You've mentioned that you'd been exposed to world cinema classics as a mass communication student. What are some of your favorite classics?
There are so many films. But I really like Charulata. Even though everyone says that Satyajit Ray sir's best work is Pather Panchali, I feel like Charulata is better, because of my taste perhaps. In Tushar Madhav sir's film studies classes, he used to ask us to check each frame, how he had composed the pillars, or the swing scene. That's a film that's stayed close to me.
During one of the IFFKs, I met Madhabi Mukherjee. I was shaking. Aparna Sen ma'm was also there. I could only say: Charulata. I touched her feet; even she teared up a little. She's very old, but she was speaking to me as much as she could. And even though I don't understand much Bengali, I felt that we were communicating. That's something a film does to you.
So, I like Charulata, Babel, My Name Is Justine. I don't know why people don't talk about My Name Is Justine. That was a film I didn't watch in my film studies class. I was admitted to the hospital when I was in college. It was suspected that it could be swine flu (it turned out to be just a regular one) and I was in isolation. There was a small TV and a channel called UTV World Movies. The character in the film is also isolated, and it moved me so much. It talks about what happens to a person when their whole identity is taken away from them.
With Kho Kho and Karnan, what was it that resonated with you?
I don't do a lot of films. I'm on to my tenth film in my five-year career. When I dedicate myself to a character, I try to be only in that space. I cannot function with multiple films at the same time. It's probably my weakness, I don't know.
When I was doing June, I remember calling Joju (George) chettan and crying 'appa I miss you.' He could get it and he consoled me (laughs). I could feel the pain of being apart from the father's character. It's very different to feel so towards a character and a person who played it.
Similarly, when I did Stand Up, a role of a rape survivor, it really shook me. I couldn't sleep for nights. I started showing symptoms of PTSD, it felt like. Because you get so much under the skin of the character, and it affects you.
At some point, as an actor, you absorb things from your co-actors. My co-actors were the kids in the film, mostly. There were fifteen of them, and except Mamitha (Baiju) they were actual kho kho players. I was learning from them about the game. I was constantly asking them: do you feel like I'm the coach? There's this give and take. Eventually, I started feeling like I'm their teacher. There's this beautiful magic that happens off screen in the way they look at me.
There's a story that you had your leg in a plaster and director Mari Selvaraj saw you in the trailer of June and cast you in Karnan….
He was looking to cast for the role and was meeting people. I had previously done a photoshoot without makeup for Bala sir's film. But for some reason that project didn't happen at all. By chance he saw this picture of me in a green kurti and also checked my filmography. He liked the way I portrayed the different ages in June's trailer. He told me that I had captured emotions well.
The production house arranged a meeting with me. I was doing a film called Finals where I'm a sports cyclist. I got injured during the shoot and because it had gotten worse I was in Mumbai, with my leg in a plaster. I hadn't seen Pariyerum Perumal but had heard so much about it. Mari Selvaraj sir spent about an hour and a half with me. We spoke about random things. There was no audition, nothing else.
He just kept speaking to me. I didn't know a single word of Tamil. I was speaking Malayalam with a Tamil slang (laughs), but we communicated. I watched Pariyerum Perumal right there in his office. I'm someone who speaks a lot, but I couldn't get a word out of my mouth when the film ended. It affected me so much.
We started talking about the film and I got to know him as a person, what his ideology is. I was very excited.
When you heard that you're going to act with actors like Lal and Dhanush, were you nervous or were you confident?
With Lal sir, I didn't feel anything like that because I had worked with him before. It was like a reunion, you have a rapport. With Dhanush sir, I was scared, of course. Firstly, I didn't know the language. Secondly, I had heard that he's a single-take artist. I wondered how he would react if I needed another take. Would he be comfortable with it? What if it affects my morale if he's not comfortable?
But everything changes the moment you meet the actor. You feel that they've reached a certain place because they are that humble and supportive of their co-stars. Because I had already been an anchor, I'm generally not nervous when I meet actors. In Tamil, though, actors have a godly vibe around them.
But he was very encouraging when we did our first scene. If his expression had changed instead, I would have been shattered. That's why he is who is.