Hopkins. And, it is from that exposure of watching these plays that I believe that we have too much catching up to do. “
” Part of the problem is that exposure, see in states like Maharashtra or Bengal there are International plays for people to watch and it is when you watch one, you realize that it can be done here too. We have exceptional talent here but lack exposure. “
” It is like this, you can watch any global cinema from where you are right now and get inspired by its making or acting. However, that is not the case with Theatre Plays, you need to watch them in person to learn or get inspired. I hope you understand what I mean now. “
Do you think the younger generation now, are as passionate as you were back in the day to take up Theatre acting?
” I’m sure they are, I would say I was crazy about pursuing Theatre acting more than passion, and these days it is easy for kids to go abroad and learn Theatre arts with Loans and other facilities, back then it was different. “
“Besides, it is an individual decision again, because it is not easy on one hand, and might not help you financially. A very small percentage of today’s generation would go to Theatres Arts. I would always advise my students to pursue an acting career in cinema over Theatre, considering the financial aspects there are. “
Let’s talk about you being an Acting coach, would you say that for an Actor, learning to perform in Theatre helps with their performances in Cinema?
” Absolutely! you take any International actors, everyone is from Theatre. Dustin Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins all great actors. If you take the Malayalam cinema as well, I believe Bharat Gopy is one of the greatest actors Malayalam Cinema has ever seen and he was from a Theatre background. “
” As part of my training program, I give 10 of Bharat Gopy’s movies to my students to watch and learn. “
So, wouldn’t you agree that the new generation Actors or Actresses should perform in Theatres as well, in this way we can support the Art form?
” Look, it is no crime if you don’t act in Theatres. It is a subjective thing, I would say. It is not that simple, you need to be passionate to perform in Theatres. It is not an easy task, it demands a lot. The Actor has to be passionate and enjoy performing in Theatres. So, if someone is true to the craft he or she should do it. “
You know the saying – Anybody can Dance! Can we say that for Acting as well?
“Hmmm…That’s a good question. See, anybody can act in Cinema. so the answer is a big Yes! you need not learn acting to act in Cinema. All you need to ensure is that you are not camera conscious. “
” For Example, the movie: War Horse, by Steven Spielberg. If you have watched the movie, you would have noticed that the Horse is the central character in the movie. Needless to say that, the Horse doesn’t know acting, but it appears to have given a splendid performance in the Movie. That is the power of Cinema. “
” However, that is not the case in Theatres. You cannot make the Horse act there. That is why I said anybody can act in Cinema. But, it will only be a start. If you want to achieve the greats of Bharat Gopy Sir or Thilakan Sir then it’s a whole different ball game. “
Would you say that you teach or make anybody an Actor?
” See, I have always believed that, “You cannot learn Acting or Teach Acting” I know it sounds ironic, as I am an Acting coach and all. But, that is a fact. So, what I do to students of mine is, I give them the confidence, to begin with and then, for the next 2 or 3 days, I do a preliminary analysis to find if there is an Actor in him or her. “
” And, when I figure out that there is an Actor in them, I will do my best to develop it. See, a lot of students or aspirants will have no clue that there is an Actor in them and some might have the qualities of a Star which is great for Cinema. “
” One of the things I do with my students is teaching them to change internally to portray an emotion. See, if you look at great actors, they all change internally for a character, and that is how you fall in love with their acting. Please understand, I am talking about great Actors and not Stars, there is a difference, I hope you get it! “
Did you ever had to say ‘No’ to some aspiring Actors and advise them that, acting is not for them, they should try something else? Do you do that?
” I do actually, at times I do. I remember an incident where there was an audition for acting batch in a nearby Institute and I had to reject a candidate. However, while that candidate was heading back, he came up to me and started crying, he had traveled a long way to attend the audition. I changed my mind and selected him for the batch, he ended up becoming one of the top actors of that batch. “
But What did you see in him, that made you change your decision?
” I saw a passion in his tears, only the ones with great passion can do that. That is what changed my mind. “
Who would you say your Favorite Actors of all time and the current generation are in Malayalam?
” The Current Scene: Fahadh Faasil. “
By now We know that you are not fond of Acting in Cinema, How about Directing a Cinema?
” Well, I would love to. However, I am not working on it you know, because it is not easy, I do have a couple of scripts with me, I love writing. But the thing is it’s a lot of work, finding an actor, finding a producer, I think I am a little lazy when it comes to that. “
Before we end things here, what would you advise the aspiring artists or Actors out there?
“My advice to anyone or everyone is that Don’t listen to any advice, find your path and move forward. This is what I tell my students too. Well, better yet, what I can say is that, find your dreams and follow them. And, while doing so, do not listen to any pieces of advice. “
We Wish we had a lot more time to discuss further, it was truly informative in so many levels and I hope the aspiring Artists out there get to read this as there is so much to learn in every answers, the insights shared on topics evidently tells us the vast experience from International exposure.
We hope we will get another opportunity soon for such invigorating discussions and we pray that you stay humble and inspiring like this.