In a tete-a-tete with the multi-faceted Thampi Antony, Fred Cochin revives umpteen memories of their association, his acting, writing experiences and life in the US
Deepika Jayaram –
The moment Fred starts talking to his good friend and actor-writer Thampi Antony, one can experience a splurge of nostalgia, warmth, mutual appreciation and friendship, transcending all boundaries.
As they exchange smiles, it radiates the positive relation that they share. Thampi says he first met Fred during one of the theatrical adaptations of Malayalam plays, in which he used to actively take part in the US. He remembers how ‘Freddie’, as he calls him, had an inevitable presence in most of the performances there.
Fred talks about how he had given Thampi and his friends in the acting group, a book named Ningalk Shakunthalam Mathi, for an adaptation. “The book written by K Azeez from Fort Kochi is a comedy and revolves around how various people from different corners of Kerala give their own twist to Malayalam language. It goes on to highlight how this leads to a lot of comic situations.”
Fred says, “The play became a super hit in San Francisco. That was when we forged a friendship, which has lasted for so long.” They indulge in banter, trying to remember the characters they essayed in the theatrical adaptation of the play.
He asks Thampi to talk about his journey in acting, and how it all started. Thampi says, “Director Rajiv Anchal had come here for filming Ila Kozhiyum Pole. He approached me for the telefilm, and I was taken by surprise, as during that time, I had only acted in one film named Arabia, with my brother Babu Antony. I had essayed the role of the father of Babu’s 12-year-old character. I was called on for Ila Kozhiyum Pole, and while living in San Fancisco, I did not have many contacts in New York. I remember how I contacted you. Talking to you has always been re-assuring, just like that day, as you asked me to come right away, and not to worry about the stay.” Thampi says Freddie and his friendship grew over time, because of their common love for theatre.
Thampi says Ila Kozhiyum Pole had him play the role of a priest. Thampi adds, “The film’s editing was being done in Kerala, and during that time, it dawned upon him that I would suit another role he had in mind, for his next project Beyond the Soul, which was an English film. I asked him with surprise if I would be apt for an English film, and he said I would be, given that role demands someone with a personality of his own. I won the Best Actor Award at the Honolulu International Film Festival for portraying the role of Dr. Acharya in Beyond the Soul.”
Meeting Fred that day was a good omen for him, Thampi says, as it actually marked his career in acting, as he went on to appear in 31 movies.
Thampi says he used to enjoy whenever Fred came visiting on his film sets. One such film set was that of Sufi Paranja Kadha. The film had Jagathy Sreekumar, Indrans and actress Sharbani Mukherjee.
That said, Thampi has now transitioned into a verse writer, according to Freddie. He says, “I feel Thampi is an intelligent writer. I myself have read a lot of his books, and I have been in awe of the writer within him. He has developed an individualistic style when it comes to writing, and it revolves around themes with a tinge of comedy or black humour.”
Thampi says, “I had tried my hand at rewriting Shakunthalam, which probably brought out the writer in me. From then on, I was always intrigued by writing. One of the plays I had penned was staged in New York, Dallas and Houston. “He goes on to say, “Over the past few years, I have penned around 12 books, which includes novels, story and drama collection.”
Thampi’s recent works are Marakezhavan, Jaseela Bhanuvinde Kuripukal and Koonampara Kavala. Jaseela Bhanuvinde Kuripukal is woman-centric, and tells the story of a differently abled protagonist, who narrates her experiences to a writer. Koonampara Kavala is a political satire and delves into the life of people from high range area of Elappara, in Idukki. While the other two books have already been launched, as virtual release during the lockdown, I have high hopes regarding the latter.”
He says that his film Eelam by Vinod Krishna is now available on Amazon, and captures the life of a man, who frequents a bar. “It brings forth narratives from the five people about the central character. The film has already garnered a few awards for being an experimental project.”
Fred asks him how journey of acting has been. Thampi says,” I have read it in a book that acting means not to act in front of the camera. When you become a character, you automatically start personifying the traits. It was because of the same reason that my character in Blessy-directed Palunku garnered much attention, even though it had less screen time, as I always ensure to keep it real.”
The friends then get talking about the refreshing atmosphere they can sense around them in the US. Given that Joe Biden’s inauguration happened recently, Thampi says Biden’s inauguration has been like a breather for all. He says, “Unlike other Presidents, who gave way to the newly elected ones, Trump’s behaviour was immature when he disagreed to step down, inviting criticism from a few Senators, who were in favour of him until then. The fact that we supported Biden was also because of Vice President Kamala Harris, who has Indian roots. She was the Attorney General of California as well, which attracted us more towards her.”
Freddie highlights the tendency of White Supremacy which Trump mostly articulated. He adds, such a mentality was not reasonable, as America has had a lot of people like us and our contributions and services to the country as its foundation. This attitude, however, had become a threat for all of us.”
As they sign off, Freddie and Thampi say in an animated voice, “We miss our hometown and Kerala. We have all become busy in our lives here, and if not for the love for Malayalam, we would have drifted apart. It is what keeps us rooted and connected to our motherland. And if that connection is also not there, we would have no link with God’s Own Country, as people living in a foreign land.”