Nazriya, you’re coming back after a gap of almost 4 years. Malayalam cinema has this curse of actresses marrying earlier and coming back much later with matured roles. You’re coming back pretty soon. How does it feel to be back?
Firstly, I don’t think so much. But obviously, when I was going to the sets, I was worried if I remember it or not. But when I went, it was all the same. Also, due to the love and the support that I got from social media, it did not feel like I was gone anywhere.
So, why Koode? I am sure you must have been offered several movies in these 4 years.
Nazriya: Frankly speaking, after my wedding, I wasn’t listening to scripts. I was traveling continuously, and then I was settling down. People keep asking ‘where did you go? It’s been 4 years’ but I am a person who likes to do nothing! So get used to it. And Koode happened. I think it was a year back, and Anjali (Menon) called.
So you chose the first script that you listened to?
Nazriya: Yeah. I haven’t listened to anything else.
Prithiviraj: No. No. I think it is partially because Malayalam Cinema assumed that Nazriya is not going to act anymore because she wants another kind of life–which she is very comfortable with, I must tell you. I am telling you, she has still not decided if she wants to keep doing films. She is very happy being home with her doggy.
When Anjali called and told me this subject, she said that she was thinking of me and Nazriya for the roles. I was not even thinking of Nazriya, because I thought she will not come back. She said if Nazriya says no, then this film can’t be made the way she thought. Anjali, I think, wrote it for Nazriya.
You’re both working for the first time, and I read in an interview that you hadn’t met each other till the shooting started. How was it to play brother and sister?
Prithiviraj: We got to know each other even before we met. Three-four months before the shoot started, Anjali (Menon) had made this iMessage group. It had Anjali, Nazriya and me. She posted a message saying ‘Hi guys. This is for both of you to start talking and break the ice.’ Then about 19 minutes later, she sent a message saying, ‘I’m worried that there won’t be any more ice left to break’. The first time we met, I remember, I had just reached Ooty and Anjali and Nazriya were already there. There was a knock in my door, I opened, and it was both of them. I was wearing black T-shirt and black tracks and Nazriya was also wearing black T-shirt and black tracks. So Anjali made us both sit on the couch and took a picture.
I don’t have the faculty of making friends very easily. But I think Nazriya is an expert. You need to be seriously talented not to be friends with Nazriya after meeting her. So it took 10 minutes of meeting each other for Anjali to realise that ‘Okay, so the challenge now is to keep these guys under control’.
Nazriya: She kept asking ‘How do I shoot with you two?’, and I was like ‘You asked for it.’
Prithiviraj: Then there was Parvathy, of course. Both of us have worked with her. We were in the same hotel, we used to go to the location together, we came back together and we pretty much had all our meals together. So it was like 2 months of this team of 3 together, and it was great.
Nazriya: It was ‘Koode’.
Prithviraj, you’ve worked with Anjali before in Manjadikuru, which was her first film. What difference in sensibilities and perspectives has she brought over the years?
Prithiviraj: The biggest compliment I can give Anjali is the fact that I don’t find any difference in Anjali between Manjadikuru and Koode. Because when I did Manjadikuru, I saw this new young filmmaker who was focussed and so sure about what she wanted to do. I shot only for one day for that film and then dubbed for a day because it had my narration also, and she was so clear about exactly what she wanted. Even during the dubbing, she used to tell me, like ‘Can you slow down a bit there, because I want that word to overlap in that shot’.
Those days I thought that this is coming from a new filmmaker who has lived the dream for many years and ultimately is getting to make it. She’s still the same way, and as an actor I can tell you that acting with Anjali can be excruciating. Now, let me explain. See, Anjali will have something in her mind which she anticipates will happen in the frame. It will be a master shot, involving 8-9 actors. There will be something that she wants to happen within the frame. It might not. Every actor will be doing his or her part correctly. She will just keep asking to repeat the shot. We will ask her, ‘Anjali is there anything different?’, and she will be like ‘No. No. You keep doing the same thing’. She will keep doing it till that magic happens. And that might be the 10th take or the 11th take, but that’s her process.
What about you Nazriya? What are your experiences working with Anjali in two films back-to-back?
Nazriya: Well, what I felt at first was that Bangalore Days was a bigger team –there was a bigger star cast and all that. But from that set to this set, what has not changed is the kind of atmosphere that she builds for you to be comfortable with your co-stars, and that’s amazing. I think, even with us, she was the one who took the initiative, created the iMessage group. I think that’s very important—at least for actors, like us. We work almost the same way. When you are playing siblings, you need to be comfortable with one another, in a different level. I think, that she really does, from Bangalore Days, and now in Koode also. That means a lot even after the film gets over.
Prithiviraj: I’ve said this before too. Filmmakers take a lot of time in finding the right location, setting up the backdrop, designing the shot, lighting up a shot. I mean, eventually a shot might take 4 hours to set up, andfinally when the actors are in front of the camera, they are like “Okay. Okay. Okay. Ready. Ready. Ready. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go”. It has to be the other way around. Lighting and everything is secondary. Even if all that is great, and if your actors don’t get it right, and if you don’t create that moment between your actors, nothing matters. Anjali has got that. Everything else is secondary for her and what is happening between the actors in front of the camera is the be all and end all of it.
