Manju Warrier: Aami is not a mimicry of Kamala Das' life
On first impression, South India's favourite Malayalam female lead Manju Warrier is unperturbed. But when she was asked which of Kamala Das's literary works was her favourite, she paused for a moment, propped her chin on the palm of her right hand and put some thought into the answer.
A few seconds later, her expressive eyes lit up when her thoughts landed on a memory from her childhood. "I've not read all of Kamala Das's writing, to be honest. But I read Neypayasam (Sweet Milk) when I was in the 8th or 9th grade," said Warrier.
Kamala Surayya, popularly known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty and Kamala Das, was marked as an iconoclast in her generation. Neypayasam is a story about a father, mourning the loss of his wife. "I must've been only 13 when I read it, but I have a vivid memory of the short story," added Warrier, suggesting that Surayya's work had a tendency to create a long-lasting impact on the minds of the reader.
The actress spoke to City Times on the sidelines of the launch event of her latest movie Aami, on Wednesday, March 7, at Roxy Cinemas, City Walk, Dubai. Warrier explained that the movie is a 'work of fiction' and draws heavily from Surayya's trailblazing autobiography Ente Katha (my story). Directed by film director, screenwriter and producer Kamal, the movie is the first biopic on the controversial author-poet. The movie, which released on February 9, also stars Murali Gopy, Tovino Thomas and Anoop Menon.
Kamala Das spent an entire lifetime trying to break conventions and challenge stereotypes. So naturally, this movie was touted as one of the more interesting roles in Warrier's career so far. But Warrier insisted that her only priority on set was 'to make the director smile' after each scene. She said, "I was aware of the several controversies that were attached to the movie, but I wasn't too concerned with that as I trusted the director. I've worked with Kamal on several other movies, including Krishnagudiyil Oru Pranayakalathu (During a romantic season in Krishnagudi)."
Right from her make-up to the Aranadan dialect (a language spoken by people in Malappuram, Kerala), Warrier had members from Das's family to fall back on in terms of maintaining authenticity and 'staying true to her spirit'. Critics and movie-goers have given Aami mixed reviews. However, Warrier said, "Personally, the responses I've received from the movie has been much more than I expected. I received messages from viewers in a magnitude and manner like I've never experienced before."
The director has been very honest in trying to capture emotions that Surayya conveyed through her words. "The movie in no way is an exact recreation of Das. Everything about Kamala Das is still very fresh in the minds of her loyalists. It is not a mimicry of her life," she added.
When Warrier began shooting for the movie, she had only a couple of weeks to prepare herself. The title role was initially offered to Bollywood actor Vidya Balan, who reportedly backed out of the project at the last minute. The movie is a slightly watered down version of the poet's bold narrative, but it shifts seamlessly from her childhood to her adult years ending in Das's conversion to Islam, after which she adopted the name Kamala Surayya.
Juggling dance with acting
The film actor, dancer, social activist and singer was at the peak of her career when she momentarily gave up acting in 1999. In the first-half of her on-screen career, Warrier rightfully earned equal billing with the male superstars in Malayalam cinema. In 2014, when she made a comeback in a lead role in Rosshan Andrrews's How Old Are You, her fans were ecstatic. There has been no looking back for her since.
Successfully juggling regular dance shows, Warrier also has several upcoming movies in her kitty. She is set to begin shooting for Mohan Lal starrer Odiyan and is already promoting the movie Mohanlal where she plays the role of the actor's biggest fan.
Classical dance comes as naturally to her as acting. "But I don't need to take any additional efforts as I am not really juggling the two roles. I don't need to make extra time for it. Dance just falls into place."
However, she refuses to give any kind of advice or a 'list of guidelines' for upcoming actors in the film industry. "There is no need to give young people any kind of advice," laughed Warrier.
"The young women seem to be well-aware and educated about the on-goings of the movie industry. However, my only words of advice are that young women must know where to draw the line," she added.
Speaking about the changes she has noticed in Malayalam cinema since her comeback, Warrier said, "The only noticeable change in the industry since my comeback has been in terms of technology. Things are a lot more digitised, but there has been not much change in the people. I've been given the same warm welcome into the sets, just as before."
Hyper-feminism is as counterproductive to women's cause as patriarchy: Murali Gopy
A raging intellect, screenwriter, actor, author, blogger and singer Murali Gopy called Aami a time-appropriate movie. But not for reasons related to the on-going conversations on female empowerment in the world of cinema.
However, he believes that hyper-feminism is counterproductive. "I see people as people. there is no reason to make gender distinctions. Hyper feminism is as counterproductive to women's cause as patriarchy," said Gopy to City Times. Accompanying Manju Warrier in Dubai for the premiere of the Aami, Gopy plays the pivotal role of Aami's husband Madhav Das in the movie.
The screenwriter credited Kamala Das's family's fierce belief in individual choices as the primary reason for the movie being time relevant. "Madhavakutty's conversion to Islam caused a lot of controversies and in some cases also resulted in violence in India. In this particular case, Kamala Das's family paid a great deal of importance to individual choices," he explained.
"They were a family that believed in mutual adoration and respect. And to have a conversation about a family like that is important, especially at this time and age. I think as a society, we ought to be like that, but we are not that way. This conversation is more relevant now than it was at the time of unfolding," added Gopy.
The actor stated that the movie has received mixed reviews since its premiere early February and added that it was expected due to the very nature of the movie. "I also think this is only the first of many movies that will be made on Kamala Das. It is very difficult to encompass a character as unpredictable and volatile as her in a matter of three hours," he stated.
Gopy wrote and acted in Ee Adutha Kaalathu, Tiyaan and Left Right Left, which are considered path breakers in their respective genres. Murali is the son of renowned actor Bharat Gopi, Murali has acted in very few movies since his foray into cinema in 2004.
A fact unknown to many, Gopy also worked as a journalist in Dubai. He resigned his job as the chief editor of MSN India Entertainment to pursue a full-time career in cinema. When asked if he missed being one, Gopy said, "I don't miss anything. It is all a part of evolution."
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