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“The Film Wouldn’t Exist Without Malu”: ‘Tharangam’ Actress Santhy Balachandran

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Actress Santhy Balachandran makes her debut in the Malayalam crime-comedy, Tharangam. Starring opposite Tovino Thomas, Neha Iyer, Balu Varghese and others in the Dominic Arun film, Santhy says that her role in the film is well-etched – that of a guest lecturer with a mind of her own. Not just another woman at whose expense the actors make jokes.

Sometime last year, Santhy, who was at home in Kerala writing her thesis, came across a poster for a play. She was on a summer break from Oxford, where she was pursuing a doctorate in Anthropology.

The play was Harold Pinter’s The Lover.

Santhy doesn’t hail from a theatre background, but the poster caught her attention. She soon found herself auditioning for the part. The main one.

“I’ve always been interested in arts and theatre,” she says when I call her up for an interview, “In fact, a long time ago, I had done a Mahesh Dattani play called 30 Days In September, a production made in Hyderabad Central University. Before The Lover,  I hadn’t done a full-fledged commercial play, only worked on the production.” 

As a child, Santhy was part of summer camps, staging plays for a limited audience; she used to paint, too, and has held exhibitions before.

“Performance, writing, photography – those are the things that energise me. Last year, when I got the opportunity to do the play, the thrill made me realise that I really enjoy this field,” she admits.

The Lover is a 1962 play on sexual yearning and deception. While the play makes the audience believe that there are three characters – the wife, the husband, and the lover – it is later revealed that the third character is the husband and the wife role-playing as the lover to each other.

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The play was staged for six days in Kochi, and was fairly instrumental in her landing a role in Dominic Arun’s film. “The director had seen the trailer for the play and asked the casting director to get in touch with me. Then I auditioned, and got the part.” 

That was when her tryst with cinema began. Admitting that theatre and cinema require different sets of skills, she explains that a theatre background moulds one’s acting skills, while cinema acting teaches you to zone out the chaos outside and step into a role. With the luxury of multiple retakes.

Santhy also had the fortune of having two directors (one from another project) who helped her make the stage-to-screen transition.

“Both my directors were kind enough to answer all my questions. I guess it comes with my research background. I want to know the ‘Whys’, ‘Hows’, and the ‘What-happened-Befores’. Both of them were patient and were very clear on their characters, which really helped me understand my role better. It wasn’t so intimidating after,” she says.

Her first scene in Tharangam was a cut from the song ‘Minnunnunde Mullapole’, in which her character, Malu, walks out on her partner, Pappan, who turns up to the theatre late. “There were the first-day butterflies, but everybody was so nice about it. Since the team includes mostly young people, we all had fun despite a 45-day shoot schedule.”

Playing Malu turned out to be quite easy for Santhy. A guest lecturer who is in a live-in relationship with a man named Pappan, Santhy declares that her character is quite an important one.

“The thing that I like about Malu is that she’s not just a love interest, she isn’t in the film just because a hero needs a heroine. She’s actually quite important, and I can say that without her, the film wouldn’t exist. That way, all the characters in the film have a crucial role. It’s a comedy and doesn’t have characters saying things just for the heck of sounding funny. Malu is someone who ends up being funny even without trying,” she says.

Credit: Richard Antony

There’s another female character in the film who is equally important. “It’s an intelligent film, and I like the way the female characters are written. There’s Omana (played by Neha Iyer), who’s also important. For me, considering my academic background, I look at things from a critic’s perspective, watchful of how women are portrayed on screen. These two characters have a world of their own which is beyond the men in their lives. They are strong, independent women, and are in the film for a reason. Not frivolous characters who are demeaned or made fun of. I guess that’s new for comedy,” she says.

Santhy’s other project – Randuper – has been submitted for film festivals. The film, much like her debut, is set in contemporary times, but is perhaps more intense. “My character Riya has a lot of layers. The film is more conversational, where nothing is what it seems. It mostly happens with two characters in a car, and it’s received good responses at the preview,” she adds.

Santhy also looks forward to doing different roles. “I want to play characters that make me step outside my own experience. So far, the characters I’ve played are more rooted in contemporary times, so I wouldn’t mind venturing into a role with a totally different background. I’m someone who thinks of possibilities a lot, and playing different roles is a way of doing that,” she adds.

Given a choice between theatre and cinema, Santhy says that acting on stage is something she’d definitely go back to.

“The high you get from being on stage is quite different. The reach of cinema is great, but both cinema and theatre have a different space. Theatres evolves you as an actor, to convey emotions in real time. And you don’t have retakes; there’s a different sort of thrill that comes from stage. It’s something I wouldn’t give up.” 

Tharangam – The Curious Case of Kallan Pavithran, is scheduled to release on September 29.

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