Mollywood
The popular heroine of the '80s and '90s is making a comeback to films after 19 years with Nivin Pauly's 'Njandugalude Naatil Oridavela'.
Screenshot/ Youtube

Shanthi Krishna, who acted in several films in the Tamil and Malayalam industries in the '80s and '90s, is making a comeback to the big screen after nearly two decades.

Her film Njandugalude Naatil Oridavela, produced by Nivin Pauly and directed by Althaf, is an Onam release.

A cheerful Shanti Krishna spoke to TNM, recalling old times in the industry and the changes that she sees in the young generation today.

You're back on screen after 19 years. Can you tell us about your role in Njandugalude Naatil Oridavela?

It's a very new character, one that I've not played before. I play Nivin's mother and Lal's wife in the film. It is a family set-up and a family-oriented subject..I can't reveal anything more! I felt very young on the sets.

I didn't feel the age difference at all and I didn't have any misapprehensions like, "Oh I'm coming back after so many years!" We were more like family...actually, friends on set. When it comes to family also people fight and have misunderstandings. We were like close friends.

What was it like to work with debut director Althaf? As an actor, he was truly hilarious in Premam and Sakhavu!

When Althaf came to tell me the story, he was so soft-spoken that I had to ask him to increase his volume. When I heard he's directing his first film, I thought he'd be a novice. But when he started narrating the story, I was impressed...he was able to bring the story alive and tell me how he'd do it. There was a spark in him.

On the sets as well, he never hesitated to explain what he wanted from a scene, what kind of expression he was looking for. Some young people might feel diffident in front of senior actors but he had no such hesitation. He was not nervous at all that this is his first film. He was brilliant.

You made your debut when you were just 16, so you've seen the film industry for decades now. How would you say the industry has changed?

I made my debut with Nidra (1981) directed by Bharathan. The same year, I also acted in my first Tamil film Panneer Pushpangal.

The main and most visible change is of course the technology. The cameras that were used then and the way of shooting have all changed.

In those days, one would feel nervous to stand in front of the camera...it was a feeling of sanctity. It was like how a principal or headmistress would be greeted in school. Everyone would stand up, put their hands behind their back...that's how the old generation was. If you go to schools now, everyone says hi-hello. They give respect but the atmosphere is more friendly. This is true of the film industry, too!

This generation is at ease. That's what I'd say. They know how to talk to people with respect and ease. That's the vibe they have. They're more focused and plan ahead.

You've played some very complex characters in your career like the ones in Sukrutham, Chenkol...which of these is most memorable to you?

The character I consider most memorable is the one in Chakoram. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I got Best Actress for that character. The one I played in Savidham is also memorable to me. It was a very challenging role and I won an award for it, too.

In Chenkol, I played the heroine's mother and Mohanlal's mother-in-law although I was very young myself! I agreed to do the film only because it was a Sibi Malayil film and Lohitadas called me. It was the sequel of Kireedam as well...that's why I did it.

Luckily, the Malayali audience was willing to accept me as Mohanlal's heroine after this also (laughs). I wasn't stuck playing such roles only. The characters I played in Chillu and Nidra are also fresh in my mind.

You've played the heroine as well as supporting roles in several films. Did you ever worry that you might lose out by doing these 'character' roles?

Mohanlal once asked me if I'd like to play his wife in a film and I said yes. He told me that the character was a bit negative and I said I will definitely do it...I didn't want to play the poor, innocent goody-goody woman always. I wanted to play different roles. That film was Pakshe.

But well, at the end of the film, they had to bring back my character as a 'reformed' and harmless person. I'm sure the audience still cursed me though...for coming in between the hero and his love (Shobana) once again just as they were about to unite!

Do you feel older films had more substantial roles for women than now? Or is it the other way round?

I don't think there's a trend towards women-centric films now as such. I was on the Kerala State Awards jury and I got to see a lot of new films. I'd say that earlier, we had films with women as the central characters but they were full of drama and the audience was aware that they were watching one woman's tragic story as a film.

Now, however, the kind of roles women play are very real and relatable. The audience can identify with these roles easily. Take Off, for example, had Parvathy playing a character based on real life and it was done very well. I find this exciting.

The Malayalam film industry now has a Women in Cinema Collective to represent their interests. In those days, did you ever feel the need for such an organisation?

Back then, there were only a handful of artistes, especially heroines. That's probably why all of you remember us even now! It wasn't like how it is now, with so much competition and people coming and going. The young people who get into the field want to be remembered, too, and not end up as one film wonders. Ahana Krishna, who has acted in the new film, also feels strongly about this.

In the middle of all this competition, they probably feel the need to assert their rights -- this is perhaps why they get the feeling that they should ask for equality. I do appreciate that. Everyone should get opportunities...nobody is here for timepass.

What are your next projects?

I've completed a film titled Krishnam directed by Dinesh Babu. I'm playing a mother role while Sai Kumar plays my husband. The significant fact about the film is that it's based on a real life story and the person whose life it's based on...Akshay Krishnan...has acted as the hero. He's just seventeen years old and it's his father who has produced the film. The film will be dubbed in Tamil but it was made afresh in Telugu and I've once again played the same role.