Revathi is right now busy with editing work of her new film, 'Salaam Venky'.

Woman wearing white kurtha and blue shawl in scenic backdropRevathi
Flix Interview Sunday, May 29, 2022 - 14:43

Barely 17, Asha walked into the house of a happy family next door and into Malayalam cinema more than 38 years ago. Bharathan, a legend among the 80s filmmakers, cast her to be the possessive young woman acting vengefully against an older woman in Kaattathe Kilikkoodu. Asha had become Revathi when she began acting, and it is as Revathi that Malaylis knew her and admired her through all these decades. Two days ago, when Revathi was announced the winner of the state award for best female actor, it became a moment of quiet pride for cinema lovers. It’s her first from the state, though she has won national awards for her role in Thevar Magan and as a director for Mitr, My Friend and Red Building Where The Sun Sets. She’s been active in Tamil and Hindi, along with Malayalam cinema. But some felt the Kerala award came too late, for she had long been a reliable, dedicated player in the field.

“I don’t feel it is late. An award is an award, it depends on what is in comparison and according to the perspective of the jury members of that particular year. If you don’t get an award, it doesn’t mean your performance is not good or that the film you did is not good. I have always been sure of the films that I have done,” Revathi says in an interview to TNM.

She is at the moment, sitting with her new film, editing it. This is the third feature film she is directing, after Mitr, My Friend (2002) and Phir Milenge (2004). There have been short films in anthologies like Kerala Cafe and Mumbai Cutting. The new feature is called Salaam Venky and it, like her first venture, has got a lot of women in the crew, and that’s about all she can say about the film, she chuckles. Not that she has gone on a break from acting, she takes on roles when she finds them interesting. There is no other rule, no ‘I won’t do this or that’. “Only thing I don’t want to do is play a character that has absolutely no impact in the film, which I have never done. I choose films according to the way I feel instinctively and if I am confident that the director can handle it, from the way he narrates it,” she says.

Watch Bhoothakalam trailer

That’s how she chose Bhoothakalam, the film that won her the award. Rahul Sivadasan, the director, had approached her to play the mother character in the film which revolved around a mother and son. Revathi had at first not been keen because Rahul described it as a horror film. But when she heard him out, and the script, she was ready to do it. “It is not just a horror film, it has layers. It is exactly what is happening in our society, where people are lonely, they don’t have anybody to talk to, the stress levels are high and it grows into gigantic issues within yourself. The relationships are very poor because of huge communication gaps. There could be economic downs. Everything put together, it is an amazing story of a mother and son who are going through practically one of the lowest periods in their life, both of them personally, and they are not helping each other. Suddenly there is a kind of force that brings them together. I was telling Rahul he should never pitch it as a horror film,” she says, laughing.

Read: Bhoothakaalam review: This Revathi-Shane Nigam film is a tightly scripted horror ride

Coincidentally she is once again named Asha in the film, as she was in her first in Malayalam. All these years later, Revathi still looks back at Kaattathe Kilikoodu with a lot of awe. She calls it an exceptional film and gives all the credit to Bharathan. “I did what Bharathan sir told me to do,” she says. It is a few films later that she put efforts as an actor, she says. Among them are gems like Kakkothikaavile Appuppan Thaadikal, Kilukkam, Devasuram, Mayamayooram,Puravirtham and Mangamma. She names these and adds Molly Aunty Rocks to her list of beloved films in Malayalam, a film from 10 years ago where she played the title character.

Watch song from Kattathe Kilikkood

Kamal’s Kakkothi, released in 1988, was a film that many expected would bring an award. Revathi as a young woman, who was kidnapped as a child and raised among nomads, was simply wonderful to watch. She is crude, nasty and awfully unclean as Kakkothi, but manages to endear her troubled character to the viewers -- a sister long lost to another, a playful mate to a child, a confused young woman.

Watch scene from Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thadikal

Kilukkam, Devasuram and Mayamayooram are her more popular films, all of these opposite Mohanlal, and containing ample space for Revathi to perform. Kilukkam is an all-time favourite of Malayalis, Revathi’s many antics in it, as a nutty woman, fondly recalled time and again. It is also a movie she proved her comic skills with, animated expressions flickering by like balls juggling in air.

Devasuram by IV Sasi is one movie where she got to perform classical dance, but it is more remembered for the conflict between her character and Mohanlal’s, an anti-hero with nasty feudal mindset. In Sibi Malayil’s Mayamayooram, the appeal was the love story of Nanda and Narayan, how it takes shape through a song and a secret admirer sending her on a wild goose chase.

Puravurtham is a film Revathi calls a favourite – it came in 1988, directed by Lenin Rajendran. She played the new young wife of Om Puri’s character, taken to the woods. The customs of the place required the new bride to be “presented” before the dominant caste male members in the village. Revathi looks quite confident playing the shy young wife who grows bold, alongside the veteran Om Puri.

Mangamma, by TV Chandran, also saw one of her best performances, set in two periods, 1960 and the during the Emergency of 75-77. 

Watch scene from Kilukkam

Ente Kaanakkuyil, Aankiliyude Tharattu, Varavelpu, Agnidevan, Gramaphone, Father's Day are a few other notable films Revathi played through the years. And then there is Molly Aunty Rocks, a film she says she really enjoyed doing. “Ranjith Sankar was very brave to portray two characters like that – what Prithviraj did and I did – and about an issue which nobody ever talks about, income tax!” Revathi says.

Ranjith Sankar had earlier told TNM how he had first approached Revathi to play a mother character in a film and she asked him if a woman who crossed the age of 45 only got mother roles and other such stereotypes. “Stories about women aged 45-50 years are rare because nobody thinks of them as characters in real life,” she says, laughing.

Read: Malayalam cinema has changed, but it has not been fair to senior women actors

There are directors who are willing to work towards a script and directors who write for the cast, she says. Films like Molly Aunty Rocks and Bhoothakalam get made because there are directors who believe in such subjects. Asha in Bhoothakalam just happened to be in a subject about a mother and son, Revathi says. “It just happens to be a subject that requires a mother and a son and this is their story within the four walls of a house. It is written beautifully. The story is the main thing, not which character does what, which is how a film should be,” she says.

Watch scene from Molly Aunty Rocks

Films work because of amazing team work, says Revathi. “That’s how Bhoothakalam worked – Rahul’s script, Shehnad’s cinematography (because it was important how you visualise the house and feel the kind of fear the film intends), Gopi’s music and the production team that totally trusted Rahul. Shane and I had complete trust in him. Most films that have good performances come from good teamwork.”

Her Salaam Venky is also taking shape in those lines. Women are there in every department – production, art, sound and makeup. “For me it is important. I enjoy having a lot of women to work with.”

She also has two films she acted in coming out. One is Major, based on the story of the martyred soldier Sandeep Unnikrishnan. The other is a film by Anant Mahadevan based on Satyajit Ray’s short stories and Revathi is quite thrilled to be part of it.

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