Vijayaraghavan | Photo: YouTube/Screengrab, Mathrubhumi
Once during a phonetics class in college, while intoning the word ‘O’ our professor turned to us and said - “Actor Vijayaraghavan intones it perfectly.” It’s an odd anecdotal reference to an actor and an even stranger way to remember him. But in hindsight, it has also got to do with the kind of brash, angry man roles he was saddled with at that time. In the last four decades, Vijayaraghavan has covered a wide repertoire of characters that were mostly rooted and relatable. In the 80s and 90s, he was there in every film, efficiently pulling off every consequential and inconsequential role handed to him.
In CBI Diary Kurippu, his Johny lurks in the backdrop nonchalantly even when his uncle and cousins are going from pillar to post to hush up the death in the family. Even during the moment of truth, Johny’s reaction is so faint that it is easier to see how he hid his devilishness behind that naïve exterior. And you also feel that he would have easily also lived with that crime, and committed more, if not for Sethurama Iyer. The shady boss in Sipayi Lahala, the father who is devastated and helpless to watch his son embrace priesthood in Deshadanam, the loyal henchman who feels betrayed in George Kutty c/o George Kutty, the desperate over-the-hill bachelor in Mele Parambil Aan Veedu or the ageing archeologist who reconnects with his crush in Salt N Pepper, Vijayaraghavan has rarely let you down as an actor. Since his much-feted Pookkalam is running in cinemas we thought of doing a top 5 Vijayaraghavan characters.
Pookkalam (Ittooppu): The 70-year-old actor plays a 100-year-old patriarch of a flourishing Christian family in Central Kerala. At the twilight of their lives, Ittooppu and his better half, Kochu Thresia despite their failing eyesight and other body dysfunctionalities, still seem to be too much into each other. Ittooppu’s wrinkled face still turns pink when he sees Kochu dressed in finery. But when he discovers that his wife had an affair during her youth, it comes as a bolt from the blue for the old man. Not only does he feel betrayed, but his deflated ego makes him ask for a divorce from her. While makeup definitely aided the performance, it goes without saying that Vijayaraghavan gets the body language right to the T. The slouch, the hand moments, the voice timbre that trembles than intones or the multitude of emotions that flit across his heavily wrinkled face—a thoroughly researched internalised method act. Having said that such a performance deserved a better film.
Big B (CI George): It is his voice that introduces us to the leading players of the narrative. And CI George’s slight tonal variation and his eyes that reflect an underlying fear as he introduces Bilal, underlines the formidability of the man. George is crude, corrupt and allies with the antagonists. But he is also cowardly and gets browbeaten by Bilal every time their paths cross. Vijayaraghavan brings insecurity and shiftiness to his posturing that makes him the unintentional comic in this otherwise racy action thriller directed by Amal Neerad.
Roudram (Appichayi) and Ekalavyan (Cheradi Skaria): There is nothing ostensibly evil about Appichayi. He is presumably in his 70s, chews pan, needs the aid of a wooden stick to walk and has a young woman who attentively hovers over him. But that’s just a charade. A thriving drug baron, behind the frail exterior, is a man with a razor-sharp mind who doesn’t think twice before annihilating those who stand in his way. He exploits women and as his foster son Sethu says, there are very few things in the world that really affect him. Looks like Vijayaraghavan really relishes the challenge of playing characters older than him. That’s evident in how he slips into the garb of his cantankerous old man. The body language, dialogue delivery, voice inflections—bang on. Cheradi Skaria in Ekalavyan, which was released 15 years earlier can be summed up as a younger version of Appichayi. Both times, the actor gets it right.
Ramji Rao Speaking (Ramji Rao): Though the actor has done his share of bad guys, Ramji Rao was an original. Siddique Lal tailors him as a serious gangster who is poised to bring in laughs at the unlikeliest moments. So when he gently roars to an inebriated Balakrishnan over the phone that he is Ramji Rao, he doesn’t quite give you the heebie-jeebies. Like Balakrishnan and friends you are slowly coming to terms with him and soon realises that he actually means business. Vijayaraghavan aka Ramji Rao’s confused reactions even as he tries to make sense of the mayhem are superb. That, he makes this small-town gangster memorable and entertaining despite the one-dimensionality of the character, shows his range.
Manoharan (Oru Vadakkan Selfie): The most entertaining part of the narrative comes from unexpected quarters in the film. Whenever Umesh and his father Manoharan come together, there are fireworks, but it is also true that it is his father who walks away with the claps. Manoharan is a traditional, no-nonsense dad who has little patience for his academically lackadaisical son. The scene where he warns his son to buck up by sharing a scary anecdote from his college life is performed with such restraint that you almost empathise with a speechless Umesh.
Vijayaraghavan is one actor who has seamlessly made that shift into new-age films as well. It can be a brief appearance (Hridayam, Sundari Gardens, Aravindante Athithikal), but he is a value-addition indeed!