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 colorism prevalent in several industries like Tamil and Telugu and also why she transitioned to doing commercial film roles in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…
In Tamil and Telugu films, for the longest time, there has been this influx of heroines from from the North often have a fairer complexion whereas Telugu and Tamil heroines might find it harder to find roles. Lot of the people in these two industries feel that very regularly.
It’s really unfortunate that there are people who look at things like that and I am glad a lot more is being spoken about colorism and how much it exists in our society now, more than before. I’m hoping all these conversations eventually lead to a change in the mindset of the people. It’s going to be a slow process because it’s very deep-rooted in our culture. We Indians are so racist. But if we go abroad and somebody is racist to us, we are like, ‘oh, how could he do that?’ You can’t have that hypocrisy or double standard. Most Indians are obsessed with fair skin; it needs to change.
What you did in Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds was fantastic. The parts where you are inside prison and you’re saying you don’t want to die in prison were quite affecting. Now, it is possible to de-glam yourself, because you are playing that part, while the reverse is not possible. If a person, a heroine or an actor that actually looked like a typical Tara kind of person, they wouldn’t be able to be your Rajinikanth or Vijay heroines. That’s where I was leading to.
When the Malayalam film industry is your foundation, you tend to grow up believing that actors are supposed to look like the characters they’re playing. Nobody is expecting you to look like this very fair tribal standing with a group of tribals who happen to be darker skinned. Nobody is expecting that, but am sure that would happen in Telugu (giggles). Because I grew up with Malayalam films, I grew up with a very idealistic mindset that it doesn’t matter how you look as long as you are playing the character really well.
I stuck to that for all of my movies till Beyond the Clouds happened and I realized that all of my contemporaries were doing “commercial glam movies”. They were just getting more offers, because they looked a certain way, because they were being presented a certain way and I was like it has been 5 years and I’m so idealistic in my choices.
I am seeing people who are doing ridiculous scripts and I also wanted to try doing dome commercial work or what is deemed as commercial work and the two films that I did in Tamil came my way. It’s not like I got a Super Deluxe and I said no, I would have loved to do it. But to get to a film like that you need to have a certain level of exposure.
So, commercial films, give you that exposure and that doesn’t hurt. I would have loved to be idealistic and just to do the movies and roles I believe in, but unfortunately a lot of that did not come my way and I ended up doing some commercial films that I enjoyed doing. I made some great friends, and now I have more offers than ever. So, what does that tell you about the industry? I have more offers after doing a Master than a Beyond the Clouds. So, that’s how things work.
When you see yourself on screen, how do you process yourself? Take Master which you would’ve shot in bits and pieces over a period of time. How do you react when you see the whole film?
It’s very tough to watch the film as an audience for the very first time. As an actor, I have no objectivity left in me. I’m constantly analyzing if my hair was okay or if my hand gesture was okay or why I had a certain expression. There’s just so much criticism in my head that I don’t like watching my own films. It’s weird to hear your voice on screen, even. I enjoy the process of acting more than watching myself act.