Wearing a nightie and sitting with a hand under her chin, the mother looks typically middle-aged and Malayali. What you don’t expect from her is the effortless humour merged in the stories of her son she tells an amused visitor. The visitor is a young woman the son had a crush on for years and the mother bares open his dark secrets before her. The son cringes, the young woman is amused and the mother looks innocently from one to the other. The seriousness on her face only makes her more endearing and the whole thing funnier. Those who watched her in that funny scene from June, a Malayalam film that tells the story of a girl growing into a woman, noticed the actor, Shiny Sarah. It wasn’t her debut but it was the first time she got recognition from viewers, she tells TNM in an interview.
In less than six years, Shiny has acted in over 70 films, in some of which she appears in only passing shots that you might miss in the blink of an eye, she says. What brought her immediate attention is her taste for humour, an easy ability to make people laugh. And mother characters in Malayalam cinema are rarely shown to have a sense of humour.
“I never act thinking that I will be funny. Even when I played the mother in June I was just behaving like a mom. Only when I watched the film later did I realise that it appeared funny in parts,” Shiny says.
Before her acting days, Shiny worked as an admin and HR professional in India, Dubai and Kuwait. In Dubai, she did a stint as a magazine sub-editor. Not that she didn’t try her luck in cinema. In the late 1990s when director Jayaraj was making Kaliyattam she approached him to ask if she could be an assistant.
“To this day I don’t know why I didn’t tell him I wanted to act. So, I assisted him in films such as Kaliyattam and Sneham before I got married and left for Kuwait. When I came back, I found an admin job in India Vision and began assisting Jayaraj sir again, for movies like Train and Nayika and his Navarasa series,” Shiny says.
She didn’t tell Jayaraj when she applied for an audition call for Maheshinte Prathikaram and got selected. Only when the filming was over, she slipped it in, ‘Sir, I have acted in this movie’. He was surprised, she says, but afterwards cast her in his films too. He has told her that she should direct a film one day, and she wants to do that. She owes it to him, Shiny says.
But Shiny, who was always interested in acting, settled into the new profession she found so late in life and hardly had time to do much else. She embraced every movie that came her way. She didn’t mind how big or small the role was, she just wanted to perform. In Oru Halal Love Story, she was a washerwoman without a name.
Shiny in Oru Halal Love Story
“Zakariya (the director) sounded embarrassed when he called to tell me about the role. But he’s a National Award-winning filmmaker, I’d asked him to call me for his next film (after Sudani from Nigeria) whatever the role was. I’d even play the role of a passer-by without a line to speak. And I loved it also for the Malabar accent that I spoke as a child,” she recalls.
Shiny grew up in Ponnani, studied and worked later in different districts before finally settling in Kochi. She based herself there when more and more film roles came her way and had to take a break from assisting directors. At one point she hopped between locations for three different films – Evide, Kakshi Amminipilla and Sathyam Paranjal Vishwasikumo. “None of this was a problem. You could work day and night in a job you love and still not think it a hurdle, but otherwise you get tired simply sitting in an office from 9 to 5.”
Most recently she was seen as the mother of an obnoxious character in Super Sharanya, spouting sly humour even in the few dialogues she had. It has to do with her voice modulation, tone and peculiar expressions. But she places all the credit on the script and the director.
“I realised there is a lot for me to learn when I worked in TK Rajeev Kumar’s upcoming film Bermuda. I enrolled for an online acting class with (actor and writer) Jayaprakash Kuloor and it has helped me so much. He is my guru.”
Shiny in Bermuda
She can never come anywhere close to the great comic actors of our films, she says, speaking about the late Kalpana and Jagathy Sreekumar. “I have heard how they’d prepare for their roles. They are such great actors.”
Kalpana has for long been recognised as one of the few women actors in Malayalam who handled comedy with ease. Sreelatha, an actor who began in the black and white days of cinema, was her predecessor. But when Kalpana passed away suddenly in January 2016, she left behind a great void.
“One can never hope to fill that void. I interviewed her once when she came to Dubai,” says Shiny.
The one role Shiny agrees gave her satisfaction as soon she finished dubbing was in Paapam Cheyathavar Kalleriyatte, as a jealous woman spreading rumours. “Especially because I was nothing like this woman and could still pull it off,” she says.
Watch: Scene from Paapam Cheyathavar Kalleriyatte
Waiting for her are a huge number of films, some finished, some in production – Oruthee, Kallan D’souza, Thattasseri Koottam, Pathrosinte Padappukal, Vishuddha Mejo, Bermuda, Khali Purse of Billionaires, Peace, Valatti,