Playing the matriarch in Da Thadiya was not a step into an unfamiliar world. Arundhati Nag on her debut in Malayalam

Veteran actor Arundhati Nag is in her elements as the feisty, fun-loving grandmother in the recently released Da Thadiya. The run-of-the-mill doesn’t lure her. She has often made her distaste known for the regular mother roles where nothing happens except making paranthas. As the grand matriarch in Da Thadiya, she brings in pizzazz.

The actor who has worked in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada and Gujarati projects, in films and in theatre, makes her debut in Malayalam with this movie. Mainstream movie-goers sat up and took note when she played Amitabh Bachchan’s grandmother in Paa, a nuanced performance with no hint of the stereotypical.

The final product

“I have not seen the movie yet. But I am going to this evening. I am quite excited,” says Arundhati on the telephone from Bangalore. Since she hasn’t dubbed for the movie she is keen to find how that has turned out.

Arundhati says she loved the grandmother in Da Thadiya who slept through the day and brought the house down at night. Though not a full-length role, she says, “She is a presence in the film, a person in her own right. I love the fact that she is a Rajnikanth fan. None of the scenes given to me were over-the-top. I love the way she quietly manages her nightlife and is called the ‘knight rider.’ Though I wish there were more sequences to show her nightlife.”

But we do see her treading the fine-balance of being playful and stern with elan. She is equally convincing as the grandmother whose delicacies add more layers to the bulky Luka, and as the family head whose word is final and undisputable in the household.

Arundhati is all praise for the film and the environment in which it was born. “On the sets I discovered young, vibrant, lovely actors who were so reaching out and simple.”

Though this is her first time in Malayalam, Arundhati displays an intimate knowledge of Malayalam cinema. “I have kept track through my friends in the film industry. It is not the archetypal stories that are coming out of Kerala now. In the past Kerala led the parallel film movement,” she says.

Though she is not articulate in Malayalam, she says, it is not a language that is alien either. “On the sets I was able to follow Malayalam. I could do so as I know both Sanskrit and Tamil. It is not as bad as being north Indian who has to write the lines on board. The words made sense to me,” she says. For Arundhati, it is always a single-line brief that matters — what the director thinks of the character. In her environment language has never erected barricades. She cites her multi-cultural life. “I was born in Delhi, studied in Bombay and married and came to Bangalore. I have met people of different kinds, so this is not like swimming in another pond for me.”

In between these not very common appearances in films and some roles in theatre that has gone on for years like in Bikhare Bhimb and other sparklers, it is her singular contribution to theatre — Ranga Shankara in Bangalore that keeps her busy. In the space named after her late husband Shankar Nag, plays happen round the year. She is gearing up for something new in 2013.

“We are coming up with two productions for children in the age group of 18-24 months. It is the time before language emerges as the mode of expression for them. The productions will be non-linear and non-verbal.” These productions, the result of workshops and research, are baby steps that cement Arundhati’s belief — that theatre should start young.

She would also like to re-visit a production on Lady Macbeth which was performed just twice before an intimate audience. “I did the play with a fine Hindustani singer M.D. Pallavi. We played back Lady Macbeth’s life beginning with her suicide to the moment her ambition was born. It would be interesting to work on it.”