Edited excerpts from an interview between actor Amala Paul, Aadai director Rathna Kumar and Baradwaj Rangan.
I have question for the both of you. In our industry, topics like sex, nudity or drinking are the domain of the vamp, or what we usually the 'villi'. But our heroines are usually the virginal good girls. So at a time when the heroines have these limitations, you decided to make the lead character possess these traits. Was there ever any fear in your minds while going ahead with such a character?
Amala Paul: Zero.
Rathna Kumar: But before getting there, she had done a SWOT analysis. Please speak about that.
Amala Paul: Yeah so before I agreed to do the film, I did this SWOT analysis for this character. I couldn't find anything to put under the good attributes column. But under the bad attributes I could add that she was bossy, bold, a bully, dominant. I then took a screenshot and sent it to Rathna, telling him how she has no good attributes. He then replied stating how all these things can be seen as good attributes too. That's how society has conditioned us. How can we slot these traits as either good or bad? Usually, when something like what happens to my character in Aadai is a part of a script, the girl would have been this studious, nice girl who has never done anything wrong. Why would you feel bad for a girl that drinks? That's the usual perception right? But when this script came to me I felt it was speaking the truth.
So when the teaser came out, I'm guessing you would have expected a bit of "slut-shaming" coming your way. Did you worry about putting your actor through such a situation?
Rathna Kumar: I had that fear right from the time she said OK to my script. It is the shot that decides what needs to be exposed or not. The audience are now either positively excited about the film or they are just waiting for the film so they can use parts of it in their memes. There's also a third set of audience who are silent about their reactions. They form the majority. I'm most excited to see their reaction.
Amala Paul: I'm not afraid at all. Thanks to the new-age audience and the revolution that is happening with our films. Even heroes can't save a movie anymore. Only content seems to be working now. So I trust that audience. I may not have done this film even three years ago. I don't think I would have had the guts then. But right now is the right time for such a film. Rathna messaged me a day before the teaser and wrote, "get ready to face the world." I said I was ready, bring it on.
So let's talk about shooting the actual nude scene itself. There's been a lot of Hollywood actresses who have done such scenes and they've given different opinions on this. Jennifer Lawrence, who did a nude scene in Red Sparrow, said, "the anxiety before the shoot is so much worse that the actual reality of the shoot. But afterwards I felt empowered. I still feel empowered. I had a lot of issues and insecurities about nudity and my body. Doing this scene was a way to overcome those issues." How did you feel after doing that scene?
Amala Paul: Before getting to that, I would like add one thing. So I'm seeing someone. When I listened to the script, I shared it with him. The first thing he told me was that I really need to work on myself. He said I need to be 100 percent ready both physically and mentally.
Do you usually share your acting decisions with your partner?
Amala Paul: Yes. Absolutely. For the person I've become and the way I look at work now…I guess I owe it to him. As I said, I've always been a rebel without a cause. I think love healed me. I used to be believe that only mothers could love unconditionally, sacrificing everything. But this man proved that he too can to do that for me. He sacrificed his career and job to support me. He knows my passion but he's not someone who keeps praising me. The first thing he said after watching my movies was that I was a "really shitty actor." He opened my third eye. Actors have a lot of insecurities so we usually surround ourselves with people who massage our ego. I too was like that. The people around me were not telling me the truth. He then came along and ripped me apart. He's the truth in my life.
Talking about my insecurities, I was already into yoga. I don't go to the gym. I was physically fit but Rathna wanted me to get six packs (laughs). Yoga calmed me down. So I started going to the gym once again because it has a way of getting you all pumped up. And I needed that for this role because she is a bit eccentric and hyper. In the beginning, I used to send the crew pictures of me wearing a body suit to get an idea of how I will feel even though I knew there was not going to be a body suit. So I went to the sets on the day of the shoot, wearing a bath robe and I remember being freaked out. Because the entire world is going to see your body…something you've hidden my whole life. I was stressed so I asked my manager if everything was going to be safe. He told me that the crew was going to be minimal and that they had frisked everyone to ensure there were no cell phones on the set. So I entered the set and I looked at everyone, but they had this fear in their eyes. No one was talking. That increased my stress even further. Once we finished the shoot, I called Rathna and told him that I felt like crying. I told him I was feeling this fear. I had this conversation with myself and I realised that this insecurity was coming from the tomorrow and what the final result of this film would be. What if the audience don't receive this? But then I realised that I just need to leave the result and just focus on the now. I took a decision that none of us are going to think about tomorrow. Because we're not doing this film for anyone. We're doing it for ourselves. The moment I became cool they too became a lot cooler on the sets. And the best part about it was how everyone on the sets, right from the focus puller to the steadycam operator or the lighting crew, they didn't look at me with any sympathy.
Another reason I was able to do this was because I'm extremely confident about my body. I'm comfortable being naked. The more you start exploring yourself, you don't want to hide too much. That's what gave me the strength to do this film.