For actor Kalyani Priyadarshan, Maanadu, in many ways, was like no other film that she has worked on before. The movie was released on November 25 after numerous hurdles but she is all smiles about its reception. She maintains this upbeat demeanour throughout the interview – laughing and answering questions without any qualms.
“The story and screenplay were told to me three years ago and it has taken this long for it to come to the audience,” she says about Maanaadu. “With each year, the build-up was more because, from the moment I heard this story, I knew that it had huge potential”.
While she was preparing for her character Seethalakshmi, Kalyani noted the complexities of acting in a time-loop film. Rather than shooting the film scene by scene, they were taken shot by shot. She recalls that there were times when the actors would ask Venkat Prabhu, the film’s director, “Which loop is this?”
“It was quite challenging but it was also fun. Obviously, an experience like this will not happen again for another film,” says Kalyani, who wants every film to be a different experience.
Believing that diversity is the key to becoming a good actor, she has different reasons for choosing each script. For Maanadu, she says, “When Venkat Prabhu sir told me the script, I was sold in the first five minutes. I felt that this was something new and there was a chance that this film might make history. There aren’t many scripts that come your way that have this type of potential.”
As for her Malayalam film debut Varane Avashyamund, Kalyani chose it because of her character and the world that the film was set in.
Kalyani made her cinema debut in 2017 with the Telugu film Hello and she had her reasons for that too. “I genuinely felt like it was the right move to make. It felt like a space where I wouldn’t have to bear the weight of my family’s legacy. That really pushed me towards that,” she says.
Her parents are veterans in the Malayalam film industry. Her father Priyadarshan is a pan-Indian director while her mother Lissy is an actor. She admits that if it were not for that, she may not have been in the film industry. “My entire childhood was about cinema and my passion for cinema just kept growing. I don’t think that I would be here if my parents were doctors or lawyers.”
However, her discovery of her love for being in front of the camera did not happen immediately. Though she knew that she wanted to be a part of the film industry, the actor took some time to figure out her niche. She dabbled in art direction under Sabu Cyril and even gave inputs on a director friend’s script. “There was a character that he had written and I fell in love with the character. That was the first time that the spark for acting happened,” she says.
Kalyani acknowledges that having to bear the weight of her family’s legacy does not compare to the benefits that it offers. “There is pressure but it is nothing compared to the number of advantages and blessings I have because of this. There’s really nothing that I can complain about. I would have it no other way.”
There’s also a sense of familiarity with the Malayalam industry as a result. Kalyani, who worked with Urvashi and Jayaram in Putham Pudhu Kaalai, recounts the experience with fondness. She has grown up around these actors and it was like working with family. “It is always warm to be around them despite the fact that there’s this crazy pressure of having to share screen space with such great actors. But that’s the best way to learn; I grew as an actor by being around them,” she says.
Her second Malayalam film, the upcoming Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, features yet another veteran of the industry, one of its biggest stars – Mohanlal. The film also marks her first collaboration with her father and her brother Siddharth, who was part of the VFX team. Her father and brother have already won National Awards in the direction and special effects category this year for their work on the film.
She says that the journey has been an emotional one though she essays what she terms a “small role.”
“It is so strange because the emotional connection with Marakkar is bigger than the films where I am the main lead. It is the first time that we have come together as a family to do something.”
However, while on set, she realised that her father and she should probably not work together because there was so much pressure on them. “The whole set could hear my heartbeat and my dad was also so nervous. He is a confident director but I could tell that he was nervous for the first time,” she adds.
A fairly new actor, Kalyani feels that she is still figuring out her acting process. While she does like to have her dialogues three days in advance, she has not found her ‘method’ yet.
When working with Sudha Kongara on Putham Pudhu Kaalai, she resonated with the director’s need for organisation and advanced preparation. But while working on Maanadu, she had to quickly adapt to the cast and crew’s spontaneous working style. “Simbu sir is all about improvisation. In fact, that’s how most of the Maanadu crew thinks. That ingenious moment comes while they’re on the spot.”
“It is an everchanging experiment for me until I find my method. I am sure that I will find it but until then, it is all about trying different things to see what works and what doesn’t,” she says.
Kalyani has some exciting projects coming up. She has Marakkar, Hridayam, and Bro Daddy in the pipeline. Speaking about how varied these films are, the actor says that she does not want to find her space just yet and would rather keep experimenting with roles. “I am not someone who can limit herself to one genre. In fact, if you look at my current lineup there is Marakkar, which is a historical epic film. Hridayam is a feel-good love story and Bro Daddy is supposed to be a huge entertainment comedy.”
But she does have a specific wish. “One role that I would be really excited to work on will be a proper action role. I want to do stunts. I loved Samantha in Family Man and I would like to do something like that.”