Last year, Baburaj had gone for an awards function in Dubai. He was being felicitated for his role as a cook in Salt ‘N Pepper. A couple came up to him with their two-year-old daughter. As soon as the child saw Baburaj, she said, “Two Radhas,” and jumped into his arms. This was one of Baburaj’s dialogues in the film, when he goes to a shop, and asks for two pieces of Radhas ayurvedic soap. The parents told Baburaj, “Before saying Acchan and Amma, she said this.”
In Chembumukku, a suburb of Kochi, Baburaj had arrived for the shooting of the film, Idiots. As soon as the news spread, several children ran up to greet him. Some even hung from his muscular arms. “Children are my biggest fans now,” he says.
But this is a far cry from his 16-year-long career as a goonda, an assistant to the villain in Malayalam films. “During those years, women and children would stay far away from me,” he says, in his air-conditioned trailer van at Chembumukku. “They identified me with my roles too much.” When Baburaj would go for a function, people would keep a safe distance from him.
But when he played a policeman in Aashique Abu’s Daddy Cool, in 2009, there was a touch of humour in it. “When it was shown in the theatres, the audience laughed during my scenes,” says Baburaj. “Aashique noted that, and for his next project, Salt ‘N Pepper, he asked me to play a slightly effeminate cook. There were many funny moments in the film.”
Of course, even in Malayalam cinema, the concept of comedy has changed. Earlier, there would be one page of dialogue. “Now all you have to do is to have a funny facial expression,” says Baburaj. “Just like Mr Bean or the silent Charlie Chaplin films.”
But the industry took some time to accept Baburaj’s makeover as a comedian. Some said that Baburaj’s acting in Salt ‘N Pepper was a fluke. In fact, for two months after the film had released, and became a hit, he did not get a single call. Anxious, he turned to veteran director Lal for advice. Lal said, “Be patient, the roles will come.”
And the roles did come. Later, he acted as a comic goonda in Second Show, which was superstar Mammooty’s son Dulqer Salman’s debut film. In Ordinary, the first superhit of 2012, he played a drunkard. “This confirmed me as a comedian,” says Baburaj. “To be frank, I have no comic skills. But whenever I speak, people laugh. So I am lucky.”
For many years, Baburaj did not think he was lucky. He struggled in bit roles. “I have jumped off bridges, buildings, and cars and suffered multiple fractures,” he says. Since his income was poor, he dabbled in activities like being a toddy shop owner, a real estate agent, and a businessman. In films, he tried his hand in direction, as a producer, and a scriptwriter, but did not find success.
“To succeed in the film industry, you have to hang around, and be resilient, no matter what happens,” says Baburaj. “Don’t give up hope. You have to dig and dig. The chances will come. There will come a time when people will come in search of you.”
The actor—who is married to former action heroine Vani Vishwanath, and has two children—has signed to act in more than a dozen films this year.
Baburaj has finally made a