Full of sound and fury

Later this year, the trilingual, Veeram, a film directed by National Award-winning Malayalam filmmaker Jayaraj, will be released. The film starring actor Kunal Kapoor was screened at the BRICS Film Festival in Delhi earlier this month. A cinematic interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the filmis a historical drama that also takes inspiration from the story of Chandu Chekaver, an infamous warrior from North Malabar in the 13th century.

Kunal Kapoor

Kapoor, who plays the protagonist, spoke to The Hindu about his role and the film. Excerpts from the interview:

On exploring the dark side
The method was really intense as this is a very dark character. As actors, we build a character from reference points in our real life. To build a relationship with my character, I had to explore dark spaces within me.

But at the same time, it was amazing because the character is incredibly relatable as well. We all have been through times in our life where we had to pick between right and wrong, and made the wrong decisions and felt guilty about them.

We are living in a world that is constantly seduced by power and ambition. There is a greater need to be who we are. There are a lot of relatable elements to this character as well. Yes, there is a process I follow, as an actor. It took some time, but I attained it.

We all have a dark side and we are all capable of doing terrible things. As an actor, when you are playing a role like that, you have to access darker shades within you. However, this role did not scar me mentally or emotionally.

An actor prepares
This is the first time I got to play an anti-hero and do a period film. This is also the first time I got a chance to do an action film and it was all very challenging, because you are doing Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As a character, he starts by being a celebrated warrior and ends up being a ruthless tyrant. That journey is very interesting. There are so many different shades and layers that you have to bring to this character.

Secondly, we shot this film in three languages: Hindi, English and Malayalam. It’s not like a Malayalam film that’s been dubbed in Hindi. The film has been shot in three different languages at the same time. So, you finish the scene in Hindi, then you do the same scene in English and then in Malayalam.

Third, was the physical transformation, because Jayaraj wanted me to [build] a lot of muscle to look physically intimidating. A lot of hard work went into it because Jayaraj had a vision of how the character should look like physically. I spent a lot of time in the gym, putting on about 12 kg of muscles.

Besides, the film is set in the world of Kalaripayattu so it was very important for us to learn the art form. The trainer worked with us for four months on Kalaripayattu using weapons. It was very important that we trained hard enough to make it look natural. Physically, there was a lot of transformation and a large part of time went into training.

Also, we finished the whole film in 45 days in all three languages. This meant that we worked 17-18 hours a day. So that was physically exhausting as well.

On learning Malayalam
This was really challenging, because Malayalam is a very difficult language to learn. You have to roll your tongue in a unique way to speak Malayalam words. If you want to do Shakespeare and be convincing, then you have to learn the language. We had a dialogue coach who joined us a couple of months before the principal photography and he worked with us on the lines and with the pronunciations.

Macbeth has been made in different languages all over the world. So the question was, how to bring a fresh and new perspective to it while retaining the soul of the characters and the stories?

That’s very challenging, but I think we have done a good job in that, because it is set in a [time and space] which has not been seen before. The action sequences are unique and new in terms of style.

Jayaraj has done a good job of merging the plot with the story of Chandu Chekaver who is one of the biggest anti-heroes in Malayalam history. Chandu, eerily, has a very similar story to that of Macbeth. However, there are elements [in the film] which are different from Macbeth as well.

On his comeback
It was just the lack of good scripts coming my way or roles that I found exciting. I think what happens is usually when you accept one particular role, everybody wants to cast you in a similar sort of role.

I look forward to seeing myself on screen through Jayaraj’s vision. He said he saw me completely differently and was going to cast me in a character that I have never portrayed before.