Anjali is one among the few southern women actors to have successfully carved a niche by juggling between content-driven roles and commercial cinema. In her over a decade long career, if films like Kattradhu Tamizh, Angadi Theru and Iraivi helped her prove her mettle as a performer, then films like Engeyum Eppothum, Settai, Balupu and Geethanjali made her a sought after star.
With three releases lined up for release in February, Anjali opens up in this chat with TNM on her career, why her heart still lies in performance-oriented roles and the experience of working with Mammootty in Peranbu, which hits the screens on 1st February.
In the Ram directorial Peranbu, a story that revolves around a father and how he raises his daughter who has cerebral palsy, Anjali has played a pivotal role. While she remains tight-lipped about her character, she says it will go down as one of her best performances.
“This is my third film with Ram sir. He has always approached me only if he has a strong character. People have said that anyone could’ve played my character in Taramani, but he wanted me to play it. Despite the negative shade, it was a very interesting character and I enjoyed playing it. Originally, it was a cameo but after I came on board, Ram sir made it into an extended cameo. I play a very different character in Peranbu, and it is best if I don’t talk about it much. Audiences are definitely in for a surprise," she says.
Speaking about her association with Ram, and what makes his work stand out, Anjali said: “I’ve known him for a long time. I did my first Tamil film with him. Even after so many years, nothing has changed about him. As a filmmaker, he’s always been ahead of the race and so have been his films. Kattradhu Tamizh, for instance, was much ahead of its time. His style of cinema will always remain different and that’s what makes him unique.”
In Peranbu, Anjali shared screen space with Malayalam superstar Mammootty. Describing the experience of working with him, she said: “Initially, I had planned I shouldn’t get conscious around him, and that I should just focus on my scenes with him. When I arrived on the set, I couldn’t control my excitement and naturally became very conscious. I realised it only after three or four takes of a scene. But the experience of working with him was special. I learnt even from his minutest of expressions which he could portray effortlessly.”
Peranbu also stars child actor Sadhana and Anjali Ameer, a trans woman actor from Kerala. Anjali heaps praise on both of them. Speaking about Sadhana and her efforts that have gone into portraying a character with cerebral palsy, she said: “Sadhana has been preparing for the role since the time we were working on Taramani. The challenging part about playing such a character is that you can’t take inspiration from anyone. Each person with cerebral palsy will behave differently, and Sadhana had to really work on her personality.”
While Anjali didn’t have any scenes with Anjali Ameer, she cannot stop raving about her work.
“I didn’t have scenes with her but I’m really proud of her. In Naadodigal 2, too, I worked with a trans woman. What I find inspiring about them is that they’re really strong from the inside. They work with so much passion and nothing can affect their inner strength," she said.
Having done around 47 films so far, Anjali says her heart beats for performance-oriented roles.
“The real satisfaction from work comes out of these kinds of roles. But, not all directors can write such characters. Therefore, I try and choose slightly different characters even within the commercial space. For instance, the roles I play in Sindhubaadh and Naadodigal 2 are commercial ones, but these are roles that will be remembered by audience.”
Lately, Anjali has been associated a lot with horror films. She credits it to the mega success of her 2014 Telugu film Geethanjali, which has a second part in the offing.
“Post Geethanjali, I’ve felt like if I’ve been made the ambassador of horror films. I have stopped signing any horror films now unless it has something really fresh. I’ve done a Tamil horror film called Lisaa, and what makes it unique is that it has been shot in 3D and is devoid of the usual horror tropes. You won’t find a haunted house and a girl yearning to seek revenge. The 3D factor made the shooting experience really special.”