Absolutely intrigued by Jayalalithaa as a person: Nithya Menen to TNM

Nithya Menen, whose supernatural thriller ‘Praana’ is set to release on Friday, speaks to TNM about the unplanned break she’s had, her upcoming films including two Hindi projects, and more.
Absolutely intrigued by Jayalalithaa as a person: Nithya Menen to TNM
Absolutely intrigued by Jayalalithaa as a person: Nithya Menen to TNM
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You would think with a film about to release and quite a few others in the making, Nithya Menen might sound over-the-top excited. But she is calm, thoughtful and very, very clear about what she wants to do. Malayalam cinema had missed the presence of this actor who is a mix of beauty and brains. She was last seen in Malayalam more than three years ago, with Dulquer Salmaan, in a cute romantic comedy about old and new love, 100 Days of Love. It was around the same time the two of them came together for Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani.

After that, Nithya has been absent, and her absence noticed, for she has been asked a lot why she was taking so long to come back. And not just by Malayalam cinema, but by Telugu, Kannada and Tamil movie lovers too. Nithya has been hopping across languages and is now going to make a debut in Hindi cinema too. But first she has VK Prakash’s Praana in Malayalam, which releases on January 18. The film is highly-anticipated as Nithya is going to be the only actor.

Soon after Praana, there is TK Rajeev Kumar’s Kolaambi. And then the Hindi films, and then another biggie in Tamil – the Jayalalithaa biopic. And after all that, she returns to Malayalam for a ‘Chackochan’ movie.

Nithya speaks to TNM about the break she never really planned to take, about the films she is going to be a part of, about the happy discovery of her artistic side – that in addition to acting and singing and all things creative, she could draw too.

You had earlier said Praana was a kind of challenge, it being a one-actor film. Now that it is going to come out, what is the feeling – apprehensive/ excited?

I am not really apprehensive or anything. I think that's probably because after the time I do a film I feel my job is done. When I finish the film, I am happy with the way I have done it and that's about it. The result or how it has done doesn’t really come to my mind, naturally. I don’t think I even think about it. Probably I am more busy thinking about what I am working on at the moment.

Praana has a supernatural element in it. Do you believe in the supernatural yourself?

I don’t believe it in the way it is shown in the movies, for sure. I believe in positive things that are beyond us. That, I believe in. That, I guess which people call god. I don’t think I believe in the negative side of it.

You had spoken about taking it slow, since you have been working nonstop for years. But 100 Days of Love was more than three years ago. Do you think you stayed away from Malayalam cinema for quite a bit?

Malayalam cinema… I don’t think I stayed away on purpose. It was not a conscious thing. It is more or less a very spontaneous decision for me. (Say) I was shooting something in Kochi. If someone says, there’s this script he wants to narrate. I listen to it, I like it, I say yes. One or two films may come together like that. It is life - normal natural progression. Not so much planned - this language or that. I was probably doing something in Telugu, in Tamil. Something would have come by in the same language.

I don’t do too many films. You can’t really do everything all the time. I work in four languages. I do two films in two languages and two years are gone. Definitely not some kind of a conscious planned decision at all. I don’t really give any attention to all of that. For the past few years I really didn’t do anything much. Not any language. So it’s not just about Malayalam.

And now you have got three back to back Malayalam films

Yes (laughs). Right now I am doing two Hindi projects, the Chackochan film is after that.

Since you were on a break, what made you choose Praana and Kolaambi?

Both these films, I don’t look at as a job. Both the directors - VKP and Rajeev sir – are extremely dear to me. They are like very, very good friends. I value them very highly. VKP is not just a director to me, he is like a family friend. My entire family knows him. We are both in Bengaluru. When this movie came up, he asked me why don’t I hear it. It’s not a regular film. It’s something I would enjoy doing even during a break. We just wanted to shoot 20 days. It was just me. It’s done in a very intimate way. Small little group of people.

Very similar to that was Kolaambi. Rajeev sir is someone I respect and love very much. I will never say no to his film. That’s the kind of equation I share with him. When he said he wanted to do Kolaambi, I said sure. This is another sort of indie film. We were shooting only for 20 days. It is made for an international audience. These are not your regular plain Joe films. These are films I truly enjoy doing. And films I do for people really close to me.

Is it too early to talk about the film?

The movie is a very purely content-oriented film, made in the style I absolutely love. It is a beautiful story about an artist. I play an artist. I am coming to Koch to exhibit my work at the Biennale in Kochi (partly shot at the actual Biennale venue). The artist gets inspiration from this old couple – played by Renji Panicker and Rohini – how they sort of influence and become a muse for her artwork.  It is a really pleasant story about art and music (Kolaambi of course is the loudspeaker – there’s a gramophone playing beautiful music with LP records on it).

Off topic - you are known as a singer, but do you draw or paint?

This is very interesting. I used to always say the only creative thing I can’t do is draw. If it’s something (else) creative I can do it, but I could never draw. Somehow subconsciously I am ambidextrous. I am left-handed for sure. I was just conditioned to become right-handed. In Kolaambi I am playing an artist. I decided to make her (the character) left-handed. There was this scene where I was sketching. Everyone was surprised. I sketched really well with my left hand. I was in shock. I didn’t know. I thought I was really bad at drawing. After that I started with my left hand and realised I could draw. It was just not working with my right hand. Renji sir, who sketches, said this is the work of someone who can draw. Now I am planning to explore drawing with my left hand.

A sketch of Renji Panicker and Rohini that Nithya made during 'Kolaambi' shooting

That’s so nice. And after Kolaambi, you say you have a Chackochan film?

It is a sports-based film. It’s a film about a beautiful relationship of a couple and how they stand with each other in achieving something. They are always together. The background is sports. After I finish my Hindi project I will start that.

Tell us about the Hindi project

I am almost finishing Mission Mangal. The film produced by R Balki and Akshay Kumar has Akshay, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, all these actors – it is an ensemble kind of cast. It is about India’s Mars mission and how India manages to do it on an extremely low budget. It is a very interesting story where we all play scientists. The other Hindi project is Breathe 2 – an Amazon Prime series. Breathe 1 was done by Madhavan. This is the second season. I am playing opposite Abhishek Bachchan.

Are you comfortable, going to Hindi?

I could speak always speak the language, I felt quite comfortable working too. Everybody was quite nice. They had heard about and seen my films. I was never a sort of newcomer or an outsider there. They already knew. And the cinematographer for both the projects are Tamilians. I was speaking to them in Tamil all the time. Rest of the cast and everyone was very very friendly.

You also have the Jayalalithaa picture coming up. What did you think about the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister before this offer came to you?

I was absolutely intrigued by her. Not in terms of politics. I couldn’t be further away from politics. I have no idea about anything related to politics. But as a human being, as a person, I found her extremely intriguing. I felt this empathy with her always. I felt I could understand why she was the way she was. I would approach the film like who she was as a person, why would she do this or not do this, look at it completely from a human perspective. Everything else for me, including the politics, is secondary.

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