Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Hot?” “Definitely.” Voted women at Prithvi Café. “The next Amitabh Bachchan,” branded an ad guy. Kay Kay Menon had entered the building. It was 2002, and Paanch, completed two years ago, awaited release. The women and the adman were strangers to Menon’s habitual haunt. The café’s regulars treat his presence with a little less nonchalance than they do the theatre’s.
Menon is at a shoot inside Hotel Lucky Darbar in Santacruz. He’s playing Suresh in Mumbai Meri Jaan, an assortment of stories centering on the 2006 train blasts. The mise en scene is Menon and accompanying actors, shot with a wall-sized mirror reflecting them and the road outside. Peering bystanders reflected in the mirror are not part of this scene, so the crowd controllers are having a tough day. But they’re lucky. For Bachchan, they might have had to evacuate the area. Two women on-lookers remark: “This is that Kay Kay Menon!” Paanch still awaits release.
Menon’s reel image treads a no man’s land between Irfan Khan and Manoj Bajpai, and the Khans ruling Bollywood. An acclaimed actor, many directors would also bet on his sex appeal. He’s never done a ‘side role’, yet never carried a film on his shoulders. “I go by character, not role. The role might be a policeman’s. But the character is Rakesh Maria,” he begins, explaining his method. Menon’s problem is that he’s cast himself in the role of an actor, whereas his character is that of a star.
“A star has to be larger than life, on and off screen,” he counters. “It needn’t be about acting, it’s about lifestyle. I’d never be comfortable with that choice.” He says that while the feminine adulation is a “healthy by-product” of work, most appreciation he receives is not “shirt-tearing hysteria” but “genuine warmth and respect”. Wouldn’t stardom grant an actor more performance opportunity? “I doubt if ‘stardom’ is for that purpose. Else a star wouldn’t have to refuse non-glamorous roles.” He adds that being a star often hampers performance, because you can’t break your “image” on screen.
So Menon wants to be able to drive a small car, not rely on designers, and generally live his own life. Yet he cares about appearance during a movie
launch: “That’s an extension of my work. I wouldn’t do the same for a friend’s party — even with media coverage.” Endorsements? “I’ll decide as and when. But no socially harmful products like cigarettes, alcohol etc.”
Many claim Menon’s performance as Luke, the rocking Rasputin in Paanch, is his most impactful. “That might be because it’s not released. Which makes it more precious,” he reasons. He does agree, though, to Luke being one of his most challenging acts. He also calls Paanch, probably the only film made which centers on his character, his “turning point”: “It was the most ‘seen film not to be released’; most offers came consequently.” The irony of this film being in the docks is best spelt out by the original name of his next film Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi: ‘A Tryst With Destiny’.
“I don’t want to be like Kay Kay. He’s refused so many roles, now he’s left with nothing,” a senior actor had once cried before Menon got these offers. “It’s nice people had that impression,” he smiles. “In truth there weren’t so many roles.” The few he rejected were because “the character has to bear a substantial responsibility, whether as protagonist, antagonist or cameo.” So after the naxalite of Hazaron…, came the lame Pakistani jailer in Deewaar, philanderer of Silsilay, unstable son of Sarkar, weak executive in Corporate and comical Bengali husband in Honeymoon Travels — each character “too individual to be typified”. His latest is the adulterer husband-cum-company boss in Metro. “I work inside out, reading the script leads me to character, instead of shopping externally for mannerisms etc,” he elucidates. “The emotional pool for each character is my own and the same, but ‘craft’ will chisel out a separate Vishnu Nagre or Siddharth.”
It took Menon a BSc Physics and MBA degree, and some time running a white-collar corporate filmmaking firm, to realise what he repeatedly labels his ‘Swadharma’: “Every person is born with something unique to himself. You walk the earth to fulfill a calling destined for you. Identifying that, you realise what you ‘actually are’, visà-vis what you ‘desire to be’.” The AD gives a “shot ready”. He hastens back to Hotel Lucky Darbar, signing a quick autograph on the way. Kay Kay Menon has left the building. And Suresh has entered it.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/cj3v