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I am the stone, who has traveled through the stream, says Sidhique

Words cannot comprehend what actor Sidhique means to Malayalam cinema. Trying to put him in a box would be a wild goose chase. Actor Sidhique is the chai (tea) to the Malayalam movie industry. You might be able to spend a day without the chai, but the day is never complete without it!
Electrical engineer-turned-actor Sidhique has been working in the entertainment industry since the late 1980s and has breathed life into countless characters from the hilarious Govindankutty in ‘In Harihar Nagar’ to the recent Pattu Marakkar in ‘Marakkar: Arabikkadalinte Simham’, and has worked with the who’s who of the industry.
In a freewheeling conversation with ETimes, veteran Sidhique gets unfiltered and unguarded about his over three decades of experience as an actor, his thoughts on how cinema has changed over the years, anecdotes on working in some of the prestigious projects, his process of acting, how being an actor has refined him as an individual, and much more.
Excerpts:

Siddique-Lal’s ‘In Harihar Nagar’ was a breakthrough in Sidhique’s career. The character Govindankutty along with the other three became iconic of sorts in pop culture. From the crackbrained Govindankutty in ‘In Harihar Nagar’ to the extremely sensitive dad in the recent Soubin Shahir’s ‘Parava’, there is a distance of 30 years, but, Sidhique has remained the same malleable actor, completely submitting himself to the vision of the filmmaker, and giving an input that suits their narrative.

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When asked about what is his process of understanding a filmmaker’s vision, and giving them exactly that, Sidhique tells us, “The learning process is similar to that of a child. Your journey, life, and experiences, constantly shape you. I am nothing but the stone, who has traveled through the stream, constantly colliding with experiences, polished by life, and getting smoother and shinier day by day. If you look at it from that perspective, the stone cannot really claim a huge role in the process, other than deciding to go with the flow. In cinema, I believe, it’s the opportunities that shape you. In ‘In Harihar Nagar’, the makers envisioned me as Govindankutty, similarly with ‘Parava’ Soubin wanted to put me into the mould of a father. They might have got that idea, because of watching me somewhere else. I might not have done a role similar to the dad from ‘Parava’, but Soubin might have seen me in something close. These directors act like the water that shapes the stone. Sathyan Anthikad has once told me that a good actor is not the one who delivers dialogue flawlessly, but the one who doesn’t. I stood puzzled, and that’s when he added, that the dialogue should not come out as something that has been perfectly memorized, but the one came out on the spur of the moment. For that to happen, you have to behave like you are keenly listening to the character opposite to you and reacting to it in a natural way. Once, while dubbing for a PT Kunju Muhammed film, he instructed me to dub as I normally speak, and asked me why I was a tad artificial when it comes to dubbing? That was yet another polishing in my journey. The success of an actor is when, the audience believes that he isn’t the actor, but the character when they are watching a film. And these are some of the major takeaways you get while working with people, watching them perform, and listening to their experiences. If at all there is any change in me as an actor, it is due to these journeys.”

#BigInterview

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The irksome neighbour to the doting father, Sidhique has played it all, multiple times, but no two characters that he played are alike. Sidhique often uses his body as a tool, by metamorphosing into different avatars, which along with many other factors, help him in making each character unique. Ask Sidhique what his preparations are once he finalizes a script, “I hardly say no to roles that have come in search of me. The moment the director or the scriptwriter starts narrating the part, my mind keeps searching of what I could contribute to making it perfect, the changes I could bring to set apart this character from the ones I might have done in the past. After hearing the script, I would clarify my doubts, if any. For instance, if the character is a headmaster, I would ask whether he is upright, rough, or strict, and in the coming days their inputs will pop up in my head. The thought process gradually grows and it continues until the moment you face the camera in the shoes of the character. It helps me in my job. Whereas there are also people who reach the set and then go through their part, some might either be too worried to ask questions, assuming that it may lead to chopping off their part. Also, there are actors, who effortlessly deliver their part, with some prompting, and leave. But, I prefer to know my character well in advance. From the beginning of my career, I have always tried to learn what the maker wants, and frankly, I have only seen the scriptwriters and filmmakers being happy to clear my doubts. And in certain cases, where you have a friendship with makers, I have asked if I choose other roles from the film, in the pursuit of doing something different. And such roles have always brought me recognition. When you break the stereotype, it awes the audience. Similarly, in makeup and costume, I have preserved that curiosity. Because at the end of the day, if even your makeup or outfit, or anything looks out of place, the audience will ask you, both the positives and negatives only affects you.”

