After starring in the Malayalam thriller film Cold Case in July, Aditi Balan is all set for her next release, the highly-anticipated anthology Navarasa. Appearing in director Vasanth’s segment Payasam (centered on the emotion of disgust), the actor shares screen space with veteran actors Delhi Ganesh, Rohini Molleti, and Kathadi Ramamurthy. “The improvisation and the way they deliver the lines with so much ease was a great experience for me. It was the first time that I was seeing such experienced actors acting,” she says.
Aditi made her debut in 2017 with the critically-acclaimed Tamil film Aruvi, in which she played a young woman who gets infected with HIV. After a three-year hiatus, she appeared in the Tamil anthology series Kutty Story (2021) alongside actor Vijay Sethupathi. In Cold Case opposite Prithviraj Sukumaran, she played the role of an investigative journalist who is also a single mother.
Dubbed as a serious actor, Aditi says that she is actually a fun-loving person. “I am a very goofy person but only people who know me understand this. Due to the roles I’ve played, people assume that I am silent and serious, but I am not.”
Aditi has a varied portfolio; she has a law degree, she is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, and a footballer. Asked if she applies these experiences to acting, the actor says, “I think that is what acting is about. You apply whatever you learn to act.”
She also did a theatre workshop after finishing college. “When I was in school, I always wanted to be part of the theatre, but I danced more. So, when I got the opportunity to attend a theatre workshop where I could learn, I took it. I had just finished college so I had no pressure,” she adds.
Ahead of Navarasa’s release, Aditi sits down for an interview with Silverscreen India where she discusses her experience of working on the anthology, her hiatus from movies, the roles she would like to play, her love for the outdoors, and more.
Your next film is Navarasa and there is a lot of excitement surrounding the film. Can you tell me what it was like to work with director Vasanth and actors Delhi Ganesh and Kathadi Ramamurthy?
Navarasa was a wonderful experience, particularly working with Delhi Ganesh and Kathadi Ramamurthy. I had not really worked with senior artists till this. They’re all actors who love the camera. Nowadays, a lot of us go sit in our caravans between shoots. But these old-school actors sit together and have conversations. I was just sitting with them and trying to grasp as much as I could. The kind of knowledge they have about cinema is unbelievable. It was so much fun to be around them; I learnt so much.
Vasanth sir is a crazy person and he’s really good. He’s got K Balachander sir’s school of thought. He will scream at you, but at the same time, if you’ve done something well, he will appreciate you. It was tiring because he goes for a lot of takes until he is satisfied and gets what he wants. But at the same time, it was a great learning experience.
This year, you have worked on two anthologies in Tamil. How different was it from doing a full-length feature film?
One, the number of days is shorter. Kutty Story was more of an experiment. I wanted the experience of working in a short format film and I knew that the team was good and the script was okay. That’s why I did it. The only thing is that when the length of a film is longer, you have more clarity about the character. In a short film, you just take it as “How would this character react in this specific situation?”
Among the characters you have played so far, who do you relate to the most?
It’s a mix. In Aruvi, there are some portions where I feel like it was me who was there. There was a lot of me in the character Aruvi and in the way I portrayed her. In Kutty Story, I feel I would’ve reacted that way if I’d been in that situation. I am able to play each character only because I can relate to them to some extent. But overall, I don’t think any character is exactly like me.
Your first feature film, Aruvi, was a feminist film with you as the lead. In Cold Case, you play a divorced mother. Is it a conscious decision to pick films that have significant women characters?
Ideally, yes. The reason I liked Aruvi was because of the acting process and the opportunity to learn. You get that only when you have a substantial role. In Cold Case, even though it’s an independent mother character, I didn’t have to go deep into it. But I do try to find roles with some substance. During my three-year break, I was trying to find a balance because I didn’t want to do roles that just come and go but I also didn’t want to do only female-centric films.
Your three-year break has been a topic of discussion. Is there any misconception about yourself that you’d like to clarify?
After Aruvi, people assumed that I knew everything about cinema, which was very unfortunate. They assumed that I would only choose female-centric films. I didn’t receive as many scripts as people think I did after Aruvi. When you say no to one or two projects that you genuinely don’t believe in, people don’t take it well. There was this talk that I would say no to all films that came my way. That was very upsetting because nobody even made the effort to come and talk to me. They just assumed that this would be my response. But I’m past that. Now, I think that it is good because I only get filtered scripts and projects.
As a fairly new artist, what is the kindest or most selfless thing someone has done for you in the industry?
In the industry, I can’t recall anything as such. I received a lot of appreciation after Aruvi but that’s just people showing their love for the film. I’m not really close to anyone within the industry. I know all of them and I talk to them, but not I’m very close.
