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Exclusive! Mamta Mohandas: Women are creating an independent market for themselves in the streaming world

The Malayalam star, who will next be seen in a pivotal role in Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Jana Gana Mana, talks about what attracted her to the film, why she’s most excited about this phase in her career and how OTTs have opened doors for stellar women characters

  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 08.20 AM, Apr 24, 2022

Exclusive! Mamta Mohandas: Women are creating an independent market for themselves in the streaming world

Mamta Mohandas | Credit: Mohammed Sehal

“This is the beginning of Mamta the actor,” says Malayalam actress Mamta Mohandas, as OTTplay catches with her in Kochi ahead of Jana Gana Mana’s theatrical release on April 28. It might come as a surprise as 2022 marks her 17th year in the industry, but her latest roles in films such as Bhramam and Meow stand testament to how she keeps reinventing herself.

Mamta’s character forms “the heart and soul” of Dijo Jose Antony’s Jana Gana Mana, which has Prithviraj Sukumaran and Suraj Venjaramoodu as its male protagonists. It’s also a role that she says has filled her with pride right from its narration. In a candid chat with OTTplay, Mamta talks about the film, why she’s excited about this phase of her career and how OTTs have led to women creating a phenomenal market for themselves in the digital space.

Apart from the cast and scale, what attracted you the most about your role in Jana Gana Mana?

My character Saba Mariam kind of forms the heart of Jana Gana Mana and carries its spirit from the beginning to the end. When Dijo came to me with the film, he said this was the character that had to be cast first. And he and (producer) Listin Stephen were adamant that I do it.

I had my pushback because of a reason that was lame in the larger scheme of things. Jana Gana Mana has the spirit of a movie that speaks for the nation and I felt proud of how I placed my character visually while listening to the entire narration. And then my next question was who are the other artistes. When you are talking about a film of this scale, a production house like Magic Frames, a director like Dijo who had done Queen and even me are not enough. So, I was asking if we are bringing people from other industries, and Dijo said, ‘I have a few actors in mind and if you are okay, I can confidently go ahead’.

The film took a lot of time to complete shooting due to the pandemic restrictions, and that’s not how you have done your movies lately.

I believe we are lucky that seasoned and experienced artistes came together for this film. So, we have it in us to always continue from where we last left off. Though Dijo is just one-film old, he’s really driven to make a movie like this and he’s basically the Saba Mariam of the team, he is the core of the film. As you had said, as artistes, you might go to another set, have intervals and then come back. But the director is the person who injects that fire right back into you and reminds you of what you have done. He shows the visuals of those preceding and succeeding your scene, and makes you listen to that audio sample so that you feel the spirit of the film and carry it into the sequence. So, not even at one point, you feel disconnected. Obviously, you also have to be seasoned enough to receive it. There was a lot of teamwork involved and I have not done a film like this, where I have felt this is not just my film but everybody’s.

A lot of actresses shift their priorities at this point in their career. But you have been in the industry for 17 years and you now get to do movies such as Meow, Bhramam and Jana Gana Mana – all letting you explore different aspects of you as an artiste. Do you enjoy that a lot?

Definitely. I honestly believe that I was non-existent for about 6-7 years in my career and life. So, now is the time that I have actually started. This is the beginning of my career; the beginning of Mamta as an actor, because until my late 20s and early 30s, I was still trying to find myself because I was lost and pulled in all directions, and acting had to be on the backburner for a long time. So, now I am at the forefront of things. I am glad that certain slowdowns happened because in the meantime, technology has helped catalyse the digital revolution in cinema and I am getting an opportunity to explore that as well. There is so much freedom in the writing for women now with content and age no bar, and I have the opportunity to showcase a more mature side of me through those scripts.

With OTTs too, right now there has been a change in how audiences are perceiving content too. Earlier, they would probably compare a hero’s role with another male lead, but now they would probably ask what if a heroine had played that character?

And actresses can. It’s not like such roles are not being written for women, but I think it’s mostly for OTTs rather than mainstream theatrical content. And it’s working. In fact, women are creating a phenomenal independent, individual market for themselves in the streaming world because there are actresses who really have power now in Mumbai due to their work in the OTT space.

You are now active not just in Malayalam. You are back doing films in Tamil (Enemy, Oomai Vizhigal) and recently wrapped up shooting for a Telugu period film titled Rudrangi, starring Jagapathi Babu. There’s this whole amalgamation of industries happening and as someone who has also ventured into production during the pandemic, how does it help back content that you believe in?

I think it’s not just the creators but also the producers who are getting the sort of freedom they have always wanted. But at the same time, there are challenges. We might be hoping that we get a certain streaming platform for exhibition, but we might not because there is an influx of content and creators right now. I think that’s also where networking comes into handy, and then it’s purely business. For that, you need to do your homework.

Being someone who has done extensive work in all South industries, does it also help get offers to be part of pan-Indian movies or web series?

There definitely is an advantage. But at the same time, even the actors who are getting recognised or getting an opportunity are those who probably had done TV shows several years ago. It’s just that now we are seeing them shine. The positive factor is that we are so welcoming.

Having been based in Los Angeles for a few years, how do you see the Hollywood industry look at Indian content?

They have a huge acceptance of the content that is being made here. Are they fully welcoming to making crossover content? No. I think they still keep a separation because there’s a lot of advantage of keeping Bollywood and Hollywood apart as what works there gets bought at a certain price here. So, that gap needs to be maintained for both to survive.

On that note, there are a lot of advantages for Indian actors in Hollywood. If you have the right rep, manager and agent, Indian ethnicity has a huge demand in Hollywood right now. But you have to be in LA, just like how Mumbaikars say that you have to live in Mumbai to make it in Bollywood.