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Does that sense of ownership help Sidhique in perfecting his art? The veteran agrees, but, adds that there’s more to it than what meets the eye, “In addition to the ownership, it’s the fear whether I would fit into the shoes of a character, that upgrades the actor in you. While dubbing Jeethu Joseph’s ‘Drishyam’ he lost his cool, as I felt like I should go once more! Jeethu said that he got what he wanted. Shaji N Karun has once asked me to not confuse him because I gave him three contrasting sounds for a single character (laughs). Those were my fears, and the attempts were to find the ‘one’ that is a seamless fit. Veteran actor Kodiyettam Gopy aka Bharat Gopy has once told me, it’s the fear! Not the fear of if I could do this, but the one that pushes us to question repeatedly if it is what the character wants. There is no point in having these questions, once the director calls cut or when you return home. That eccentricity inside you is what transforms you into a character. I have been through a time when memorizing dialogues and faultlessly delivering them were crucial, later the emphasis was on improving the dialogue delivery, and its spontaneity. No writer or filmmaker has prevented me from improving my part. The film crew will always welcome your improvisations. ”

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Since bringing spontaneity to the dialogues and naturality, has been put on the table, we couldn’t help but ask if Udayabhanu’s epic slip from ‘Sandesham’ was scripted, and Sidhique tells us he is a maestro when it comes to the ‘act of tripping and falling’, “If you observe my movies during that decade, you would see that I showed no mercy to myself, when it comes to ‘falling down’ or ‘collapsing’. In movies ‘Kouthuka Varthakal’, and ‘New Delhi’, you will find the same. I would take a moment to pray and then let it go, I’ve never cheated it! In ‘Thadavarayile Rajakkanmaar’, a similar fall cost me a severe injury, I broke my collar bone. Coming to Udayabhanu we couldn’t capture the first take, as Sathyettan (filmmaker Sathyan Anthikad) called cut, worried seeing me stumble. What you saw in the film wasn’t ‘natural’, it was scripted and deliberate! That incident, makes Mathu laughs, and that forms the initiation of a connection between them! In ‘In Harihar Nagar’ too there are similar instances. I do it with all my heart, and kind of enjoyed them! Similar to sneezing, it won’t fit in, if it’s artificial. For it to feel real, you have to do it in real! Dileep once told me that he used to notice it and tried to follow it later. Fahadh Faasil has once said that he has observed the way I run, because of its variations. Later I saw him running in ‘Oru Indian Pranayakadha’ and it was way better than mine!”

Actors constantly seek versatile roles. And for a veteran like Sidhique, who has done it all, not once, not twice, but infinite times, what does being ‘versatile’ even mean? How does one bring versatility to the role of a dad, regardless of playing similar roles countless times, and ensure that no two dads he played are alike?

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“It’s the competitive mind, that does the trick,” says Sidhique, as if this is a cakewalk for him, and continues, “The competition is with the actor in you. When the audience tells you that you performed well in a certain role, your next challenge is to surpass that benchmark. You hardly hear people saying that Mammootty has performed well in a certain movie, or Dasettan’s particular song in the film was superb. It’s because they have passed that phase in their career. So the challenge here is to constantly compete with yourselves. When you are doing the role of a father in four movies, your aim should be to set them apart from each other in all possible ways. You cannot change your body or voice, there are several limitations, but making some minute changes will help you in portraying these characters differently. Or else, the audience will get bored of you. Struggling for existence is the basis of all of this. And as they say, love makes the world go round. As actors, we always try to keep the love alive and nurture it. The public is noticing you in every step of your life, and it is sort of a responsibility to look good and be appealing. Speaking about versatility, Sukumari chechi has always awed me, she would fit into almost everything.”

