Navya Nair, an actor who won multiple state awards in a prolific career, is making a comeback to Malayalam cinema after 10 years with VK Prakash’s film ‘Oruthee’.

Actor Navya NairInstagram
Flix Interview Thursday, March 10, 2022 - 15:38

As the trailer of Oruthee begins, Navya Nair stands in front of a mirror and applies a bindi, and it’s almost like time had halted 20 years ago. The actor looks like she stepped out from the sets of Nandanam – one of her first films in Malayalam as a 16-year-old – and came straight to Oruthee, her comeback film that is releasing on Friday, March 18. It is not that Navya wanted to take a break, she was simply waiting for the right movie. In the years in between, she did two Kannada films – remakes of the Malayalam Drishyam – in which she played Meena’s role, the wife of the protagonist.

“Suresh Babu, Oruthee’s writer, approached me with the script and I chose it because it’s a really good subject. I didn’t want to disappoint viewers while making a comeback after 10 years [in Malayalam cinema]. And I go by my gut feeling when I choose a movie,” Navya tells TNM in an interview ahead of the release.

What drew her to VK Prakash’s Oruthee was the survival story of a woman from a lower middle class family. Mani, her character, is the conductor of a boat, who meets with an unexpected crisis. “A chain of events follows and she is forced to take things into her own hands. Most of us try to ignore difficult situations until it comes to a point when there is no other option but to react. Mani reaches such a stage, and the film shows how she goes through the crisis in three days of her life,” Navya says.

The filming for Oruthee was completed in 2019, just before COVID-19 struck and delayed the post production work. Or else, Navya would have made her comeback three years earlier.

She won the JC Daniel Foundation Film Award for best female actor for the film.

Watch: Trailer of Oruthee

After her debut in 2001 in Sibi Malayil’s Ishtam, Navya grabbed a lot of attention a year later when she played the character of Balamani in Ranjith’s Nandanam – incidentally, the acting debut of Prithviraj. Navya won the state award for best female actor that year and went on to act in a number of films in the next 10 years. She had noticeable performances in Saira, the first film made by Dr Biju, Kanne Madanguka (winning awards for both), and Calendar among others. In between, she also did Tamil and Kannada films.

Her last Malayalam film to release was Scene Onnu Nammude Veedu by Shyju Anthikad in 2012. In the 10 years she’s been away, a lot has changed in Malayalam cinema – not just in the way films are made but how they are received. Glorified misogyny is not tolerated anymore. Patriarchy would be called out.

‘Won’t sign films that glorify misogyny’

Navya says she hasn’t really thought of taking up characters different to what she did in the past. If there is something in the script she didn’t agree with, she just wouldn’t sign the film. “It depends on how the film treats the subject. If there is misogyny in the film and the film doesn’t say it is wrong, I wouldn’t do the film. If the film says this is how a woman should be treated, I won’t select that film,” she says.

At least twice in television shows, Navya had been vocal about calling out misogyny and gender discrimination. Once in a cookery show, when the host insinuated that it was up to the women of the house to know how to cook, she immediately rebuffed the argument. No, it was not, Navya said. Another time, when she appeared as a judge in a comedy show, she was the only one who questioned an act in which a man hits his wife and makes it out to be a joke.

“Everyone around me was saying it was good for a wife to get a slap from her husband now and then. I was so shocked. It is such a wrong message. They said the husband in the act beat the wife because he couldn’t beat the mother. But why beat anyone at all? You shouldn’t be beating children either. If you always hit someone that you know won’t hit you back, where is the bravery in that? The show of power or love through abuse is utterly meaningless, no matter what your relationship is with the victim. Who likes to get physically hit?” Navya asks, with righteous emotion.

‘Mutual respect is the basis of every relationship’

She argues that mutual respect for one another forms the basis for any relationship. “Someone who works for you doesn’t become your slave just because you give them a salary. And the woman who becomes your wife is not someone you take your frustration out on. How is any of that right?” she asks.

She hadn’t always thought this way, Navya admits. She too came from an orthodox setting, conditioned by the way she was raised and what she saw around her. “But I have come to learn that you don’t need to be afraid of anyone to demand what you genuinely deserve, that you should ask for your basic rights. That’s what I would say these past many years have taught me – from the people I meet to the books I read to the films I watch, everything teaches you something.”

Navya, however, does not use social media to make statements. She uses it for film promotions, she says. Ten years ago, actors didn’t have a way of interacting with their viewers the way they can now, through a number of online platforms.

Active on Instagram, Navya says that’s where she begins her film promotion. “There is a lot of negativity on social media, but that is the case everywhere. Social media can save or destroy a film or a person. It also makes life childish. We don’t even enjoy a dish before taking a photo of it for Instagram. To one extent, it defines what we should become, or at least project ourselves to be. But we should train ourselves to let go of these many demerits and focus on the good side.”

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