“I haven’t watched the film yet. So I am a little nervous,” Niyathi Kadambi says over the phone on the eve of the release of her Malayalam debut, Rani - The Real Story. Niyathi, daughter of seasoned actress Devadarshini, forayed into the film industry at the age of 14 with Vijay Sethupathi’s 96 (2018). She played the younger version of her mother’s character in the film, alongside actors Gouri Kishan and Adithya Bhaskar. Niyathi says, “But I chose to finish my education before pursuing a career in cinema, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of stuff, especially because my co-stars continued to act.”
Now, five years later, she is playing the titular character in Rani - The Real Story. Directed by Shankar Ramakrishnan, the film boasts an ensemble cast including Urvashi, Indrans, Bhavana and others. In complete contrast to the silent and shy school student in 96, she plays the mysterious Rani, a maid caught in a murder investigation in the crime thriller. An excited and enthusiastic Niyathi tells us about her role, future plans and how all of it still feels like a fantasy.
You are playing the titular character in your first full-length film. It has many notable actors and your role is a very intense one. Did all these factors put a lot of pressure on you?
Yes, it was stressful initially. Director Shankar Ramakrishnan liked my pictures on Instagram and the team contacted me. After a few rounds of auditions and long discussions, I was asked to come to Kerala. That’s how it all started for Rani. I was very excited about the story but I didn’t know how I would be able to carry such intense material. It is a really powerful story and I know the performance has to go hand in hand. It was different with 96 because I was young. I had a lot of doubts this time. However, after meeting everyone in Kerala, I felt good. It took me some time but I slowly understood how it works.
Since your mother is also an actor, you might have been to the sets several times. But how different does it feel now?
I have been going with my mom to the sets for a long time now. I have seen it all from close quarters but it always looked like a dream. It still feels like a fantasy. But when I watched it as a kid, I didn’t have so many thoughts in my head. Everything was about fun. Now, even when I enjoy acting, it comes with a lot of responsibility.
When I used to watch my mom perform very emotional sequences on the sets, it would sort of mess up my head. It would be very daunting. I do know that it should not be a barrier now but when I had to play such scenes in this film, those memories would come rushing back. I even told my mom that it was scary because this was one thing I was always terrified about. However, when I began to act, that uneasiness slowly vanished.
In these five years, did you ever regret not taking up projects immediately after 96?
I did want to continue acting because it was an exciting time for me. I was young and it was a completely new feeling. I was just blown away by all the recognition and limelight that came my way. But I think that is also why it was the right decision to not continue. I was overwhelmed and the recognition was the only thing that seemed to matter then. Besides, I was in my 10th grade and my parents suggested I take some time and get a little grounded. They knew it was a very big deal and I can’t joke with it. I did feel like I was missing out back then but I have no regrets now.
There was a shot in the trailer where you were arrested by the cops and you had blood splattered all over your face. How was your mindset while filming that scene?
To be very honest, I found it cool. I had a lot of fun while shooting but during that shot, I felt like a star. We have watched such scenes on screen and we fancy doing this. I didn’t know about this shot earlier so when I did this sequence, it was like “my moment”. The sequence was shot at 3 AM and since we were in a rush, I couldn’t get a chance to watch it on the monitor. I didn’t get to see it while dubbing either. It watched it only when they played the mock trailer; I recalled how cool I felt while we shot the sequence and savoured that particular moment.