As a child, Kalidas Jayaram was known as the son of actors Jayaram and Parvathy, until he went on to win the National Award for Best Child Artist for the Malayalam film Ente Veedu Appoonteyum, in the year 2003. Malayali film lovers knew he was talent to look out for, but for the longest time, the little actor was known more for his chubbiness! The internet poked fun at his weight whenever photos of the family surfaced. As if to shut up the critics, a teenage Kalidas emerged suddenly one day in a Cadbury’s TV commercial, tall and slim, with no signs of the puppy fat. The actor seemed to get fitter and more chiseled with each entry into the limelight after that, wowing his growing number of followers in Tamil and Malayalam.

Poomaram was Kalidas’ first film as lead in Malayalam and the most noticed, and he went on to do a handful of Tamil and Malayalam films. But it was his portrayal of a transperson in the segment ‘Thangam’ of the Tamil anthology film Paava Kadhaigal (December 2020), that made his audience sit up and take notice. The film was released only on Netflix as theatre restrictions were on, but the young actor has definitely won a new legion of fans, serious viewers of cinema among them.

Let’s talk about Paava Kadhaigal first. Were you ok with playing a transperson on screen? There was also a bit of a controversy that the makers should have cast a real transperson for the character…
I wanted to do the film right from the word go. I was given the male character initially as they wanted a real transperson for the trans character. But they couldn’t find someone who fit all the criteria, since it had to be someone who was not fully transformed yet, who had not done a sex change surgery. They also had a time limit and after two to three months, they had to give up the search. Right from the beginning I had been constantly pressurizing the director to let me play the transperson, and finally they decided to trust me with it.

I needed to lose some 10-15 kilos since I had just returned from a six-month trip to the US and had gained a lot. The character needed to look feminine. But I managed to do that and the director was happy with a look test afterwards.

Did you talk to transpeople to prepare for the character? What were their reactions?
A lot of work went behind the film. We worked on the script with actual transpeople and so yes, I could interact with them quite a bit. We had two such people on the set throughout the shoot. After every shot I would look at them first for feedback, before looking at the director. If they looked happy, I too would be satisfied as well with my performance. As we played back the climax scene I could see their eyes welling up and then I knew was on the right track.

From the reactions I received, transpeople loved the movie. I got calls from transpersons from abroad even, who said they felt proud that someone had represented them in such a big platform. That means much more than awards to me.

Did your parents like the movie?
They loved it, especially my sister. But they don’t enjoy films which are emotionally draining and so they watched it just once.

So are you still basking in the glory of the film?
Well, Paava Kadhaikal has been pathbreaking for me and I got several good offers after its release. But however good a work is, people will forget it in a month or two, especially in India. Our attentions spans are quite short. This applies to all fields, not just cinema. So we have to move on, and I’m always trying to focus on what’s next.

It seems like you have been picking and choosing movies carefully. Is it also because you have the luxury of not having to take up every movie which comes your way because of your background?
In the beginning I used to always keep in mind what people would like, what they would think etc. Now I just doing what I like. It might seem like I’m picking films carefully. But I have no regrets over any of my decisions. At the end of the day I’m following my passion and I need to love my work more than anyone else. I try to choose those stories which attract me most and directors who drive me to put in my best. But I’m still learning, and that process never ends, even great actors they would say the same. We’re just beginners.

Of course, I’m hugely aware of the fact that I have the luxury of my parent’s support and am extremely thankful for that. But everyone for that matter has only a limited number of options to choose from now, since there are so many different actors in the same space. Right now, I am in the process of working hard to make that pool of options bigger.

You had said once that you are a fan of masala films. Would you be open to acting in one?
I’m a hardcore movie buff and I watch all kinds of films – old ones, new ones, mass entertainers, classics and more. I try to watch all new movies in the theatre and that’s something I have missed most in the past one year.

But right now, I can’t see myself in a commercial film as I don’t think I would be believable in such a film. I won’t be able to convince myself even if I play someone who punches five people simultaneously in stunt scenes. But you never know what tomorrow brings.

It seemed like you turned fit overnight. How did that happen?
To outsiders it might seem it happened overnight but a lot of work behind it, as anyone who is into fitness would know. Fitness should be part of one’s lifestyle, I feel. I’ve seen many people hit the gym for two days and then stop when they find no muscles. You have to put your heart and soul into it and need focus and an aim to get results. It might take months or years.

And the fitness part was not just for cinema. I felt like getting into shape in general. But I think of it this way. I have quite a bit of followers on social media and if I can inspire at least one person to get fit or start on some physical activity, I would be happy.

How did you spend the lockdown? It seemed from your Instagram that you spent a lot of time with your pets…
I had work during the lockdown but I always love being at home, I’m not an outdoorsy person. I really enjoyed it and didn’t find anything new about it. And yes, I love my pets. We have Messi, a Labrador, and Bunty, a Great Dane at our Chennai house. They’re our entertainment and Messi is more like a brother to me. All four of us love pets and that’s something which binds us.

What would be the ultimate dream?
None. I’m just looking at the next film at any given point and I just do one film at a time. My only aim is to make my performance better than my last one.

What else is coming up?
I have a Tamil and Malayalam bilingual, a Telugu film and another Tamil film coming. I don’t have any Malayalam films as of now, but am definitely open to the right film.