I’m Still Figuring Out Where I Fit In Mainstream Cinema: Malavika Mohanan

Malavika Mohanan, whose last two films in Tamil were Petta and Master, is now working on D43 starring Dhanush and directed by Karthik Naren. She speaks about her love for the sitcom Friends, her social media presence and how it was growing up in a film household, in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…

Let me start with a very, very serious question: what is this love that you and Dhanush share for Maggi noodles? 

(laughs) I have never really spent time with Dhanush before D43. So, this was my first introduction to him as a person and a friend. Through the course of a month that we shot in Hyderabad, I realized that we had so many things in common, so many little idiosyncrasies and quirks. For example, both of us have a habit of watching the sitcom Friends when we eat. So, no matter how many new films I catch up on Amazon or Netflix, I want to watch Friends as my comfort watch when I eat. 

My friends and family obviously think it’s a waste of time doing the same thing over and over. Otherwise, I’m trying to catch up on world cinema, French cinema, Malayalam films, and so on. Dhanush was on a very disciplined diet throughout the film’s shoot. So, he was off Maggi. Sometimes, I would be binging on the set and he would look at me with disgust. We are both Leos and so we vibed well and got to know each other well. 

How is it like working in mainstream cinema?

I think it has taken me so many years — and I would actually say it in the present continuous tense — I am still figuring out my ground or where I fit in when it comes to mainstream cinema. Indian film industry is diverse and the rules — spoken and unspoken — are different in different languages. For example, as a mainstream female actor in Malayalam cinema, you can do the role by looking like the character. So, if you’re playing a nurse, you look the part completely. Whereas in Telugu, you still have makeup on, you’re supposed to look conventionally pretty in some form. You’re dolled up even within that space and you might not blend in. 

For example, Parvathy [Thiruvothu] is a close friend. Off the top of my head, there are some scenes in Uyare with shots of her standing with a group of people and it takes a couple of seconds to see where she is because she blends in so much—it looks so real. So, the rules are very different and also as a female actor jumping from one industry to the other, you are starting over and getting acquainted, learning the do’s and don’ts. It’s a process that I’m still figuring out. 

Your father is cinematographer KU Mohanan whom I am a huge fan of, especially the work he did for Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, one of the most magical films I’ve seen. How was it like growing up in a “film” household?

Firstly, I’d like to thank you on his behalf, he would be very pleased! My mother used to complain to him all the time that he didn’t take our pictures. I’m not exaggerating; he doesn’t take our photographs. He used to take a lot of pictures when we were babies. I have a brother who is 5 years younger and he used to take pictures all the time when we were kids. I think he lost interest. My mom jokes that he only takes pictures of Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif and so we have to be actresses to have our pictures taken. But even now, he doesn’t take pictures with me (laughs). 

Do you enjoy sharing your life on social media? How do you know when we’re giving too much away instead of protecting a core of ourselves? 

I don’t feel I give away too much of my personal life on social media. I use Twitter very occasionally because I actually have a lot of opinions but I don’t want to voice them all the time. Actors often end up getting targeted for having any sort of political opinion or for supporting a political party. I am a visual person, so I end up using Instagram a lot. Most often it’s work-related. Instagram has become a crucial branding tool for an actor. 

You can of course choose not to be on it and just let your work speak for you. There’s no right and wrong, but in today’s world, Instagram has become your portfolio. It’s a way to reach out to people and say that this is what I do, this is what I am in real life and these are my hobbies. What makes people connect with you is what they feel they have in common with you.

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