You’ll were given an English script by her, and you were asked to improvise your own lines. How was that process?
Prithiviraj: I think Anjali had heard that I subconsciously memorize lines, which I do. It’s not an exercise I do. I don’t sit and by-heart the script, but by the time I reach the shoot of a film, I end up knowing my lines and knowing the other character’s lines.
Many people have told us that you have a photographic memory.
Nazriya: Yeah, he does. Trust me on that.
Prithiviraj: I don’t know how much of it helps me as an actor. It probably doesn’t. So Anjali had heard this, and so she wanted me to take that facet away. She said ‘Your Malayalam is good. So I am going to give you the English script, and I would like you to say what you think you should, in Malayalam.’ It was okay in scenes with Nazriya and all, because I kind of anticipated what she will say. But sometimes you will be in a scene with a new actor, or somebody who you haven’t met before and they would have been given a Malayalam line. And I’d be there, and then I will have to listen to what he/she is saying, so that I can manipulate the English line in my head to suit the reply and that was interesting.
Nazriya: And he remembers every English line. That is very important. Also, his Malayalam is quite good.
Prithiviraj: No, it’s not easy. But I am saying that it is new for me. It was new and again it takes time, because two actors are in the frame and they’re speaking to each other. You will do a rehearsal and that is when you will discover and say, ‘Oh hang on. This is not working.’ And then we kind of tinker with our lines a bit and then we change the positions to suit the lines. So it takes time. It requires a filmmaker with unbelievable amounts of patience. Walking into Lucifer, as a director, my biggest wish to god is that I get 20% of Anjali Menon’s patience.
Nazriya, you have a fantastic actor like Fahadh Faasil at home. Do you’ll like to discuss movies, characters and scripts?
Nazriya: I don’t think I really discuss scripts in detail with him. But yeah, we do discuss synopses. Otherwise, we don’t really speak about work at home. But definitely, seeing him is an encouragement. Seeing this very serious, dedicated, hardworking individual is amazing. I think even after our wedding, he was the one asking, ‘Aren’t you hearing any scripts? Why are you so lazy?’
Prithiviraj: He just basically wanted you out of the house.
Nazriya: I knew he was going to say that!! But he used to keep asking me to listen to scripts and used to say that it doesn’t happen with everyone.
I saw how wonderfully he put up a poster on Facebook about your comeback.
Prithiviraj: Fahadh was very much a part of our shoot. He was really sweet and he used to come almost every week. So we have spent a lot of time. I haven’t worked with him, but I have known him even before cinema, from a young age. But I’ve never spent so much time with him. This happened through her, and it was really nice, like Shanoo used to drop him, Supriya was there, and my daughter was there. Then my daughter and Nazriya were like best friends
Nazriya: We were like best friends. I was like ‘I have to go back and play with her’.
Last week, it was My Story and this week there’s Koode. Usually it is advised that stars should not have back to back releases. Do you think this will affect the films in anyway?
Prithiviraj: No, I agree. If given a choice, I wouldn’t have designed in such a way like two films coming back to back. But as far as Koode is concerned, it was fixed that it’ll reach somewhere around the first week of July. My Story‘s release date was fixed only recently. Of course, when they decide to release My Story on such and such date, they’re also aware that one week down the line there’s another movie which was already scheduled to release. So there the choice was not the actors. The choice was the distributors or producers. Of course, I can give them suggestions and recommendations that this might not be the best thing to do, which I did, but the choice is theirs.
A lot has been going on in Malayalam cinema right now. You were one of those people who took a brief stand. Do you think that all these debates and arguments would lead to a progressive place in Malayalam Cinema?
Prithiviraj: I, personally, don’t even see what’s brave about my stand. That was what I was thinking inside and so that’s the stand I took. I don’t know what the current scenario would roll into, but I really do hope that we should create a good environment for the younger lot when they go through the years in their career. I don’t just mean for women. I mean for new filmmakers, a more transparent system of cinema being made. Like how digital filmmaking has made cinema so accessible, there should be some revolution of the work environment where it becomes more of a team sport and a democratic affair. So I hope this is where we are headed to, but I don’t know.
Nazriya, what do you think should be done to make this place for women working in cinema?
Nazriya: I think we are getting there. At least now everyone has a say. Women are speaking and so everything should be spoken aloud and sorted.
Prithiviraj: I think the problem is with generalising it, you know. It is not one world. There are worlds within cinema. So I know that in my world, I have never seen a woman complain. I know for a fact that Nazriya wouldn’t complain about her sets. So I don’t think it’s fair generalising cinema as a whole.
Nazriya: I keep telling to people who discuss such things with me that if it happened then definitely it is something wrong, and people need to speak out about it. But you can’t ask me to speak. Because something like that hasn’t happened with me. I understand the situation completely but I cannot say that this has happened with me too.
Prithiviraj: I disagree when someone says that there’s one uniform working environment all through Malayalam cinema. It depends upon the team and the kinds of people you decide to associate with. I am not saying everybody has a choice, I understand that. But again it’s not like the whole of cinema is like that.