Shane Nigam is only 24, but the actor has stacked up an enviable repertoire in the Malayalam film industry. His performances have shone even in films with a rich ensemble cast like Annayum Rasoolum (2013), Parava (2017) and Kumbalangi Nights (2019). The son of late impressionist Kalabhavan Abi, Nigam’s rise is remarkable as he’s had no godfathers to guide him. But the charming, lanky actor’s career stands threatened after a collective of film producers in Kerala in November last year decided to ban him from the industry, citing his “non-cooperation” in two ongoing projects. They were miffed when the actor cut his hair, changing his appearance dramatically during the course of a shoot. Insiders say the actor is prone to impulsive behaviour, is frequently late to film sets and abruptly revises his fees. Nigam says chopping off his hair was a “mark of protest” against his treatment by the film crew. Though he has agreed to talks with the producers’ association to end the stalemate, no solution is in sight. Last month, when The Indian Express caught up with the actor on the sidelines of his latest release Valiyaperunnal, he chose not to comment on the controversy. But in the interview, he talked about his passion for films, his struggle with depression and the changes he wishes to see in the Malayalam film industry.
Annayum Rasoolum was a turning point for you. What did you learn from it?
For Annayum Rasoolum, I went to meet (director) Rajeev Ravi for the first time. I had admired his work for many years. Since there were mainly action sequences of mine in that film, he told me to start hitting. These were realistic fight scenes. I used to come home every day with injuries. It was a good experience. I don’t know what I learnt from that film, but whatever you saw in my second film must be what I learnt in the first. I don’t know how else to say it. I’m not a very focussed person. I can’t be very precise. If you store a lot of information in your head, it will become overloaded between the time that the director shouts ‘action’ and ‘cut’. An artiste has to be committed. In that moment, there can’t be any other disturbance. It’s a meditative space and you have to do your shot in that space.
Which character of yours stays very close to your heart?
My characters in Kismath (2016), my first film, and Kumbalangi Nights. Kismath was released during a very tough time, just like Valiyaperunnal now. The film was noticed but not many watched it in theatres. I was Bobby (Kumbalangi Nights) for almost two-and-a-half months. I lived like him. The way he walked, the way he thought. When I went to do Ishq (2019) right after that, I shaved my hair and beard. Suddenly, I couldn’t recognise myself. I couldn’t wear the clothes I used to wear, the way I walked didn’t suit me. I was stuck. Maybe it was my dark time, a period of six months when god did not show me light. It was a tough time. You can call it depression.
Why did it happen, you think?
I realised that I was very attached to Bobby. I didn’t want to come out of it. That beautiful location, such wonderful people around me. I was enjoying and living to the hilt. The happiness you see in that movie is the exact happiness I was feeling. I was very attached to Bobby, I couldn’t move on to Sachi in Ishq.
I acted in Ishq at the height of that depression. It was around mid-2018. I went without sleep for 48 days. I was confused about which doctor I should meet. What should I do? I was trying to Google what was happening to me. What I understood, after coming out of that phase, is that the biggest problem that happens to us is our identity crisis. I was exactly like Bobby, so I became Bobby. ‘So where is Shane Nigam?’ I asked myself.
I went back to look for the Shane Nigam who was in college before he entered films. But I couldn’t see myself. There was even a feeling that maybe I was not alive. My time in college was quite messed up. It was where the sparks of being a rebel began. Till then, I couldn’t look at someone with anger. If an angry man stared at me, I would look down. That’s how I was. Little by little, I was getting my innocence back. I was trying to return to my childhood; to the five-year-old Shane who had no problems in life.
It was a dark period of my life. But if someone’s going through such a phase, there’s no need to despair. If there is a night, there has to be a day. Leave it to god, he will respond.
How do you get over such a phase?
We must work on it. We should not sit at home without doing anything. We must go out with friends, talk to them, share stories. I know we may not want to meet anyone. We may like our dark room, I have gone through that. But my friends made me get out of home, my family took me for drives.
Was that period a result of having achieved fame quite early on in life?
I was dealing with problems within me, not around me. It’s about changing our perspective. The problem begins with you, the good begins with you. We are all working non-stop, I know of so many people who are frustrated, they can’t sit for a second without working. They start thinking and they get doubts and insecurities. I know people like that and I try to help out in whatever way I can. I have felt the pain.
When you face tough times or difficult circumstances in life, do you go to anyone for advice or mentoring?
No one. It’s all me.
Are there any filmmakers you wish to work with?
I want to work with Imtiaz Ali, Mani Ratnam, Selvaraghavan, S Shankar.
What changes do you hope to see in the Malayalam film industry?
Scheduling of scenes is a problem in the Malayalam industry. If they shoot a happy scene in the morning, they may take a sad scene in the afternoon. They may be shooting scenes that appear in the first half of the movie, and then some scenes that are towards the climax. (This) may be because of practical concerns but it’s difficult for an actor. The actor may have read the script, but he can’t quite understand what’s happening. I can’t act without getting answers to all my questions. It’s a problem for me. I ask too many questions.
People watching the film don’t know how it is shot. The lightman may be running, the cameraman is shouting. In the midst of all this, we have to act. It’s important to understand that an actor is a human being, not a machine.
Will a painter work sitting in the middle of the road in a city? But an actor has to do it. At any time of day or night, an actor has to do his job. I believe in that moment. Between the moment the director yells “action” and “cut”, I ask god to cast his magic. What I produce in that moment will become my identity. Otherwise, it would be like borrowing something from someone. I don’t want to do that. There should be originality, in our roles, our films, songs.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines