A foul-mouthed, paralysed ex-cop who's out to rescue a woman held captive by a serial killer. Nobody would've imagined the effervescent Nithya Menen in such a role, but that's precisely who she plays in Mysskin's Psycho. Kamala Das, who lost the use of her limbs after a fall, and is stuck in a wheelchair, throwing abuses at her mother. Kamala Das, who pairs up with Gautham, a blind man, to help him find the love of his life.
The opinions on the film are sharply divided. While many have hailed Mysskin's poetic treatment of the subject, some have slammed it for lack of logic. Based on the Buddhist story about Angulimala, a serial killer who transforms after meeting the Buddha, Psycho marries philosophy with violence in a way that few Tamil films have.
In this chat with TNM, Nithya speaks about playing Kamala Das, her favourite scene and more.
There's a reason why Gautham (Udhayanidhi Stalin) is called Gautham and Dakhini (Aditi Rao Hydari) is called Dakhini. What about your character, Kamala Das?
If you pay close attention, there are lots of names you'll hear in the film that belong to real people. They're all people Mysskin likes and by whom he's been influenced in some way. He uses Sylvia Plath also. He really likes Kamala Das as a writer and that's why he decided to name my character after her.
So, did you have fun playing the rude Kamala Das who swears in Tamil?
Initially it was not easy for me to say those things because I don't usually curse or speak like that. I'm not very familiar with those kinds of words and I wasn't comfortable...he's made me say some extreme things (laughs). These are words that I've never used in my life, so I actually asked him if he really wanted me to do this. But then, Mysskin is the kind of filmmaker whom I felt I could completely trust, 100%. If he has a vision for a character and a script, then I wanted to let go and go with it. That's what I did.
What's Mysskin like to work with? Is he very particular about what he wants from an actor? Is he open to you interpreting the role?
He's a little bit of both. He knows exactly what he wants and he's quite specific. But I don't think he has a problem with improvising. When you trust the director, such boundaries don't come into the picture.
Which was your favourite scene in the film?
I thought the scene in the car (when Kamala Das gives instructions to a blind Gautham and he drives) was brilliant. Even while we were shooting, I was telling him that it's so unique to conceive something like this – a person who cannot see and a person who cannot move are driving the car. For me, such imagery is very different and that's what's amazing about Mysskin's work.
The film didn't strike me as an attempt at realism. It looked like it was deliberately bizarre. What were your thoughts when you heard the story narration or read the script?
I didn't really think about all this. We cannot think about everything and analyse it so much. Every filmmaker is different, every story is different. But what sold me was my character and the fact that she's quadriplegic. So for me, that's definitely not something I've done before and I thought it would be very interesting to play such a role because I'd be using only my face. That's quite a challenge for an actor. The minute he finished telling me the story, I asked him, "Do you want me to play the paralysed girl?" and he said, "Yes!" I said, "Done!" It really was that simple.
You're playing Jayalalithaa in The Iron Lady. In real life, she made some controversial decisions and was also seen as an authoritarian figure. Will the film talk about these aspects too?
We've not yet reached that stage when we have the final script. So I don't think I can comment on that yet!
Can you tell us about your upcoming films?
I'm doing a Telugu film which has Ashok Selvan and Ritu Varma cast along with me. It's directed by a very close friend of mine. It's a really sweet, cute...surreal romantic film. We've just finished shooting it in London. That film should release this summer and I'm really looking forward to it. The Jayalalithaa biopic will start sometime this year. There are a couple more films in Malayalam and Telugu as well.