Reba says that a domestic violence survivor told her that she walked out of her marriage with her child, inspired by Reba's role in 'Bigil'.

Theres a positive angle to Vijay Ajith doing films on women Bigil actor Reba intv
Flix Interview Thursday, December 05, 2019 - 14:18

When acid attack survivor Anitha faced the perpetrator in Bigil, the entire theatre broke into thunderous applause. Anitha’s presence in the movie was so powerful that it changed actor Reba Monica John’s life significantly.

The Bengaluru-bred Malayali artiste is now on a singing spree in Tamil and Malayalam. She is also making her Kannada debut in Jacob Verghese’s Sakalakala Vallabha.

In a candid chat with TNM, the actor talks about her films, her Bigil experience and the response from the audience, what sort of roles she wishes to do, her relationship with actor Anu Emmanuel and more.

You’re finally making your Kannada debut. Tell us more about it.

It’s a remake of the Tamil film Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, which is one of my favourite movies.  After I made my debut in Tamil, Jacob Verghese, who is the producer of Sakalakala Vallabha called me and discovered that I’m from Bengaluru.

I’m doing the film opposite Rishi. I hadn’t watched too many Kannada films at that time, but I was aware of his movies and thought he's a fabulous performer. I was very skeptical at first because Nayanthara had done way too much justice to the role in the original. Also, when it’s a remake, there are constant comparisons.  I don’t want to be better, but I want people to say I’ve done justice to the character.  It's one of the best characters I’ve played.

Your performance in Bigil was appreciated and has earned you a huge fan following. How has life changed post the film?

Bigil was definitely life-changing, considering the kind of reach it had. I knew for a fact that it would be huge amongst the masses because of Vijay sir’s fan following, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be recognised in the movie. I was skeptical, but I was able to pull off the character and it had so much of an influence on people. Whatever character I pick, I want to leave a mark on audiences.  People recognise me after Bigil and the amount of appreciation I’ve received is on another level. Audiences from all languages tell me how much they love the character and say ‘Anitha was fabulous’.

Standing out in a multi-starrer is a victory in itself. As much as I wanted to be a part of Bigil, I also wanted my character to be recognised. I told Atlee sir that I needed something genuine. Anitha was the last character for whom he did the casting and he didn’t know who he wanted. He was possessive about it, but when he realised I was so passionate, he chose me.

Your character has inspired many women, especially real life acid attack survivors. What were some of the most notable reactions you received?

There’s this really powerful scene in the film where coach Michael is telling Anitha, “When you tend to live a life better than what the perpetrator wanted for you, that’s when you succeed.” The scene was so impactful that so many people sent me messages saying that it changed their lives.

I read this comment by a mother who's been facing domestic violence for a few years. After seeing the film, she was motivated to take her child and leave the house where she was being abused. It's not just women who have endured domestic violence, there are so many who have faced physical or emotional trauma who’ve been inspired.  Even a lot of boys messaged me saying they’re sorry that women go through so much trauma and abuse. They’ve chosen to respect women more after this - people want to make a change.

What was working in Bigil like?

It was fabulous. It's an experience of a lifetime because for me Vijay sir was someone who I’d watched onscreen. It’s a dream for any actor to be sharing space with a legend because people idolise him. I respect him as a person off screen because there's so much that you can learn from him, especially humility. He’s so calm and composed despite having all that pressure. It’s hard to maintain your sanity in all the craziness, but he does. He’s just watching and observing everything that's happening and when you give him something, he does that in one take. I don’t think anybody else can pull that off.

Once, he asked me if I knew how to play football and I said no. He asked me if I was training and I said I was. I asked him if he knew how to play football, and he said ‘No ma, I don't know how to play football. And I'm a little nervous about it, because I'm also going to start training.’ I respect that someone of his caliber was telling me that he's scared - he didn't even need to do that. I admire that he accepted that he needed to learn something.

The same thing applies to Atlee sir. He has a vision and he does whatever he can to portray that onscreen. To be able to get where he is at such a young age is not an easy job. I respect the two of them so much and I’m truly honored to have worked with them.

You’re related to actor Anu Emmanuel. How close are the two of you?

We’re very close even though we’re not close relatives. We debuted together in the same year and happened to appear on the same cover photo in a magazine in Kerala. That's when we met, talked and ever since then, we’ve been really good friends. If she's coming to Chennai or Bengaluru, we hang out and when I need advice about Telugu films, I talk to her about it. If I'm in Hyderabad, I meet her - we've got a great rapport and it’s nice to have a friend like that. Even when we hang out we barely talk about films, we talk more about life in general. I’m happy that she's doing so well.

What kind of roles do you want to do in the future?  

I started off with lead roles, but I don’t want to play the lead just for the sake of it. I want to do something that has power. There are tons of women who are super talented, and I want people to make films where the women can do something that a hero can do. Instead of making just characters, I want them to make heroines that are strong too.

When people question the heroes as to why they’re standing in the limelight when it’s a woman-centric film, I feel there’s a positive angle because actors like Vijay or Ajith have so much power over the audience that if they try to put out a point, they can actually put that message across to many people. One thing I respect about Vijay is somewhere he stepped back and let the girls do the talking in Bigil. Anitha had just 15 minutes, but she was the hero during that scene. You don’t really get to see this in many south films. Nerkonda Paarvai was another such movie.

Actors like Bhumi Pednekar and Taapse Pannu are changing things, but seven years ago, if a film was made with just them in the lead, how many people would’ve watched it? But now, I’d love to watch a film headlined by Taapsee. I want to be an actor like that where people go to watch a movie for me.  

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