Anjali, known for her ability to emote since her debut in the Telugu Photo (2006) and Ram’s Kattradhu Tamizh (2007), is now part of the Hemant Madhukar’s bilingual Silence/Nishabdam, with Anushka Shetty and Madhavan. Excerpts from a conversation with Vishal Menon
You know how to play a character a certain way, whether it is a confident Chennai girl or another character rooted in Madurai. When somebody who does so much with her characters is placed in a film shot abroad, are you still able to lend that typical twist to your performance?
Yes, I took care of everything demanded of my character, especially the way she should look — it could be the physique, attire or anything else. It took me more than two months to get inside that role. I have done ‘girl next door’ roles and they are easy, because I have seen those girls in person. But, for the character of Maha, I had to work hard. When we go abroad, we do see cops, but I’ve never seen anyone I could tap into for this role.
You mentioned attire… Was there some reference you took from foreign films to get that right?
We had reference pictures for my looks. But when I was playing the role of someone from the Seattle Investigation Department, I couldn’t imitate somebody else, I had to be that person.
In the trailer, we see your co-investigating officer is a white actor…
Most of my scenes were with Michael Madsen, a popular actor in Hollywood, and it was a privilege to share the screen with him. It took me some time to be comfortable next to him because he is a legend and is experienced in age and acting. It took me some time, but I soon got comfortable with him.
This is a very stylish looking film and is shot abroad, almost entirely. When such a film releases straight on Amazon Prime Video, do you feel regret that it would have been better had it been released in theatres?
Everybody has that plan right, but at one point, you should consider your project. We have made this film for a wide audience; that is why we made this film in two languages, and quite a bit of it is in English. On OTT platforms, there is a wide audience to tap into. I can sit with friends and family and watch the entire movie for Rs 129, as many times as I want.
I watched the Tamil trailer. Did you also dub for the Telugu version?
Yes, of course.
When it comes to Telugu and Tamil in terms of dubbing, are you equally comfortable with both languages by now?
Actually, some people get confused whether I am Telugu or Tamil because I am very comfortable with both languages. I consider both my mother tongue — I have connected more to Tamil and I have done more movies here, but Telugu is my mother tongue and I speak Telugu fluently. I feel comfortable dubbing in both languages, because I know both the languages very well. I always do my own dubbing for every movie.
That is also why most of us know your voice distinctly…
Yes. I have had many incidents with my voice too. When we were shooting for Sindhubaadh in Courtallam and Tenkasi, it was dark and we couldn’t even see each other’s faces properly. Some people randomly came and asked for a photo with me. We were wondering how they recognised me, and they said they heard my voice. I consider this a blessing.
Is there any difference in the scripts that come to you in Tamil or Telugu?
There is a lot of difference because of the different cultures, audience taste and the way they make movies. Each language has different patterns of movie making. The Tamil audience is unique in its own way. In Telugu, my role in Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu is something I won’t get in Tamil. And, my role in Engaeyum Eppothum, I might not get that in Telugu.
Generally, heroines say they get a meaty role only once in a while. You’ve done so many such roles. Is it also important to balance this with commercial movies?
If allowed, I would love to do more movies such as Iraivi or Engaeyum Eppothum. Unfortunately, we won’t get such roles every day. Some directors write such beautiful roles, and I am blessed to get to perform them. That said, we need to appear on screen at regular intervals so that the audience will not forget us. So, we also have to do roles that we are not proud of. So, maybe, do films in a 2:1 ratio.
So, two films for yourself and one for the audience?
(laughs) If you leave the choice to me, I will do all the roles that come my way. Talking about the worst-case scenario, if you don’t have a 100 % package, go with the 85% package.
When we recommend Tamil films to people in other states, we refer to movies such as Engaeyum Eppothum, Angadi Theru and Kattradhu Thamizh. Apart from the fact that you met the right kind of directors to start your career with, how important do you think it was that you started your career with those films to become the actor you are right now?
If we are ready to take up such roles but they don’t come our way, there is nothing we can do. Such roles should come our way and we should be able to utilise them and we have to impress the audience. It all involves a small amount of luck also. I got an offer to make my debut in a film with a big hero, instead of Kattradhu Thamizh. I chose Kattradhu Thamizh. If I had made the other choice, I would not be here, for sure. I did Angadi Theru because Vasanthabalan sir was very impressed with the way I did Kattradhu Thamizh.
From the beginning you have chosen acting over anything else…where would you rank Nishabdham in that?
Nishabdham is a thriller and I don’t know where to place that. It is an entertainer and the audience will get entertained for sure. It is a beautiful thriller.