Updated: October 19, 2019 2:29:25 pm
Asuran has crossed the Rs 100 crore mark within three weeks of its release. Indianexpress.com chats with the film’s leading lady, Manju Warrier, who made her Tamil debut with the Vetrimaaran directorial.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Sakshyam (1995) was your first film in Malayalam. It has taken 24 years for you to debut in Tamil.
(Smiles) There’s a right time for everything and I couldn’t have asked for a better Tamil debut. I have had many offers from Tamil filmmakers in the past, but couldn’t take them up owing to several reasons. I think Asuran was destined to happen. Dhanush and I have been friends for a decade. We’ve discussed many scripts. But things fell into place only this time, and I’m extremely glad. He’s one of the most sought-after actors in Kerala. And the films he’s done with Vetrimaraan have been massive hits. Asuran is a special film in my career and will remain so.
I liked Pachaiyammal for her boldness. What were your thoughts when Vetrimaaran narrated the script?
Thank you. It is a character-driven role. Boldness doesn’t necessarily mean loud, and that’s Pachaiyammal’s huge strength. She is self-made and has a mind of her own. Credit goes to Vetri sir because his films have had strong women characters.
Naturally, it was an instant yes to Asuran, though it took some time to get into the skin of my character. I admit I was quite nervous on the sets, but both Vetri sir and Dhanush made me comfortable.
When I was introduced to Pachaiyammal, I went through a gamut of emotions. I was excited, I was afraid. And, what not? It’s an intense role, after all. I had to understand how women in Kovilpatti behaved, spoke and wore a sari. I had butterflies in my stomach and experienced the same nervousness I had while shooting my first film.
You are being too modest.
No, I am not. First of all, I don’t think I am a very good actor. I have never been satisfied with my roles. Every time I watch my films, I feel like I could have done it a lot better. The thing is that I am overly critical and that keeps me going. I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with my acting skills. It is good to have constructive criticisms of yourself. (Smiles)
I see. Weren’t you apprehensive of playing the mother of three children in Asuran?
Not at all. It’s a powerful role. I haven’t done such a character in Malayalam, and that’s what made me grab Asuran. When the project was announced, a lot of my filmmaker friends got curious because it was directed by Vetrimaaran. The Malayalam cinema looks up to him. He knows what he wants, and has amazing control over the medium.
Though you grew up in Nagercoil, how did you work on getting the Tirunelveli dialect right?
I was 10 when I moved to Kerala with my family. Until then, I was very much here. Those days, I remember visiting Nagercoil, at least, once a year and it was like revisiting my childhood. Though I haven’t acted in a Tamil film all these years, I was watching Tamil films and songs. All of that came in handy. But the dubbing was challenging. Vetri sir insisted that I dub for my role. I had a language coach by my side and there were words that I had never heard before.
They gave me the Asuran script in Tamil, but I know how to read and write the language. I didn’t have to be precise in the diction, because I knew we could fix it during the dubbing. (Chuckles)
Everything was worth my effort. The first five days were difficult, though. I felt like this lost kid in school; because of the new atmosphere and technicians. Once I got the hang of my character, I enjoyed the process. The dialogue writer Su Ka was equally helpful. Both him and Vetri sir ensured that I spoke my lines correctly.
So, you felt like Asuran was your ‘first film’?
Definitely. No two films have been the same, so far and I thank my directors for having given me such wonderful roles. No film is a single person’s effort. It’s a team game.
Did you watch FDFS of Asuran?
Unfortunately, no. I was in Kottayam when it got released. I was shooting for a Malayalam film then. We wanted to catch the film, as a unit. But, couldn’t find a theatre. Sigh. I am happy that Asuran is doing quite well. And, if people appreciate my role, it is because of the director. Actors just act. But, the direction is a lot more and requires conviction and talent.
I am sure. How are you enjoying your second innings?
It’s fantastic. Though I was away from the film industry, fans were kind enough to shower me with love wherever I went. I had a great comeback. I never thought I’d share screen space with Big B and Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan).
On what basis you choose scripts?
Back in the 90s, I didn’t ‘choose’ anything. I went with the flow. My parents used to listen to the scripts. If they were fine, I used to go ahead and shoot. It is not the case anymore. I ask myself if I would want to go to the theatre to watch that film. If the answer is yes, I say ‘yes’. I decide them based on instincts. It has worked a lot of times. And, sometimes, it hasn’t. I also prefer roles that will test my mettle.
Are you a method actor?
I don’t think I am. I don’t know what it means to do homework or prepare for a role. I’d say I’m spontaneous, observant and can adapt myself to any given situation. I surrender myself to the directors completely and go by their words. Hey, they know better, right?
Do you feel you’re being offered better roles at this point?
Age is just a number and it has nothing to do with the films that I do. I am proud to be 40-year-old and I have no qualms about admitting my age. I have always had the best of roles come my way and I consider myself blessed. Each director has his way of making style and I don’t think it is fair if I say I enjoy working ONLY with the current-generation directors and they think ‘different’. (Smiles)
Now that you have back-to-back films, has dance taken a back seat?
No. Dance comes first any day. It’s my passion. I practice every day and I am looking forward to working in a couple of dance dramas.
Can we expect you to do more Tamil films henceforth?
Are you interested in the business aspects of cinema?
No. Those are complex things. (Laughs) I don’t understand the box-office numbers, and that’s all right. What matters to me is the connect that I establish with the audience. As long as I know my films do well, I am happy.
Dream role, if any?
Perhaps, every role that I haven’t done yet.
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