Aurally challenged Abhinaya is the toast of filmdom, as she makes a mark in 16 films in four South Indian languages.
The tinsel town of inflated egos could have penned a difficult script for this aurally challenged girl from Andhra Pradesh. But 16 films in all four South Indian languages and 13 awards later, Abhinaya stands apart, for the statements she doesn’t make. From the time she signed her first film in 2009, the much-acclaimed Tamil flick Nadodigal, she has let nothing come in her way to success. Watching this 20-year-old shoot for a routine song-and-dance sequence can teach you many a lesson about human resilience and the power of hope.
Ezham Arivu, Eeshan, (both Tamil) Sambho Siva Sambho (Telugu), Hudugaru (Kannada), The Reporter, Isaac Newton-Son of Philipose (both Malayalam)… Abhinaya’s filmography continues, challenging the established norms of stardom ever so silently.
She plays the lead role along with actor-director Lal in Isaac Newton…, which releases in December. Directed by debutant Bose and written by Hareesh-Unni, the movie is about the struggle of a man to pass Class 10 with the help of his teacher-wife. Abhinaya learns her lines that are written and explained to her in English. She mouths the dialogues watching her co-actors, who include veterans such as Nedumudi Venu, speak.
“When I saw Nadodigal, I knew she was going to be the lead girl in my film,” Bose says. “When I went to meet her, I could not make out she was challenged in any manner. Once the shooting began, the entire crew was awe-struck,” he adds.
In a way, none of this should be surprising. After all, when actor Dhyananand and Hemalatha named their daughter ‘Abhinaya,’ they aspired that she would grow up to be an actor. The world could have collapsed around them when she was diagnosed with a rare case of deafness within a few days after birth. But the family moved on, braving many a hurdle in a world that demands perfection in its most superfluous sense.
“Each milestone during her growth was delayed. She took her first step only at the age of three,” Hemalatha says. “But I never wanted to treat her as physically challenged.” The couple found Oral School for the Deaf in Secunderabad that did not resort to sign language while teaching. “Sign language is often the easy way out when it comes to communicating with such children. They never develop the faculty of recognising speech,” Hemalatha clarifies.
Abhinaya’s school trained its students in any one language. “We chose English for her, so that she could survive anywhere,” Hemalatha says. The mother, who also had two older sons to look after, went to the school with Abhinaya, sat through the classes, and trained her at home. It was as if education unlocked a hidden password to normal growth. Abhinaya was a fan of Aishwarya Rai. Hemalatha put up the actor’s pictures all around her home to motivate her daughter. At the age of 12, she underwent a cochlear transplant, then a nascent medical technique. Though she still cannot hear speech, Abhinaya can recognise certain vibration-like sounds.
“When she reached her teens, Dhyananand took our daughter’s photographs to many film sets, hoping to find an opening for her. He was often taunted for even daring to have such a dream,” Hemalatha says.
Many sojourns later, Dhyananand met Sleeba, an ad filmmaker from Kerala. Abhinaya got a few advertising assignments. It was Sleeba who introduced her to Samudrakkani, one of the directors who took contemporary Tamil cinema by storm. In fact, an actor from Chennai had already been cast for Nadodigal.
But she backed out from the project saying that the director knew no English, and communication would be difficult since she didn’t know Tamil. Deeply hurt, Samudrakkani decided to cast Abhinaya. Thus began a journey where language or slang has not been an issue. Melathaalam in Tamil and Genius in Telugu are the latest films in her kitty.
“I took part in the Miss South India contest and won the Best Skin and Best Viewers’ choice titles. But that I couldn't speak proved unfavourable in the question round,” Abhinaya ‘tells’ me.
Isaac Newton… is her second film in Malayalam. The first, The Reporter, directed by Venugopan, is slated for release soon. “I am indebted to Binoy, the assistant director who helped me with the dialogues and made my Malayalam debut memorable,” she says.
Abhinaya reads a lot and is active on the cyber world. She loves watching English movies. Abhinaya will soon fly to the United States for her upcoming film. “My daughter is taking us places,” beams Hemalatha affectionately glancing at her daughter who has proved that dreams need no voice.