The variations, be it minor or major might only happen if one observes others a lot. Is Sidhique a fan of anthropology? Perhaps, “I might have an observant eye. When I am with a group of people, and they are cracking jokes one after the other, I keep mum and observe. And those observations come in handy at times, but that doesn’t mean, that I try to study a person and later apply it. The things that get registered perhaps help later. I have noticed that people answer the phone in different ways. For Mammukka (Mammootty) it’s “
Enthada (What is it),” while Mohanlal would say, “
Anna (Bro).” Production controller Aroma Mohan would say, “
Chetta, Mohanan aane (It’s Mohanan),” no matter if he dialed me or vice-versa. Similarly, John Antony would say, “
Chetta, Johny aayirunne (It’s Johny). I would tease him for using past tense and ask him, who are you now. So, I guess I observe!”

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One can often hear, both the film personnel and audiences lauding old movies and blaming how hollow new films have become, but Sidhique refuses to join that bandwagon. When asked about why many old movies like ‘CID Moosa’ or some of his including ‘In Harihar Nagar’, or ‘Kasargod Kadher Bhai’ and ‘Ayalathe Adheham’ among others remain refreshing, wanting the audience to revisit them time and again, and what would be the reason behind the longevity of those films, Sidhique says it is only a matter of perception, “I think it varies from person to person, it’s all relative. For instance, a Keralite won’t get tired of Kerala Sadhya. Though you are later introduced to fast food or any other cuisines, the familiarity of the Sadhya that you had during your childhood will be etched in your memory. It applies in movies too. My son was 2 or 3, when ‘Terminator 2’ got released, we watched it in the theatre. As a child, he would watch the cassette of ‘Terminator 2’ while eating. He had a toy gun like the one Arnold Schwarzenegger used and he would imitate the actor. While in 10th grade, and even while he jetted off to London for studies at the age of 25, ‘Terminator 2’ was his favourite. When he returned home, I saw him watching the same movie. So, I think it depends on which films shaped your taste. A person revisiting a film over and over again and never getting tired of it is the achievement of the film. I couldn’t find another explanation. A lot of good films are happening now. Films like ‘Maheshinte Prathikaaram’, and ‘Thondimuthalum Drishakshiyum’ have appealed to me a lot. A film that is my all-time favourite is ‘Yavanika’. I’ve lost count of how many times I watched it! I was in college when the film was released, watched it thrice in the theatre, and later I would roam near the theatre only to hear the dialogues. I byhearted all the dialogues from ‘Yavanika’ and would deliver them whenever possible! And to an extent, at the beginning of my career, Mammukka (Mammootty) grew fond of me because of that. He once asked me if I was that crazy about films. Films have only grown better. I was stunned watching ‘Thinkalazhcha Nischayam’. How beautifully have they managed to craft those interesting scenes based on a small thread? I was glued to the screen, despite the fact that they aren’t popular actors. New thoughts and movies are coming, and I find them good. The new generation is only excelling.”

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Cinema, similar to any other field is highly competitive. If the first challenge is to make a debut, the next would be existing in the space, and later the test is to stay relevant. And Sidhique is someone who has stood the test of time. Ask him how he managed to stay relevant at all times, and without a second thought, he would credit it all to his rich camaraderie, “I feel, valuing the relationships is what matters the most. The bond you share with cinema and its subjects. The thought that it is me who needs all of them, not the other way around, grounds me. Sai Kumar is my dearest colleague, and he often says that I am the only one who keeps checking on him. Sai never dials me, but I don’t feel like complaining, because once we start, we talk till our ears bleed. Once when I was on the set of a film, Mammukka video called me, Mohanlal was near me, and they too had a chat. Upon disconnecting, Mohanlal said, that they talk once in a while. When I asked why, he said that Mammmukka is often occupied, and so is he. I connect with all of them. I want them all, not just for work, but they are friends. My only effort is to not irk anyone, not my colleagues or the audience.”

