Madonna Sebastian, the 20-something singer turned actress, is arguably the reason behind the increased sales of Red Velvet cakes in Kerala last year. The dessert featured prominently in her scenes in Premam (2015). Fresh from the success and popularity of the biggest film Mollywood has ever produced, she has now entered Tamil cinema with Nalan Kumarasamy’s Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum. We talk to her about how overwhelming fame can be, her tryst with Tamil and Kollywood, and her priorities as an actor.
It was music that brought you to the public eye, and eventually to Alphonse Puthren. Tell us about your musical journey and the transition to cinema.
My parents wanted me to join the Civil Services. So after college, I signed up for those classes. But I found them very boring. There was also the risk of losing out on singing if I took it up seriously. So I decided to take a break, and concentrated on singing. That’s how the shows happened. But I was still lost about what I really wanted to do. Luckily, that was when Alphonse called me, and Premam happened.
Madonna Sebastian plans to live with her band ‘Everafter’ soon.
You had no acting background before you entered cinema. What was your relationship with cinema?
My father was not a fan of Malayalam movies, or Indian movies in general. So I grew up watching mostly Hollywood films, and actors like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Leonardo Di Caprio. I am a fan of their style of acting – emoting with eyes and expressions. And before you ask, I’m delighted that Leo won the Oscar. (laughs) I hope Johnny Depp makes it soon, too.
Sadly, in Indian cinema, we rarely come across simple, subtle yet memorable characters like Celine. Would you do the ‘typical heroine roles’ that are a staple of commercial cinema?
I am not a fan of those kind of roles. But there are times when I cannot say no to certain people. If the movie involves industry legends, I can’t pass up an opportunity like that. It would be great to work with them and learn from them. But yes, I like grounded, subtle acting.
What made you take up Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum?
My gut instinct. Honestly, we never know. Even when we listen to a script, we do not know for sure if it would work or not. Take for example, Director Padmarajan’s classic Malayalam movies. They have a simple storyline. Just listening to the script won’t help you figure out whether the film is right for you or not. I think we have to follow our calling. I did watch My Dear Desperado, but I like Nalan’s version better. It is more lively.
Which actors in Tamil cinema do you admire?
It has to be Vijay (Sethupathi). Vijay often talks about ‘following the rhythm of the co-actor’ and that comes naturally to Vijay. Through his experience, he has made it easier for a lot of his co-stars. I’ve also benefited from that. He is quite genuine with his acting, so it is easier to respond to him.
Coming to Premam, did you expect that the film would be this big? Your popularity is quite high in Tamil Nadu.
We were pretty sure that Premam would be a good movie. But the level of success the movie has seen was unexpected. It ran close to 300 days in Chennai, which I still cannot believe. I am aware that people really took notice of me, here too. All thanks to Alphonse. I hope that drives a few people to watch KaKaPo in theatres. Until a few months ago, almost everyone called me just Celine. But now they do know my actual name. I guess that’s how characters stick to the audience’s mind.
There have been mixed reactions to the Telugu remake of Premam. Isn’t it risky to play a character you’ve already done, and are being remembered for?
It is going to be Chandoo Mondeti’s movie. Alphonse’s version is a little different. To be honest, I am not a fan of remakes. I wouldn’t have done this, but it was a good opening. There was a good team and cast, so I agreed. Plus, I know what Premam is, I know who Celine is, so I think it is less risky actually.
What is your take on the recent controversy, about Premam being snubbed by the Kerala State Awards?
Awards are not the benchmark. If that was the case, then Di Caprio and Johnny Depp would’ve stopped acting. Even the grading systems at schools today are messed up. A kid who does not get top ranks may actually be the most intelligent student in the class. I think it is unfair to judge a movie by the awards it wins. But I cannot accept the remarks a jury member made about Premam, that it was ‘lazily-made’. We all know what Alphonse went through for this. Everyone can see the results.