From the very few films that Darshana Rajendran has been a part of, it is clear she's cementing her position as a versatile performer. Even in films such as Kavan, Irumbu Thirai, Mayaanadhi and Virus where she had a small role, she stood out. But, it is in Mahesh Narayanan's latest directorial c u soon, where she's truly received recognition for her craft.
Shot during the pandemic with stellar performers such as Fahadh Faasil, Roshan Mathew, Saiju Kurup and Maala Parvathi, c u soon is experimental in terms of technical aspects. However, the soul of the film is Anumol Sebastian, played by Darshana. There is a certain earnestness she brings to Anu, and you root for her, despite wondering if her character is grey or black or white.
You were shooting for Hridayam just before the lockdown. What was your state of mind during the initial few months?
I think I went through a lot of different phases… At first, I was extremely disturbed and troubled but then I found a routine. I realised I am privileged to have a home and food, I stopped complaining and tried several things. There were days when I would do absolutely nothing; I'd just stare at the sky. Seeing people suffer drained me a lot.
Did this ease when you got the call for c u soon?
Absolutely. Before c u soon, a bunch of us used to read plays together online. I was in between one such reading when I got a call from Fahadh, and I was very, very thrilled. It was a quick process. Two days later, I was listening to the script and a few days after that we began shooting. I didn't see this coming at all, but it was a relief to get back to work.
In an interview to Film Companion, Mahesh Narayanan said that you understood the language in which the movie was shot. How did you crack it?
(laughs) I don't know. I was very happy to hear him say that, but I am still figuring it out. I did not really understand everything about the screens and devices. I got a hook of the story and the characters during the script reading. So, I just kept to what I knew and did it as honestly as I could.
So you didn't let the technical part get to you…
Yes. I was very intimidated by it and I didn't think too much about it. My trick was to not focus on that at all (laughs). So when Mahesh ettan told me that I had cracked it, I didn't even realise that it had happened.
Did your roots in theatre help you adapt to this unconventional mode of shoot?
We had no camera angles and had to do the whole scene together, unlike the usual methods of shooting that we are used to. That way, I think theatre helped me a lot because we were doing multiple things together. I started exploring acting through theatre, so everything I have tried and everything I know are things that I've tried in theatre.
Your roles in Virus, Kavan and Mayaanadhi were relatively small in terms of screen time, but people noticed your performance. After these films, have you had to turn down a lead role because it was not performance-oriented?
Yes, I've said no to some lead characters. For me, it hasn't really been about the screen time of my character. If I connect with a character and if it excites me, whether it is a small role or a big one, I am fine with that. I think it also comes from my background in theatre where you might be on stage for two minutes or two hours, but you are part of the play and that is the idea. With acting, the more we do, the more we learn. Having said that, it is definitely great to get a lead character, as it will give me that much more time to explore my character.
The various ways in which you express sadness on screen have come in for appreciation…
(Laughs) I don't know what to say, but I am a crier in life. It is an emotion that I have very easy access to. But it isn't easy to access that during shoot because it is a completely different story. With c u soon, I felt that even in the crying, there was a graph of sorts. From the first time she realises she's trapped to her desperation to survive, it is many things and it's all happening over her video logs. I think I was conscious about this, but once I began shooting, the character took over. The lines Anu says and how Mahesh ettan had written the character were the only fodder I needed… it was just me being present and open to portraying this girl.
In your life as an actor, have you ever felt you needed to step back and reassess?
Every now and then, for sure. Actually, I think it is more like you are permanently in an uncertain situation and there's never clarity. There could be something that you have auditioned for and you get a call saying it is happening, and two days later you get a call saying it is not happening. I have, at multiple times, thought if I should be in a place that is more stable or more peaceful. But, as much as I consider these situations, I am very glad that I am doing what I am doing. I am glad that I quit my job and explored acting. I am sure there are always going to be different kinds of trials but struggle is a part of this field and it is always going to be difficult and this is one thing I have accepted.
Hridayam is a big production with what one would say is a dream team. What has your experience been like shooting for the film?
I had a ball. It almost felt like college all over again and also, Vineeth ettan is an absolute delight to work with. He made me do things I never imagined myself doing. He saw me clearly in that space and his faith in me was enough for me to be very comfortable doing that. I really enjoyed working with him, Pranav and the whole bunch of artistes. It was fun, it was work that we all liked and I am really looking forward to getting back to shoot.
You've done films in Tamil and Malayalam. Do you consider language a barrier?
I would love to work in many languages but I do think that there needs to be some sort of fluency in the language you're acting in. I speak Hindi and I have done a few small scenes but I have always wondered what it'll be like for me to perform in Hindi. Though I can converse in Tamil, I am not fluent in it and my thought process is not in Tamil. I feel that it is definitely a handicap when you're on sets because you're very limited in terms of vocabulary and you've to stick to things that you've learned. You're not breathing with it. But I like languages and enjoy learning them, so I am constantly trying to get better at the few languages that I know.
As an artist, what is creative satisfaction to you?
Right now, I am very satisfied with the kind of work I am doing. The kind of films that I am working on, the fact that I am getting to do theatre and be on stage, that I get to connect with kids and do story-telling, these are all aspects that are very special to me as a performer. And as long as I get to do these and get better, I am satisfied.
Do you feel you're beginning to get your due as an artist?
I think I am getting to explore the kind of work I have been wanting to do. I am slowly being considered for more prominent roles. People are looking at me as someone who can offer something more than what has been showcased until now, and that is a very satisfying feeling.