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Over 32 years, and countless characters, Sidhique has been fortunate to live the lives of many through his movies, and did that refine him as an individual? Sidhique couldn’t agree more, “Yes, it does. Not just when you transform into a character, but in other ways too. I have hosted a TV show called ‘Samagamam’ and received the opportunity to converse with people from all walks of life. From then CM K Karunakaran to Travancore Maharaja, many dignitaries were part of the show and being an interviewer, I have had meaningful conversations, one that perhaps wouldn’t have happened if it was a casual chit-chat or a visit. Those conversations have influenced me a lot. When Travancore Maharaja graced the show, I saw him wearing a Terlin shirt, it’s vintage, and no longer exists. I have only seen doctors wearing that kind of shirt, during my childhood, and it was a prized possession. During the conversation, the Maharaja shared that he values his material things as he appreciates relationships in life. He said that all the things that he has used, hold significance in his life. That Terlin shirt dated 60 years at the time, but he still wore it, as it meant something. That conversation touched me, and ever since I have believed in that principle. I won’t upgrade my phone unless it fails to work, and people have often teased me for that. My fondness for the Ambassador car too was rooted in that principle. Similarly, the characters I played have helped me evolve. The emotional trauma I had while playing Pallavi’s dad Raveendran in ‘Uyare’ is indescribable. After that, I had a chat with my daughter, told her that she always has me, if she feels like someone is controlling her or influencing her freedom, in any manner. Yes, prior to that we have had conversations, but never this. While filming I used to tell Parvathy as well that no one should ever go through those kinds of incidents. I have played the bad guy too, but won’t take them home! But, I remember this incident that happened while filming ‘Crime File’. I was decked up in the garb of a police officer, and I could hear an argument going on. Some props used in the scene were rented, and the supplier was about to take those off, because the shoot didn’t conclude as promised on the third day, and it was the sixth. He won’t listen to anyone and had determined to take the props. I confronted him, and he said it was the sixth day, so he can’t allow continuing the shoot. I told him that’s impossible, and the shoot has to be completed, the concerned team would pay for the extra days. I was a tad furious. I don’t know whether it was the uniform or the way I spoke, but the supplier left. The whole crew said that I behaved like a real cop. Recently when I visited Mammukka on the sets, K Madhu reminded me of that incident. Such roles might influence you when you are decked up as that character, but not after that. While filming ‘Lelam’, Suresh Gopi said that it would be nice if there were two friends like them in real life.”

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Every single person who wants to make a film, wants Sidhique to play a role in it. The thespian has a plethora of roles to choose from, but does he really have a criterion? Much to one’s surprise, Sidhique tells us, “I have never denied a role. All the characters I have received were good. Once when Jis Joy narrated a story, he also told me about the cast, but upon reaching the set, I was surprised to see one of the cast being replaced. Jis had approached an actor to play the role of a Sub Inspector, however, the actor denied citing that he won’t play a cop that has a rank below SP. Since SP is not suitable for the story, Jis Joy had to replace the actor. I was wondering, why that actor would have denied the role, but perhaps it would be the right thing to do according to him. On what criteria, would I tell the makers that I won’t do a role? I am the clay, and the image doesn’t really matter to me. I have hardly denied any role, nor did I think, that I have the right to say a story is not good. And the ones I couldn’t do were purely because of time constraints. I haven’t said no to a character, If I did, it would mean that I don’t have what it takes to make it a success. My only effort is to have the opportunity to work with all of them, and make sure to not become the uninvited one. In these years, I have worked with almost all the filmmakers and actors, both the young and seniors in the industry. It is a blessing. Prior to the pandemic, we had a get-together at my home, Mammootty, Mohanlal, Jayaram, Dileep, Kunchacko Boban were present. And Mammukka said that all of them are heroes, except for me, and I have got the opportunity to work and connect with all of them! Because they dont meet very often, whereas I have that privilege. I am that common factor! All I want is to act, and not repeat the characters.”

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A character that has Sidhique’s heart? “Babychan from ‘Annmariya Kalippilaanu’, because I received so much love for the film, of which I had a call sheet of only three days.

Before wrapping up the conversation we mustered up the courage and asked him the million-dollar question! What does success mean to him? And he says, “Being able to sleep at night, without any regrets.”

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