Manju Warrier on working with Vetrimaaran and Dhanush in Asuran, and being a director's actor
'Vetrimaaran insisted I dub for myself in Asuran,' says Manju Warrier in an interview with Firstpost.
In her twenties, when Malayalam cinema was still ruled by superstars, she had roles written for her. Post her comeback in her thirties — though superstars continue to hold fort, a new wave cinema has taken over and new actors are finding their feet — roles continue to be written keeping Manju Warrier in mind.
Warrier has been at the top of her game during both her chapters in Malayalam cinema. It’s a bit of a surprise, then, that the lady Superstar finds it disconcerting to talk about her process as an actor. Perhaps it has something to do with being an instinctive actor or just plain humility. “After 2-3 days, a chemistry works between the actor and director and then things fall in place. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When I look back, I can’t really pinpoint a process, it simply flows,” she calmly sums it up during a promotional interview for Asuran— her debut in Tamil after 35 films in Malayalam — directed by National Award-winning Vetrimaaran, co-starring Dhanush.
She is as ambiguous about the new concept of “behaving” rather than acting. “I still don’t know what they say about the new kind of acting or how to adapt myself to it. All I am being is spontaneous. Maybe it’s my ignorance but I can’t find a theory to learn.”
Good cinema is always a result of great teamwork. And a good performance is always moulded with the help of a good director. She likes to call herself a “director's actor.” When she hears something good about her performance, she would rather credit the director for it.
“The right director can brilliantly edit your performance. Fine-tune it. Script selections are instinctive. I don’t go into the nitty-gritties of it.” This year, the actor was appreciated for her power-packed performance in the 200-crore winner Lucifer, directed by actor Prithviraj Sukumaran. There is Santosh Sivan’s Jack N Jill (a fun genre-defying film co-starring Kalidas Jayaram and Soubin Shahir), Priyadarshan’s magnum opus Kunjali Marakkar with Mohanlal, and a quirky film directed by Rosshan Andrrews, written by Unni R, titled Prathi Poovankozhi ready for release.
Excerpts from a long chat with the actor.
The Tamil debut was long overdue. What took you so long?
Dhanush has been a long-time friend. We wanted to collaborate earlier but somehow it never happened. This time Dhanush called and said it’s a Vetrimaaran film and I didn’t have to think much. I was nervous and excited as I have seen the kind of films that come off their partnership—they are gritty realistic ones. Asuran had the same mood and I was keen to see how such films are made. More so as I haven’t done something in that space in Malayalam.
Was the language switch difficult?
I know how to read, write and speak Tamil. In fact, I learned Tamil before Malayalam as I was born and brought up in Nagercoil. But then in Asuran, we are using the Tirunelveli slang, so all my smugness about Tamil left me the minute I landed on the sets. I was given the script in Tamil and was wondering whether to ask for a translated one in Malayalam or English but then I realised that Vetri was seeing me as one of them. That was a welcoming gesture. Language was not a hindrance for me.
How was it on the sets?
I was as nervous as I was on the first day of my debut in Malayalam. I had only hearsay information about Tamil cinema and a lot of filmmakers’ back home were more excited than me. I didn’t want to let them down. It was like being in a new school. New things to learn and unlearn. Scenes were only given on the spot, dialogues were added and subtracted, and a lot of other improvisations. The whole set was in sync with these improvisations. During dubbing, I had a proper language coach. Besides, Vetri insisted that I dub for myself.
Which is your favourite Vetrimaaran film?
I love all his films. But Visaranai is one film, try as I might, I don’t have the courage to watch again. His female characters, though they have short screen time, are very deep and strong.
You have played myriad versions of strong female characters on screen. How do you define one?
A character needn’t be loud to be bold. There is power in silence. It also depends on the situation. You don’t always need to bawl your lungs out or keep it all bottled inside. Sometimes, letting it out also shows strength. And sometimes not to react to a situation also requires unimaginable strength. Each woman has different circumstances to deal with. I would say, between all this maintain your self-respect and dignity and do not hurt anyone. It’s really difficult to define one.
Why did you choose to co-produce Sanal Kumar Shashidharan’s Kayattam?
It was an organic decision, that came during the middle of a casual conversation. I thought it was an opportunity to learn about production, besides it doesn’t have the scale of a mainstream commercial cinema. Though there are no big plans, I am keen on investing in more such projects.
How is Sanal’s process with actors?
He lets us be. When I tell him that I don’t know how to do it, he will say that’s the best way.
Social media is divided in the argument about cinema being politically correct. Some say it is the need of the hour while others insist it’s forcefully added and drifts away from the craft.
I think each filmmaker should be allowed a creative freedom. Sometimes, cinema is dissected in a way that the filmmaker might not have thought in his wildest dreams. I feel we have lost the ability to enjoy an art form in all its innocence. We keep searching for its problematic layers. Why only cinema, even what we say on social media gets politicised. Sometimes it’s taken out of context. Even a Facebook greeting is seen as siding with a party. Often, I don’t even remember at what point I said that. It might have been a friendly gesture, but it is twisted and politicised.
Having said that, off late you seem to have let your hair down on social media. Like that before and after hair photos and a little jig with the cups...
Those were all spur-of-the-moment posts. The minute you give something much thought and make a post, it gets twisted. So, right now, I would rather have fun!
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