The Malayalam actress plays the lead role in Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru segment in the Netflix anthology Navarasa, which is set to release on August 6
Working in a Suriya-Gautham Vasudev Menon movie might have been a goal for many actors after the hit combo’s films such as Khakka Khakka and Vaaranam Aayiram. While fans have surreal expectations from their first collaboration in 12 years with Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, a segment from the Netflix anthology Navarasa, for its lead actress Prayaga Martin, it was an opportunity to start again in the company of the film industry’s best.
The Malayalam actress, who has worked in movies such as Kattapanayile Rithwik Roshan, Ramaleela and Pisaasu, talks to OTTplay about her experience of working in Navarasa, why it’s important for artistes to explore digital space now and more.
Mani Ratnam’s Navarasa is a dream project for anyone to be part of, and your segment especially has this fan-favourite combination of Suriya and Gautham Vasudev Menon. Tell us about how you landed the role?
I was approached by Gautham sir and his team. I was asked to go to Chennai for a photoshoot and screen test. I did that and came back. I wasn’t expecting anything. Then they called me again and we had this screen test with PC Sreeram sir. I was really nervous because I was giving a take to the master cinematographer, whom we all admire. Luckily, I got a confirmation call saying that I am in and it all began from there.
PC Sreeram had tweeted that the energy on the sets was great. How did it translate to the acting and vibe among the team?
The vibe was excellent. We were all on the same page and I think that’s the key as a team. Things just fell into space and we were all given our own space to work on ourselves, with our characters and what we had to do. We were all clear before the project, as each of us knew what we wanted to do. The reason we were able to do so was because of the director.
Personally, he is someone who gives the artistes their own space, to work on their roles and I think that’s why each of his characters comes across as very real and have a vital quality. It was an extremely magical and brilliant working experience.
What can you tell us about your character in the segment?
I play Nethra; she is different and yet somebody that you can relate to. I can’t divulge more about her. It’s not that she has too many elements about her or is someone that we haven’t seen before. She is a regular 22-year-old girl, but there is something about her, which was there from the writing itself. I think that’s what got into me and I only had to deliver.
What would you say were the most important takeaways for you while working with veterans such as Gautham and Suriya?
Be it Gautham sir, Suriya sir or PC Sreeram sir, all of them are legends in their own right. But at the same time, they are not intimidating; they don’t put you on the spot and say you are new and you have to cross a certain line to be where they are. They give you the space you deserve. There were great levels of understanding and I was given the space to ask them my queries and clear my doubts. I was put at ease and I think the trick to working as a team is to be relaxed. They made it a point that I was comfortable and in a zone where I could perform.
How was your first day of shoot with them?
My first scene was very special. I wanted to take a different approach to play this role and I did that. I was skeptical about Gautham sir liking it. At the end of the day, it’s his film and I am playing his character. But after I did it, he liked it and we went with that for the rest of the shoot.
Before the pandemic, you had starred in a powerful role in your Kannada debut Geetha. It was a time when you were just starting to branch out into other industries. Were you a bit disappointed that the lockdown put the brakes on that attempt?
No. In fact, I am in a very happy space. I am really glad that I am able to restart because I have been wanting to do so for the past few years. I have been in the industry for five to six years, and I have been thinking of working on myself and correcting a few things. I was feeling that I really needed another start and that’s when the pandemic happened. Though the pandemic is unfortunate, personally I used the lockdown to revamp, crush myself and unlearn. So, this film actually feels like a debut.
Right after the lockdown was lifted last year, you had also shot for two short films – cinematographer Abhinandan Ramanujam’s Did You Sleep With Her? and The Soldier in The Trench. How much did these projects help keep the creative side alive?
The Soldier in the Trench was a home production where all my friends came together. It was directed by a close friend, Vivek Prashanth Pillai. He came up with the script during the lockdown, on the day we lost Sushant Singh Rajput. That script also highlighted depression. So, the idea hit me and we kept reworking on the script. The lockdown has also helped a lot of people introspect and prioritise mental health, which is basically what Soldier in the Trench is about.
After that I began doing a film with another friend Abhinandan, who was getting into the shoes of a director. Kalidas Jayaram came on board for the project. Incidentally, that was the time when Gautham sir approached me for his segment. So, he got to watch Did You Sleep With Her? as well.
How important is it for actors now to also explore the digital space?
Digital media is of utmost importance, especially today, due to its influence. Talking about OTTs, this particular project that I am part of is reaching across audience in 190 countries at once. Cinema ultimately is about reaching people and that’s what OTT platforms do at its best.
If you look at a project like Navarasa, it has a healthy mix of veteran technicians, established stars, stellar directors and up-and-coming talents. So, have OTTs made it a level-playing field for artistes of varying experience?
It’s providing a platform and more opportunities to a lot of artistes to collaborate. These platforms make it easier for artistes to make their way to the audience. That way, OTTs have made it easier for all of us.
What are your upcoming projects?
I am somebody who doesn’t go with a plan. I have always been like this. I take life and my career as it comes; I believe in going with my gut feel. I do have a lot of goals, which are personal. I really would like to do roles where I am given the scope to perform and show what I really am.