Hailing from the Kottayam district of Kerala, Roshan Mathew caught the acting bug quite early on in his college days during his second year of his BSc Physics degree, in Chennai. While he had always been inclined towards acting since his school days, he got a professional opportunity when Stagefright Productions came to his college, looking for potential actors to be part of their production of Dirty Dancing. Mathew ended up bagging the role of Neil Kellerman, and began his theatre journey. Soon, as one may predict, he fell in love with the craft. “I really fell in love with the energy I found in that space. Chennai’s theatre scene isn’t like Mumbai, not everyone in theatre is a professional actor. They are usually people who have day jobs that they’re not happy with, but have a passion for theatre. And this is the only way they get to follow it. So, the time that they spend at rehearsals is really charged, and I think that’s what hooked me.” Mathew then decided to take a break from physics, and committed to acting by enrolling himself in The Drama School Mumbai.
After getting a taste of theatre, Mathew then shifted his focus to films, and eventually made his Malayalam debut with the film Adi Kapyare Kootamani. He then did his second film — Puthiya Niyamam — with some of Malayalam’s biggest actors like Mammootty and Nayanthara. But Mathew’s role in both these films was limiting, and didn’t seem enough to grab the right people’s attention. Then came along 2016’s Aanandam, where his role as the rockstar Gautham garnered him all the right attention, and there’s been no looking back since. His cinematic journey has truly started. Along the way, he started moving towards more indie narratives, which helped him be a part of Thottappan. The film wasn’t a financial success, but earned several positive critical responses, and helped Geetu Mohandas confidently secure Mathew’s role in her film Moothon. The film was a raging success with critics after it premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Moothon undoubtedly opened several doors for Mathew, and grabbed the attention of one important man — Anurag Kashyap — who produced and co-wrote Moothon. Cue stardom, cue Choked.
“AK was actually going through Moothon’s first edit. He really liked what he saw, and he told Geetu. She then texted me saying Anurag Kashyap just watched you and said some really nice things. That was enough for me, I felt my year was made. But in the next five minutes, I get a call from Kashyap and told me I’ve done great work, and that he wants me to look at a script he’s working on, which happened to be Choked,” he recalls. OTT platforms have undoubtedly been the saving grace for new actors and experimental films. Mathew believes it gives everyone a “level-playing field” with giving space to stories like Choked, a film that probably wouldn’t have worked as a traditional theatrical release. A platform like Netflix also helped boost the popularity of Kappela, another great film where Mathew’s performance was applauded. After his huge Netflix release, C U Soon is Mathew’s latest project on Amazon Prime Video. The film was completely conceptualised and shot during the lockdown, on a phone. “This film is unlike any other film I’ve done, or has ever been done in Indian cinema before. It’s a very unique thriller, and I’m extremely excited.”
None of the actors were on a set, nor did they physically interact with each other, it was all digital through their screens. Still, Mathew got to finally work with Fahadh Faasil, an actor he highly admired, and someone who is considered to be the flagbearer of new-age Malayalam cinema. “Faasil is a huge inspiration, and I easily count him as the one of the greatest actors we have. So for me, it was great to sit back and just watch him perform. One thing about him is that of course he knows how to bring out his emotions organically, but he also knows how to interact with the camera in the best, technical way possible. I learnt a lot.” Apart from C U Soon, Mathew is also currently working on finalising a few Hindi films. We’ll also be seeing him in the film Pennum Cherukkanum, and will make his big-budget Tamil debut with Cobra alongside Vikram. There’s no doubt that we’re currently living through Malayalam cinema’s golden period. The industry was applauded for its films in the ’80s and ’90s, but then slumped a bit in the quality of films it churned out after 2005. However, the Malayalam film industry had its second coming, with bolder stories, more experimental narratives, and a whole new breed of film-makers and unconventional actors who helped bring about this reinvention. Roshan Mathew is the newest name out of it, and certainly one of the most promising ones too.