Parvathy’s Panimalar in Maryan is her attempt at intricately unravelling a character — flesh, blood and soul

Panimalar is fresh in mind — earthy in colour-soaked clothes, long hair, glistening nose ring and kohl-rimmed eyes. That image in the head will never lead you to Parvathy. The young actor has shaken Panimalar off her. With her hair cropped short, thick glasses, checked shirt, black skirt and a bag slid carelessly across the shoulder, she is every bit just Parvathy. “I wanted to get back to being myself,” she says gloriously winning back her anonymity.

Panimalar has vowed critics and ardent movie-watchers. She is real, solid and Parvathy’s sweat and blood. The actor, who has done a mere12 films in seven years, dedicated months to knowing Panimalar. And she was daunting. “She is brave and vulnerable. Pani taught me a lot. She was always putting herself out there, emotionally and physically. She drained me.”

The 25-year-old might be getting back to being herself, but not to the self she was before becoming Panimalar. According to the actor, every character she plays nourishes the person she is. Panimalar taught her love and its aches. “People talk of the look in her eyes. At that moment I felt it,” she says.

Being Panimalar

Equipping herself to feel Panimalar’s pains was long drawn, but one that Parvathy insists upon. “Spontaneous acting is rocket science to me. I have seen actors taking a puff and becoming the character before the smoke went out of their mouth. But I have to get into the character’s groove,” she says.

She pieces together the character by living her life in her environment. “I have to know the clothes she wears, how crumbled they are. Does she cook? If so, how does she cook. These become my bag of tricks. For me, a scene just doesn’t happen. It has to have a before and after.” So Parvathy became Panimalar amidst the fisher folk, attending Sunday masses, singing in the choir and learning to weave palm leaves at the craft society. “If I don’t do that a lot of Parvathy will seep into Panimalar. Many from the fisher community will watch the movie and I have to be honest to them.”

Acting and films are not a pastime for Parvathy. It is passion and vocation — one in which she sees a greater purpose. The motive of a film is significant to her. She refused good roles in movies which she thought did not exude a positive purpose. “We are underestimating the power of films. It is important to see how the society shapes up through this art. Films are a big responsibility. It should make a wee bit of improvement. That is what books, art and dance does. So why not movies?” Sticking to these convictions, she knows she cannot be prolific. “But ethics can’t change. The actor in me and the person I am have to go hand in hand or we will die fighting,” she says.

“I have not done a single character I won’t stand by. That clarity is everything to me,” she says. After her last Malayalam film City of God released in 2010, Parvathy was jobless for a year and a half.

“I call that my golden period. It made me sure why I want to be here. But it also gave me a sense of detachment. I know I cannot compromise on my dignity and my art. This is the result of my arrogant faith,” says Parvathy. Prior to Maryan, there came Andar Bahar in Kannada and Chennaiyil Oru Naal in Tamil.

Quite a few of her films in Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada were not box-office hits. But that helped her love her craft irrespective of chimerical success. “I learnt the hard way. Of course, I want the producer who spends to make money. But my happiness comes from each day of my work. I can have the plum cake, I don’t need the icing.” The actor also diligently spurns the frills of stardom, beginning with immaculately made-up public appearances. Make-up, she says, “is like sticking pins into my eyes. I just washed my face and went to the premiere of Maryan. I was comfortable, happy and liberated. I cannot be a poster girl. So why try.”

Surviving time

“I will be happy if 20 years later someone watches my movie and says, ‘That girl did a good job.’ The immediate doesn’t matter. It is about that which remains,” Parvathy says. For an actor weaving away from the trappings of a star, anonymity is important. The actor in her learns through casual interactions. “I am scared of being recognised. When you are looked at, you lose your freedom and that is a huge loss for an actor,” she says.

Even after Maryan, the actor has not far signed any new films. “If I don’t share the passion of a director, I do not want to cheat him by being in it... If I go away nothing is going to happen. You are not indispensable. So what is the hurry?” she asks.

Meanwhile, she makes sure her craft is intact. The arts, music, painting and dance, lure her. “Painting sharpens my sense of colour, music sharpens my ears and when I dance, my body is sharpened. That is my tool. I have to groom myself or else I will become rusty.”