Outside the industry, people spoke to me about their personal lives, how they related to Aruvi, and about friends who had HIV. That was very touching. During the initial days after Aruvi’s release, cab drivers would recognise me and they wouldn’t take my money. That was sweet of them. It wasn’t right because they were doing a service and we should be paying them. However, the fact that they liked the character so much and wanted to do that was very nice.
Do you recollect the first time that you were recognised by someone in public? How did it feel?
I had watched Aruvi at Udhayam theatre. I didn’t expect people to recognise me after the film, but they did. I was so shy. I said thank you and ran away. After entering cinema, there have been so many changes in the way people see me and talk to me. People assumed that I had it all because I was getting appreciation. But for me, everything was new. Even when people were appreciating me and telling me good things, I didn’t know how to take it. Generally, I don’t know to react to compliments. So, after Aruvi, there was a huge shift in my life.
Earlier, you mentioned that you’d like to pick up other regional languages. What steps have you taken to achieve that?
I am doing a Telugu film right now (Shakuntalam) and I have been asking them to let me dub for it. They’ve agreed to let me try. A performance is accentuated by dubbing. I believe whoever is acting should try and put in the effort to dub for themselves. I badly wanted to dub for Cold Case because I can speak Malayalam properly, but eventually, it’s the makers’ call. I’ve decided that the next time I do a Malayalam film, I will tell them that I want to dub. If it doesn’t work, then they can go ahead and ask someone else to dub. I like languages and I think I’m good with them. When I have that advantage, why not use it? I’m ready to put in the work and correct my diction.
You have posted multiple behind-the-scenes stills of the Cold Case crew and shown your appreciation for them. Do you make it a point to have a close relationship with the crew members of all your films?
Yes, I’m like that when shooting. I like my surrounding to be comfortable and friendly. I feel I work better in friendly and family-like surroundings. While shooting Cold Case, we played cricket with the light officers and camera crew. I am a very conscious person and when someone is super strict, I feel scared. So I’m very shy around big artists, but happily go talk to the members of the camera and direction departments.
As someone who is active on social media, have you got any opportunities through it that you may have otherwise missed out on?
Actually, I’m not a social media person. Usually, actors put out posters of their upcoming films or photoshoots. My profile is very personal. I am not the right person to ask about social media because I am not really good at it.
Your social media bio says that you are a nature lover and you really like to travel. If you’re not on set, how would you ideally like to spend your free time?
I like to travel but unfortunately, the lockdown has made my life miserable (laughs). In the last two years, I haven’t been able to travel and sometimes that’s frustrating. Learning new skills is probably what I would like to do. I started learning Silambam and guitar, and I have my dance classes. I am also trying to learn Japanese. But I’m not very thorough and I haven’t been consistent with it (laughs).
You have mentioned that one of the main reasons for your break was to avoid being stereotyped. What are some of the roles that you are looking to do in the future?
Ideally, something that doesn’t show women in stories of just rape and revenge, or where they’re struggling. I want to do something different. I want to do a comedy like Sathi Leelavathi or Magalir Mattum. I really want to do this because I feel like I‘ve been deemed as a super serious character. So, all the roles that I get are very serious. You won’t believe it, but I got 10 scripts and in all of them, either I’m a divorcee, my husband leaves me, or my husband dies. I thought “Do none of you want me to be with a man?” (Laughs) I am into sports as well. So, I want to do a sports film.
Do you find time to play sports now?
Right now, with the lockdown, it isn’t possible. I used to play football but had to stop after an injury. I am very much an outdoors person and try to find things to do outside. So, for a while, I was playing frisbee and badminton. I don’t like the gym because it is indoors. I also cycle.
I have been a tomboy from a young age. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up in cinema. Even my mother keeps asking how I became an actor. I used to not give too much thought to my dressing. But now that I am in this industry, I have to take extra care of how I present myself. Recently, I was at a photoshoot where I wore a suit and the photographer was like, “I thought you’d wear a yellow salwar!” So, I thought to myself that I have to break this image.
What TV shows are you currently watching?
I cannot watch an episode a day. I have to sit and finish shows at a stretch. I will stay up till 3 or 4 in the morning to finish a show. So I watch them when I am comparatively free and there are no shoots or other commitments. I finished Mindhunter, Fargo, and Mare of Easttown two weeks ago.
Is there a particular genre of films that you enjoy?
I like more of drama and comedy.
What is your favourite song right now?
I am listening to songs from Vaazhl, which is Arun Purushothaman’s second film. I love Pradeep Kumar’s songs. So, right now it’s Semmaan Magalai from the Vaazhl album. I have phases where I listen to one song on repeat and then I move on to the next one.
Are there any actors you want to work with or look up to?
That’s a long list. I want to work with Fahadh Faasil and director Mahesh Narayanan. In Tamil, I would like to work with director Ram. I wished to work with Vijay Sethupathi and I got to do that with Kutty Story. But I still want to do a feature film with him. The wants are endless. (Laughs)