Television anchor Archana Kavi had no idea about the significance of Neelathamara when she appeared for an audition for the lead role in the film. The bubbly Delhite did not harbour any expections or aspirations of being cast, simply because she thought she was not “native” enough for the role. But when she was called for a subsequent screen test with eminent writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair, she knew she stood a chance of playing in a role in the film. She also realised the dedication and reverence with which director Lal Jose approached the script. The character, she learnt, was M.T.’s favourite. But even then she thought someone else with more language skills would be a better choice. She knew her limitations, but was ready to put in her heart and soul into the film, like the rest of the crew members did.
“It gives you a certain kind of energy when you see people getting involved in something so passionately. I wanted to be a part of Neelathamara to share that passion. I liked the character so much that I would not have had any regrets if somebody with more talent and potential than me was selected instead,” says the actor who plays the central character of Kunji Malu in the film.
“The casting was decided by M.T. and Lal. The final test was in Kozhikode, where we did a series of costume tests in traditional Kerala wear. With each step, hope started building up despite all my apprehensions. A few minutes after the tests, M.T. finally said ‘Oonu Kazhichittu Pokaam.’ And I knew it was positive. I had passed a hard round of tests to get into something that posed more hardship and challenges,” muses Archana, the city-bred teenager whom Lal Jose trained to portray an exploited domestic help in an upper class household.
“I, in fact, play the younger Kunji Malu. The character has two stages, past and present. I appear in the flashback set in the late Seventies. My director had a tough time preparing me for the role. He would narrate each scene and explain the mood. But what I found useful was the instructions he would give on shot. One just needs to follow that rhythm to fall into the right track.”
The film, a remake of an erstwhile Malayalam film of the same title, stars newcomers Archana, Kailesh and Suresh in lead roles. The supporting cast include Rima Kallingal and Samvritha Sunil.
“Working with newcomers was an added advantage. They share the same fears and doubts you have and are willing to put in any amount of time for rehearsals. Kailesh and Suresh were always concerned about my comfort level while doing combination scenes. And so was Sridevi Unni, who plays the head of the household. Rima has such stamina which pulls you along and Samvritha, due to her long standing association with Lal Jose, could guage his mood well. She would tell if he is happy with the shot from the way he said ‘Cut,”’ remembers Archana who credits all of Lal Jose’s assistants for adding value to her performance.
“Anoop Kannan, the first assistant, would coach me on the dialogues. He would then go with me while I give the final rendition to Lal Jose and take his suggestions and corrections. The crew consisted of three female assistants Joyce, Lakshmi and Asha who made me really comfortable on location. I could share and clarify many things which I would not have done with a male AD. The assistants in the Art Department would give me tips on the properties around, their purpose and how a maid would handle it. The house where the film was shot also had some maids who had similar profiles,” says the artiste who is all set to debut in Neelathamara reaching theatres tomorrow.
The older Kunji Malu is performed by Parvati and both the characters are voiced by a new voice talent, Sridevi Krishna.
“Half of Kunji Malu is Sridevi, I should admit. She has this rare innocence and purity in her voice that has added a totally different dimension to the character. I have only seen excerpts from the film and am waiting to see the full version. The film was previewed for M. T. and I am told he is happy my efforts. The response from the technicians who worked on post-production were also very encouraging. But the final verdict is in the theatres. So lets watch out for that,” winds up the level headed starlet who has chosen to refrain from committing any new films till results of Neelathamara are known. Till then, the BBA graduate will continue to nurse her ambition to take up higher studies in MassCom and will fly back to Delhi where her family lives.