When women desire: 'Arishadvarga' actor Anju Alva Naik on her explosive role

Anju speaks to TNM on how she got into Kruthi's character, the challenges in doing intimate scenes and her take on the film.
When women desire: 'Arishadvarga' actor Anju Alva Naik on her explosive role
When women desire: 'Arishadvarga' actor Anju Alva Naik on her explosive role
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Actor Anju Alva Naik was on a break from theatre when she ended up doing the lead role in a Kannada film, an industry she wasn't familiar with previously. Anju's performance as Kruthi Bhat, a film editor married to a producer, in the recently released Arishadvarga directed by Arvind Kamath, has been winning rave reviews from critics.

The murder mystery shows multiple accounts of the incident, with Anju's character at the centre of it. Difficult to predict and with an intriguing ending, Arishadvarga has got viewers and critics debating on the many layers in the script.

In an interview with TNM, Anju speaks about getting into the skin of Kruthi, her interpretation of the character, the challenges in shooting intimate scenes and more.

You've been in the theatre space for a while. What made you say yes to cinema? Was it a medium you had considered entering before this film?

The fascination for films was always there. Theatre for me is now a thing of the past and not because I did Arishadvarga. I haven't done any theatre for about four years now. But the fascination for films did get diluted and took a back seat when my theatre journey was at its peak and brimming with activity. The last three years that I invested in the theatre actually had nothing to do with acting (directly), I was deeply invested in directing and writing because I was training under my mentor Abhishek Majumdar in both these domains. At the time when Arishadvarga came to me, I was in a place where I was feeling extremely spent and drained because of the intensity and investment that directing and writing entailed. I think the universe conspired to make Arishadvarga happen at that point because I was really pining to act, but I didn’t have it in me to ask people in the theatre for work. I think my ego was getting in the way or maybe Arishadvarga was waiting to happen (laughs).

But I should thank the theatre background that I come from because in the 7-8 years that I gave to theatre, I've had a fabulous journey in terms of working and learning from the best.

Kruthi Bhat is quite an explosive character for a film debut. What were your impressions of the character when you were listening to the script narration?

Well firstly, I didn’t get a narration. Arvind was clear about wanting to send me the script first and only if it spoke to me would he have any kind of exchange/interaction about the character/film . And that was exactly what happened. I was blown away by the script and my character in particular. As strange as this may sound, I thought it was a role that is completely up my alley. I thought here was an opportunity to explore a wide and exciting spectrum of emotions through this beautifully complex character called Kruthi Bhat.

I think any actor worth their salt would not let go of an opportunity like this. Also generally speaking, when it comes to my approach to roles, the farther the character is from my own self, the more challenging and exciting it is for me. That said, there was also a lot of similarity that I could arrive at, although we differed in our moral compasses. But when it comes to the core and what drives the character and where she operates from, there was a strange similarity.

Watch: Trailer of Arishadvarga

Female desire is rarely represented on screen, and lust is usually reserved for the vamp. But these emotions are shown very naturally in Arishadvarga. What sort of prep work went into it?

An entry point into any character for an actor first becomes the written word. I had access to that two months before we went on the floors. What naturally happens when you've read something and you've committed to it is that there is an organic brewing process. You simmer in it, the thoughts are cooking in your head and you're preoccupied with the character.

When it came to my co-actors, there was that instant comfort, including Avinash sir (who plays Kruthi's husband Manjunath). It's not like I treat the intimate scenes differently from other scenes. But of course, there was a little bit of awkwardness. In one of those scenes, when we were shooting, I was wearing a tube top to suggest intimacy with a co-actor. And the way they show it, I was under the sheets. So while I was shooting and hanging out on the sets, I was in that tube top. Arvind messaged asking if I want to put on a robe or a shawl and I deliberately said no because as part of my process, I made myself as asexual as possible before I got into the scene...somewhere maybe I was also struggling with it. Then I took the other extreme approach when I wanted to be completely comfortable in my skin before I got in. I wanted to be without any of those crutches. It helped me get into it confidently. This was the first time that I was doing a scene like baring my body a little bit under the shower. That time, Arvind sent the entire crew out of the room and it was only my cameraman Balaji Manohar, Rachana Deshpande who was the gaffer on the sets, and Arvind.

The film has multiple accounts of events, and I'm sure viewers are dying to know which one makes the most sense. What's your interpretation?

As an actor, it doesn't feel right to put out my thinking and reading of the whole movie because it's bound to be biased, if that's the right word. And also because of the kind of film Arishadvarga is, you sort of make it your own when you watch and experience it. This can be said for any film, I know, but more so for Arishadvarga , because your reading of it greatly depends on what kind of person you are and what your moral compass is like. There is this popular quote about art, how it's supposed to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. I think Arishadvarga has that ingrained quality about it and I wouldn't want to interfere with, or influence that experience, by putting my thoughts out about it. I don't want to take away from that novelty factor.

You play an independent woman who is also a victim of domestic violence. Often, people outside a relationship don't understand how that can be. Did you find it difficult to get into that space?

Not really in an emotional sense and because of my theatre training, I believe I have a pretty good hold on my craft. And I believe you don't have to emotionally invest in the psychology of the character every time. You can make your craft also work towards achieving that. Even in terms of domestic abuse, the physicality of what's written in those scenes, just going through those motions, is in a way disturbing. Just the aggression of it. It brings something from within, in that moment. As an actor, you also come in with your baggage and your commitment to the truth of the moment and the situation. It’s a sort of outside in approach, I guess, which does not leave me disturbed once the director calls cut. 

Arvind is also the kind of director who doesn't get sleep at night if he doesn't make us do 6 to 7 takes (laughs). So that, I guess, also had a role to play with the physically demanding scenes where domestic abuse was being shown, doing it over and over again brought in its own kind of emotional stress, and feeding off of an actor like Avinash sir I think took care of most things

Did you have disagreements with Arvind about Kruthi's character? Inputs on how to make her more real?

Yes, I did have a few concerns here and there. Some of them were entertained and some of them he just showed me the door (laughs). If you have to convince him, you can't just say this doesn't work, you have to tell him why. There were two situations -- one was about my equation with the domestic worker, a certain reaction on her part to something, that actually didn’t take too much convincing. The other was with another character. He'd written out this particular scene initially and we had three days of workshops before we shot for the film. He made some changes based on his reaction to the workshop and when I got the draft, I told him that as a writer, he should stick to his initial instincts as far as that scene was concerned and I also put across the reasons as to why and he was convinced again. So, he is rigid as hell when he needs to be and also collaborative when required .

Of all the characters who come and go, which one did you have sympathy for (other than your own)?

It’s the character that turns rogue in his journey in the film. Although on the face of it, it seems like this character is getting his way and there are other characters that come across as cornered and destroyed, it is this character that gets my sympathy the most cause it is this character that needs help the most . Also because the maximum amount of evil resides in this character, and that maybe, is not such a pretty place to be (laughs). But seriously, to me, he is the biggest victim of his own circumstances.

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