Name: Salim Kumar
Father’s name: K.A. Gangadharan
Occupation: Coir Trader
When Salim Kumar won the national award for the best actor in 2010 for his role as Abu in the Malayalam movie Adaminte Makan Abu, followers of Malayalam cinema were surprised. Salim Kumar had till then been known more for his sense of comic timing than histrionics and national awards are meant for serious actors or stars like Mammotty and Mohanlal.
Salim Kumar, who also won the state award for best actor for the same role, is an anomaly in many ways to the thick moustache-chubby cheeks stereotype of a Malayalam hero. He was usually the sidekick to the lead actor, adding humour and not necessarily substance to the narrative, before he graduated to bigger roles.
He started his career in the performing arts as a mimicry artiste, which old-timers of the film industry frown upon, before he moved into cinema. But he was not bothered by his looks or his antecedents. He says: “Cinema was always my passion and dream. Though there is lot of struggle, nothing deterred my ambition to get into the film industry.”
Salim Kumar lost his father when he was still in pre-university (XI and XII classes). His mother started a dairy business in North Paravoor to support the family.
Salim Kumar’s big break came in 1993 when he won a university-level mimicry competition when he was studying in Maharaja’s College, Eranakulam, for a bachelor of arts degree. The same year, he got a job with Cochin Kalabhavan, an art troupe.
“Those days (early 1990s), I would get Rs250 per programme,” says Salim Kumar who, friends remember, survived with just a couple of shirts because he could not afford more. Subsequently, he was chosen as host for a comedy programme in a private Malayalam television channel. In 1997, his first breakthrough in cinema came with Ishtamanu Nooruvattam, a family drama directed by Sidhik Shameer. Salim Kumar fondly remembers that his friend and mimicry artiste Nadir Shah was instrumental in getting him the break in the movies.
This was followed by umpteen comedy roles till he got a chance to portray a more sombre central character in Achanurangatha Veedu. Further acclaim came with another intense role in Kerala Cafe. When debutant film-maker Salim Ahmed decided to make Adaminte Makan Abu, Salim Kumar was his natural lead actor choice. Salim Kumar did not charge a fee for the movie; instead, he kept a box containing the coins, which the central character in the film, Abu, saves to undertake the Haj pilgrimage.
The 43-year-old says the National award has not changed him. “Cinema was my passion and I am sure that if you are talented, nobody can sideline you because you are just a comedian,” says Salim Kumar, whose house is named “Laughing Villa”.
Also Read | previous stories in the New India series
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