The actor, who played a unique character in the recently released ‘Paapam Cheyyathavar Kalleriyatte’, speaks about her characters, methods and rules.

I would love to play flawed characters Santhy Balachandran to TNM
Flix Interview Monday, March 02, 2020 - 13:44

Santhy Balachandran can wear her long hair, wavy or straight, on either side of her face and be the pretty woman walking down the church aisle that men glance at. She can tie the strands into a loose bun, wear a sari, and pose for a black and white photo, taking you several decades back to the Saradas and Sheelas of 1965. In yet another getup, she’d be the young village woman cutting meat outside her house, caring two hoots about all the gossip whispered behind her back.

The actor, a few films and many plays old, metamorphoses every time she has to be a new character on screen or stage or simply be in front of the camera for a photo. When you talk to her, you realise it is not entirely accidental. There is a whole lot of preparation going on behind the scenes, before every new work.

“I am someone who tends to use homework as a way of dealing with the anxiety that comes before I step into a role,” she says. Santhy has just enacted a unique character called Linda in the recent film Paapam Cheyyathavar Kalleriyatte (PCK), written and directed by Shambu Purushothaman. She walks into the scene like a regular heroine, looking attractive, smiling and speaking pleasantly to everyone except the hero who watches her every step. There is a song in the background and you forget her character when the scene changes. But Linda is going to come back on screen and become someone you don’t easily forget. Especially if you are one of the characters present at the occasion – Linda’s and the earlier said hero’s (Arun Kurian) engagement party.

Read: ‘Paapam Cheyyathavar Kalleriyatte’ review: Vinay Forrt's satire is fun, but lacks depth

The two actors have earlier come together for a play, A Very Normal Family (AVNF), directed by another talented actor Roshan Mathew. “It’s definitely a plus to have a familiar face around when you are in a new environment. I have known Arun for a few years now: socially and through AVNFMeenaviyal (a web series) and PCK. We have a fun, almost sibling-like equation. I love him, but he gets a kick out of annoying me and I’m a very easy target. There were days on the sets of PCK when we would be bickering between romantic shots. In fact, I was very pleased when the poor guy had to carry me around for several takes right after we had a silly fight. Just deserts!” Santhy says.

Arun Kurian and Santhy in 'Paapam Cheyyathavar Kalleriyatte'/ Courtesy - Facebook

This is one of the several scenes where Santhy’s character turns out to be more than a pretty woman getting ready to tie the knot. Linda is not all okay, mentally. She lets the audience know this when she insists on loudly munching chips inside the car when it is time to step out at the church for the betrothal. She goes on to behave like a spoiled child, walking out of the stage in the middle of the many photo shoots because she is hungry and wants to have food right away. At first it appears like little tantrums but it becomes serious when she begins to call out the people trying to stop her from dancing solo on stage, revealing embarrassing secrets about every one of them. Linda becomes the director’s tool to bring meaning to the title of the film: Let those who have not sinned throw the first stone at her.

Santhy admits Linda was a tricky character to play. She says, “Linda’s antics are at the heart of the story, but I had to tread a fine line. Her actions are abnormal by others’ standards, but she is doing what comes naturally to her. That was a challenge: to be impulsive without being over-the-top. It’s not every day you are offered a character like Linda, and I have a special fondness for her.

One of the things I loved about the script was how well Shambhu chettan had given personalities and arcs to all the characters. All the characters in the ensemble have their own stories, motives and secrets. What I found unique about Linda was that while her actions push the narrative forward, she is the only character behaving without an agenda. While the rest are running around trying to manipulate each other to further their personal goals, she is causing mayhem purely by being herself. So while she is as flawed as the rest, she is also, in a sense, innocent.”

Photo Credit: Vishnu Sai

It is clear that Santhy has read a lot into the script and made her own interpretations. A habit that director Lijo Jose Pellisery asked her to not indulge in when she became part of Jallikattu, his last film that was much critically acclaimed.

“I had read the short story (Maoist by S Hareesh, on which the film is based) and the script, and made notes and a character sketch before we began to shoot. When I met LJP and presented what I had come up with, he said: yes, your sketch is on point, but I don’t want you to prepare for Sophie (her character). I want an unrehearsed sort of performance and I just need you to respond to the situation and to your co-actors as Sophie. His instruction was in line with the vision he had for the world he was building in the film: raw, spontaneous, wild. So I had to let go of my security blanket and just trust the moment – and that was a great new way of working for me. And it certainly allowed me to have faith and let go when it came to Linda of PCK too!” Santhy says.



A post shared by Santhy Balachandran (@santhybee) on

Santhy in 'Jallikattu'

She had auditioned for PCK, attracted by the illustrated poster (designed by the late R Mahesh of Old Monks, who also did the Jallikattu poster). She found the writing both clever and funny. The film is a satire and satires are few in Malayalam, and Santhy is happy she became a key part of it. One of the stories Linda reveals on stage, however, is about homosexuality, telling off a man trying to stop her performance as one that her male relative has been with.

Santhy says her character isn’t against homosexuality. “She is being snarky about the guy’s appearance and asking her uncle why he is with this hefty thug when there are so many handsome guys around. Not that dissing someone’s appearance is something I would personally condone. She is reacting to this man who is ordered to use force to stop her from dancing. And I think Shambhu chettan used the situation to out the uncle’s secret.”

Taking cue, I ask her if there is any character or any such quality in a character that she would not do, like some actors had earlier taken a stance against glorifying misogyny. Santhy says she tends to look at the story as a whole rather than at the character alone. “If the script upholds misogyny for example, then that would be a film I would rather not do. There is a difference between portraying characters who are flawed (misogynist, racist, homophobic, casteist, you name it) and endorsing such a point of view. Human beings are complex, and I’m all for telling stories about imperfect people, as long as the film as a whole doesn’t celebrate or promote a problematic stance,” she says.

Santhy has two more films waiting for her – Aaha, a sports drama based on tug of war competitions, directed by Bibin Paul Samuel, featuring Indrajith Sukumaran in the lead, and Djinn, directed by Sidharth Bharathan, where she is paired opposite Soubin Shahir. “I’m excited about both projects as they gave me the opportunity to work with people who are as lovely as they are talented.”

Santhy has also been co-writing a script when we last spoke to her. She says it is complete and only an hour long. “I am on the lookout for a couple of more scripts of a similar length to pitch as an anthology. So writers who have a finished screenplay in the romance genre, please get in touch!”

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