After the short sequences of Chinnu Chandni riding a scooter in Thamaasha were shot, the next scene was in a park where she meets Vinay Forrt, who plays the hero of the film. Chinnu walked in with the script in her hands, shivering. After the first one or two takes, Chinnu felt low. She thought she had messed it up, that it was a big mistake that the director had made, casting her in this role as the heroine of the film. But then she watched Ashraf Hamsa, the director, walk to her and tell her that she had done nothing wrong, reassuring her that all was fine.
Months later, when the movie came out and Chinnu began getting many calls appreciating her performance as the young woman who daringly stood her ground against social media abuse in Thamaasha, she says it is all because of the patience of the director, the person who made her feel so comfortable.
“When Khalid Rahman told me about auditioning for this role, I thought he was joking,” Chinnu says over a phone interview from Mumbai, where she works for a media firm. Khalid is the director who cast her in Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, which marked both their debuts. When it was time to make his second film Unda, he called Chinnu over and she was going to join his team as an assistant. But then she passed the audition for Thamaasha.
Chinnu is all modest, repeatedly wondering why they chose her -- and says that it was a team of many talents. Sameer Thahir was the DOP and co-producer along with other big names like Shyju Khalid (cinematographer), Lijo Jose Pellissery (director) and Chemban Vinod (actor-scriptwriter). But then, even in her short role as the friend of the heroine in Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, Chinnu was noticeably good. She had another movie in between – Cappuccino by Naushad. But otherwise, she's mostly been away in Delhi and Mumbai for work.
“I thought at first it would be a character that we are used to seeing, one that’d suit my body language. But when I read the script, I'm there fully in the second half of the movie. I wondered what I'm doing! Will I be able to hold it! It is Ashraf ikka who instilled the confidence in me that I could do it," she says.
With Vinay Forrt in Thamaasha
The way she speaks so freely and full of wit, it's easy to guess why the director and his team cast her for the role. There is a scene in Thamaasha when Vinay Forrt’s character – Sreenivasan – and Chinnu (the character goes by her real name) sit in a café and eat cake. She speaks about a previous breakup that happened in the same café, while she was eating cake. Sreenivasan asks her what she did then. And she coolly answers, she parceled the cake home, she couldn’t waste it. “I had no idea it would come out so funny and I watched the audience laugh at this scene all three times I watched it at the theatre. Vinay has been a huge help here. He’d tell me if he didn’t feel like laughing and make me say it again. In another scene, where I talk to Vinay on the phone, he agreed to say his lines from the other end even though he didn’t have to, just so I could get my reactions right.”
Everyone surprised her with the kind of patience they showed her, she says. Sameer Thahir, who she thought might be tough, and Shyju, the veteran cinematographer, would both tell a tired looking Chinnu at the end of a long day of shooting to please go rest and that they could continue the next day. Chemban and Lijo would make occasional visits. Even Aashiq Abu and Zakariya – directors – would come to the set, and it was a joy in all working in the film.
Then there is Chinnu herself, spreading joy like her character. In real life too, she has a way of dealing with body-shaming comments, like her character does on social media. “I don’t get them on social media, I have been blessed there. However I have faced it in real life. It is in college midyear that I began putting on weight and there would be comments like ‘which ration shop do you go to’ or tips to lose weight. In the beginning, I found a defence mechanism – self-deprecating humour. I would make fun of myself before anyone else could and that would take all the fun away for them. But I realised later that is not the ideal way to deal with it. Now, I just don’t react – it’d be mostly senior people who make such comments and I just don’t say anything at all. But I also tend to forget about it soon enough, which is a blessing.”
You can sense her positivity there, in those lines. Chinnu, you realise, is the much softer, wittier version of the character she played. But the actor doesn't agree. She says the Chinnu on the screen is a lot more positive than her - whichever may be the case, one can't deny that both Chinnus have won on a lot of hearts with Thamaasha.