Akshay Radhakrishnan’s debut outing as the intense Ayappan in Shankar Ramakrishnan’s Pathinettam Padi has made people sit up and notice the 22-year-old actor. For three years Akshay and the actors, all between the ages of 16 and 25, on the cast, thought of nothing else as they bonded and prepped for their roles. They had been put up in a house, christened ‘Chilla’ (a loose translation means a nest) in Thiruvananthapuram, by Shankar.
“I saw the film’s first show in Thiruvananthapuram, then I rode to Kochi and watched another back home in Aluva. The reaction of the people was beyond anything I expected,” says Akshay over the phone. Post-release, he has been busy promoting the film on college campuses where he seems to have notched up quite the female fan following. Of the response in a city college for women, he drawls, “That wasn’t for me, it was for my pet dog Veeran whom I take with me every where.” Veeran is a constant companion.
The journey from Patteripuram, in Aluva, to Pathinettam Padi’s Ayyappan wasn’t easy especially since he didn’t know how to make his way in. After his Class XII, he headed to Chennai to study film making. There he realised, a year into the course, that “films can’t be taught —there is no theory to this. You can’t write an exam to be a film maker; it has to come from within you. So I quit and came back – why waste money?” His father is a welder, his mother is a school teacher and his older sister is a journalist. On his return from Chennai, he worked on the crew of 1971: Beyond Borders and enrolled for an undergraduate course at UC College, Aluva.
A year into his college, he heard of the auditions for Pathinettaam Padi. “There were 20,000 entries, which were culled to 1000 and further filtered to100. I didn’t know until after the auditions that I had been selected.”
After an acting camp he found out that he was being considered for a role. Of the three years spent with the film, he says, “Those were spent with complete faith and confidence in the team. It has paid off.”
The actors lived together in Chilla, in Poojapura, and spent time with those who would be members of their ‘gang’ — the film is about students of two schools, in Thiruvananthapuram, who are members of ‘rival gangs’. “We did everything together, so that by the time filming started the chemistry was set. After all we were kids who had been together since we were in kindergarten. We even called each other by our names in the film.”
Those were days of intensely gruelling acting and fight camps/workshops, he remembers.
He says he wanted to be an actor as a two-year-old. “I know it sounds far-fetched but that is when I realised found out what an actor was.” Akshay’s house is near actor Tini Tom’s house, in Aluva, where actor Ajay Kumar (Guinness Pakru) was a frequent visitor. The TV show ‘Cinemala’ used to filmed there and at, Ayeshumma, a neighbour’s house, “I used to go there to see the shooting, one day Guinness Pakruchettan caught hold of me and asked me if I wanted to act. I had no idea what that was…” His mother told him the story and, he believes, since then he has wanted to be in films. He acted, while in Class V, as a junior artiste, in Calcutta News, and all through school he was active in dramatics.
For now, he is busy with Pathinettam Padi promotions and once the dust settles, he hopes to find more such projects. “I don’t want to make an impulsive choice, I want to take my time and choose carefully.”
The film was special in other ways too, “It was hugely satisfying when my film was screened at Jeena theatre in Nedumkandam (Idukki). My father had done welding work there when it was being built.” And, of course, acting with Mammootty — “He is even better in real life, he has an aura around him. I was very anxious when we had shared scenes, I told myself I couldn’t fail in acting. My primary concern was that I shouldn’t forget my lines.”