In the second segment of this two-part interview with OTTplay, Parvathy Thiruvothu talks about how she began researching for her roles, how she views criticism, her upcoming Netflix anthology Navarasa among other projects
Photo credit: Hasif Abida Hakeem
A trademark aspect of Parvathy Thiruvothu’s filmography has been the research that she puts into each of her characters, consequently making them stand out. In the first segment of this two-part interview with OTTplay, the Malayalam actress talked about the importance of taking a stand and her latest film Aarkkariyam.
With the actress completing 15 years in the film industry in 2021, in the second part, she gets candid about her process of building the backstory for characters in her initial films, how she views criticism and her upcoming projects.
It’s been 15 years since your debut. Looking back, are you content with all the choices you have made in your career?
I’m absolutely content. There have been no regrets at all. I feel every single character has contributed to my growth internally. I’m really content with the kind of choices I have made and the choices that have come to me, which have always been completely out of my control. So, when they did, I’m glad that I had the good sense to not let them go. I don’t feel terribly overworked or that I have done less, I feel like I have done just the right amount of work.
There’s a huge amount of research that you do for your characters. If you were asked to pick five of your best roles, would that be an easy task for you?
No, I wouldn’t even attempt that. The reason I do the background work for a character is for me to live it out in a way that it benefits me as a person. It’s great that it adds to the movie and the script, but what I personally benefit the most out of this is how it makes me introspective and helps me become as non-judgmental as I possibly can. I think I have done about 29 films and all of them have been the best in terms of being highly challenging and also from the feedback.
Let’s go back a decade to when you played Marathakam in Lijo Jose Pellissery's City of God. It’s a character that presents a totally different version of you to the Malayalam audience. How much was that role vital in you becoming active again in Mollywood?
Marathakam was an interesting character because the odds were again stacked up against her, and she decided to run away from all of that to try and make a living. She makes choices that would actually benefit her, which get her moving forward. The decision to leave her son behind with her grandmother, falling in love with somebody and marrying someone else who is better off financially even though that’s not something she wants – these are difficult choices women have to make and not everyone has the privilege to do things they want to do in life. So, for me, it was about finding strength in Marathakam with that and I had already done a character called Maari in the Tamil film Poo that had a bit of similar working-class background. But Marathakam was a character who moved from a part of Tamil Nadu to a city. So, a lot of it was rooted to reality.
I remember (scriptwriter) Babu Janardhanan sir telling me the story and it had a lot of material for me to learn because I hadn’t met a Marathakam in my life. It was very easy for me to judge someone like that. As part of the research, I’d would go to the bus stops and find at 6am and 7am, a lot of Marathakams waiting with their tiffin boxes for a bus to take them to construction sites; I had to find out the places that they lived in to save money and what their modes of having fun were. They have sing-songs, antakshari and dance festivals; they are a small community who make sure they find their joy in all that pain. I found that the script of City of God showed Marathakam in that entire range.
Was that also the phase when you began investing a lot of time in preparation for your characters?
I think the only project that I did not do this at all was my first film, Out of Syllabus. All I knew was that my character was based on a girl who unfortunately died by suicide due to fee-related issues in a college in Kottayam. So, the whole point was about what happens to really good students who can’t pay their fee and end up taking such extreme measures. In the movie, the character Gayathri makes a different call and that was the director’s and writer’s vision of showing someone who would choose life over death. For that film, I didn’t do any research at all. I had zero idea about the craft of acting. I just went in and literally acted the heck out of each scene.
It’s after I did Notebook, for which we had a lot of workshops and discussions about the character, that I realised more about the craft. After Notebook, I played Reshmi in Vinodayathra, who only thinks about running away with her boyfriend. She has no practical knowledge about life, no idea about the responsibilities of an adult. I created her entire backstory even though the film is about the lead character, played by Meera Jasmine. I had a great time building Reshmi from scratch even though nobody wanted to know much about her. But ever since then, I have been doing this.
We say superstars have a huge influence on fans and you are someone who has touched the lives of a lot of people through your characters as well as how you are as a person. But is there also an underlying fear that there are people out there waiting for you to make a mistake?
No, not really. I think I have also made mistakes. I have also learnt from them. I have always felt like it’s unnecessary to dwell over things. If someone doesn’t like my work, I actually respect that. I know how to differentiate between people who would like to tear me down and those who would criticise because they genuinely feel that I could have done better. Or they felt that I didn’t keep my part of the deal, which is performing well enough so it’s good value for the money paid. For that matter, I appreciate when the audience says that that movie and my performance didn’t really work for them. That gets me to reflect and introspect as to where I might have gone wrong or what could have been better.
I’m the least bothered when I read a bad review. I feel it’s their right to say if they don’t like something. I mean, nobody is obliged to like my work. I have to earn it. But I do have a good system of weeding out the kinds of reviews that come in, purely with the intention of wanting to tear my spirit down.
You have got a couple of interesting projects coming up including the Netflix anthology, Navarasa. Anything you can tell us about those?
Navarasa is a really beautiful project. I got to work with director Rathindran R Prasad and Siddharth. I don’t want to give out more details as it will be released in August. I got to dabble in an emotion I haven’t done before. I have played everything in terms of positive emotions, but I have not been able to do something that impacts my character negatively. That’s one of the reasons why I jumped at the offer because I never played a character where I am internalising this particular emotion out of the navarasas. Also, I will start working on Ratheena Sharshad’s Puzhu next (that also has Mammootty in the lead).
There are also a couple of films that you are planning to direct?
There are two directorials, one of which will be announced soon. But again, COVID has thrown everything off the charts. So, there are performance projects that will take precedence because I have said yes to them. Hopefully, by the end of this year, there will be a proper announcement as to what my directorial will be.