'Vakeel Saab is a lot more hard-hitting and emotional in a different way': Nivetha Thomas on comparison to Pink
Nivetha Thomas discusses preparing for Vakeel Saab, the emotional toll it took on her, and why she felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility when she signed the film.
Nivetha Thomas still remembers the exact moment from her first conversation with director Venu Sriram which convinced her to be part of Vakeel Saab, the Telugu remake of Pink. The film has Pawan Kalyan reprising Amitabh Bachchan’s role in this version, whereas Nivetha will be stepping into Taapsee’s shoes. “It was my character’s name — Pallavi — which got me hooked onto Vakeel Saab when I first heard the narration. That was my character’s name in Ninnu Kori too. But I kept thinking, the lives of these two Pallavi(s) are so different from each other, even though they share the same name. There are so many people around us who go through what Pallavi goes through in Vakeel Saab. This film gave me a chance to voice out all that frustration and anger. That’s what kept me going throughout the journey,” Nivetha Thomas says.
Excerpts from the interview :
Pink is a popular and critically acclaimed film and Taapsee earned rave reviews for her performance. And later, Shraddha Srinath reprised the role when it was remade in Tamil as Nerkonda Paarvai. How do you make a popular character like that your own and make it look original?
I loved Pink when it was released in Hindi and I watched it twice. I remember every scene of the film quite vividly. I haven’t seen the Tamil version. So, when I came onboard Vakeel Saab, one of the things that I consciously did was not revisit Pink again. Although Vakeel Saab is a remake of Pink, it has a soul of its own and its beats are very different compared to the Hindi version. The language is different, and the background that the characters come from is different. Even the scenes are not in the same order compared to the Hindi version. We had mood boards for every scene and even during filming, I could feel the difference because what we were doing in Telugu is a lot more hard-hitting and emotional, but in a very different sense. All that comes from the change in the beats, which reflects in the performances and the edit. It’s true that the story has been changed to suit Pawan Kalyan’s star image, but the core idea and fundamentals remain the same.
From my end, I tried to make Pallavi look, feel, and sound extremely believable. I wanted the viewers to feel her pain, without going overboard. If you look at the courtroom scenes, we shot all that in a couple of weeks, but court trials would usually take months to unfold. I had to find a balance with respect to how realistically I can do all that because a lot of time has passed in between. I used to voice out everything I was feeling to the director (Venu Sriram) because he should know why I’m reacting in a certain way. All this makes a big difference while performing in a scene.
Your character, Pallavi, goes through a lot of trauma and turmoil in the story. Did you have to internalise all that trauma? How did you deal with it?
I had to treat it as a story, where an unfortunate incident has happened in her life, because if I internalise all that, it’s really sad and hard to deal with those emotions. Sadly, every woman goes through it in some form or another. There was a moment while we were filming the courtroom scenes, and I asked myself, could I have gone through the same emotions as Pallavi? The conversations between Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj in the court made me think how close the film is to reality. That’s when it hits you that the film is so much more than that. Through the shoot, every morning, I used to follow a ritual. I would tell myself that I want people to feel the pain of the character I was playing, and it continued throughout the journey.
In many ways, you are voicing out the fear, frustration, and rebelliousness of women through this character. Did it feel like you were taking on a huge responsibility when you were shooting for Vakeel Saab?
Absolutely! I didn’t want to fail the women who are going to watch the film. Deep down in my heart, I know that I won’t be able to forgive myself if I fail. I didn’t give myself that choice. The story and the emotions are so real that you force people to tap into their memories. You are letting those thoughts linger, and forcing people to feel uncomfortable. It’s a bitter thing to do and difficult to put people in that position, because a lot can flash in front of your eyes in such moments. That’s why it felt like I was taking on a huge responsibility.
Did you speak to someone to prepare for the role or was it a very internal process to play Pallavi?
Unfortunately, such roles are easy to play because there’s so much truth in the character. You just look outside your window and you’ll come across different stories of how women face sexual harassment, sexual assault, and molestation in different stages. It was very much an internal process for me, but there are moments in the story where it’s incredibly hard to emote or put your feelings into words because Pallavi’s friends aren’t as strong as she is. They break down emotionally and mentally in the courtroom, and everything else comes crashing down for Pallavi too. And yet, she has to hold herself together and take care of her friends too. That was really hard to emote.
Beyond the emotional subtext, was filming the courtroom scenes a daunting task in itself?
I have to give full credit to our production designer Rajeevan and cinematographer PS Vinod for their fabulous work. The courtroom looked so real and it was my first experience of shooting with six cameras rolling at all time. The takes were much longer, and everyone in the room had to be in character at all times. It made the atmosphere feel a lot more tense and we were on our toes all the time. It was a great experience shooting those scenes.
When you are sharing screen space with someone like Pawan Kalyan or Prakash Raj, how do you manage to stand out? Is there a trick behind it?
I feel that it all boils down to writing. If you understand the purpose of the scene and what your character is, you just have to do your job right, even if you appear for a split second on screen. Actors and stars like Pawan Kalyan, Prakash Raj bring something very different to the table, and you have to be clear about what you should be doing. This is why voicing out your opinions to the director helps. It gives everyone more clarity.
Prior to Vakeel Saab, you’ve worked with the likes of Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Vijay, NTR, among many other top stars. Does all that experience prepare you in some way to take up big projects?
I’m very curious and inquisitive as a person. I’m eager to know what do actors who become superstars do, how do they function, how do they prepare before performing a scene. In Vakeel Saab, I’ve worked with the likes of Ananya, Prakash Raj, and Pawan Kalyan. Their backgrounds are completely different from one another, but to me, they are all actors. It’s an interesting paradigm to observe how they interpret their roles and slip into them.
It really doesn’t affect me as an actor and things I learn in one set will be vastly different from experiences in another set. During the shoot of Darbar, I would ask Murugadoss a lot of questions and we would have plenty of conversations about why Vallikkanu has to behave in a certain way. In a similar manner, it was interesting to understand various perspectives of Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj on different topics. I like being in that space where my co-stars and the director understand my approach.
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