Harish Kalyan: ‘We wanted Oh Manapenne to retain the freshness of the original’

Harish Kalyan on his character in Oh Manapenne, the Tamil remake of Telugu hit Pelli Choopulu, and his musical dreams

When the trailer of his Oh Manapenne released recently, Harish Kalyan excitedly sent it to all his family members and friends.

While doing so, there was one person he sorely missed: actor Vivekh.

“He would have immediately replied with words of encouragement,” says Harish Kalyan in a telephonic interview. Harish has reason to miss the late comedian, who passed away earlier this year: Vivekh played an important role in last year’s Dharala Prabhu. “He acted like it was his first film and would excitedly ask about rehearsing, and keep looking at improving himself.”

That film was a remake of Hindi film Vicky Donor, and Harish’s upcoming, Oh Manapenne, is a remake too: Telugu superhit Pelli Choopulu. That he stars in its lead role is, in Harish’s own words, “destiny”.

Because it was way back in 2016 when he watched the Telugu original and discussed it with an assistant director friend called Kaarthikk. “I remember us chatting about the film, and him mentioning that I would be a good fit if it were remade in Tamil.” But the conversation ended there.

Cut to 2019, and Harish was approached for its remake, and suggested Kaarthikk’s name for director. One thing followed another, and slowly, Oh Manapenne fell in place.

“Remaking a film is all about striking the right balance in the script. We faced a lot of difficulty while doing that for Dharala Prabhu, as the concept (of sperm donation) might be difficult for Tamil audiences to accept. With Oh Manapenne, we tread familiar topics like arranged marriages and the relationship dynamics within a family. All we wanted to do was retain the freshness of the original,” he says about Oh Manapenne, in which he plays a happy-go-lucky youngster who starts a food truck.

While Priya Bhavani Shankar plays the female lead, the friends of the lead character — played by stand-up comedian Abishek Kumar and Anbuthasan — will have important roles too. “We had a workshop to ensure that the banter on-screen comes out well,” he reveals.

Harish debuted in the Tamil film industry in 2010, and has since then, come to be known for his romantic-at-heart characters. But he stresses that his outing in TV reality show Bigg Boss in 2017 changed his perspective on what people expect out of him.

“It brought in a lot of self-understanding. The only thing we could do inside the house was to communicate with people, so it taught a lot about how to manage my emotions. It also taught to me to be grateful and appreciate small things, something that is keeping in good stead even now,” he says.

When he is not on a set or listening to scripts, Harish is occupied with songs. His initial ambition was to break into the music industry. Currently, he has a small music programming setup and has banked a range of tunes. “It is mostly channelling my inner emotions. I love listening to all the latest hits. In fact, I have re-programmed Anirudh’s ‘Soul of Doctor’ theme from Doctor. Someday, I hope to work on a music video of my own….”

Oh Manapenne will stream on Disney + Hotstar from October 22

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