Mollywood producer Sandra Thomas talks about being a woman in a man’s world

Sandra Thomas is haute property in tinsel town, not because she is one of the few females in the film industry who actually call the shots. “Recently, when I was introduced to Mohanlal and Mammootty, they both said that my reputation as a producer-actor preceded me! I was completely floored. Of all the newcomers in the industry, they had noticed my work!” says Sandra, with her characteristic glee. True. Ever since she debuted in Mollywood as the producer of the alternative flick Friday 11.11.11 Alappuzha, and more recently, as an actor in Amen and then Kili Poyi, spunky and glamorous Sandra has been a proud member of the so-called ‘new generation’, who have given Malayalam cinema its recent fillip.

In a relatively short period of time, the 27-year-old has become one of the most active and sought-after producers in the industry, with no less than five mega films on the anvil this year, including the women-centric, multi-starrer Zachariayude Garbhinikal and the big budget flick Peruchazhi, with Mohanlal, Mukesh, and Sreenivasan in the lead. Sandra is also set to act as one of the five female leads in Zachariyayude…, which goes on the floor on Sunday (April 21).

However, for someone who seems so completely involved in cinema, Sandra says that she was never that passionate about the movies. “I was more or less like any other viewer – going to the movies only if something caught my fancy. Now, though, I’m so into cinema that I know everything about it, or rather, I make it my business to know everything and everybody that matters!” she says, rattling off a dozen things that she has noticed about the industry. “Did you know that a Malayalam film runs only an average of 35 days in theatres? Did you know that…” Her enthusiasm is infectious.

It’s with equal candour that she talks about being a woman in a man’s world. “Frankly, as of now, I am a novelty and as a result I am welcomed. Well, at least, on the surface. How long that’s going to last is anyone’s guess! I’ve already had a number of harrowing experiences, which I don’t think would have happened if it was a man in my shoes. A woman ordering them about is still a bitter pill to swallow for most people in the film industry. Whatever projects I’ve got, it’s not been because of my gender but because of lots of hard work and the support of my circle of friends in the industry. I know I’m bruising a lot of male egos. But, this is my industry too,” says Sandra. She adds that there are a number of small advantages too. “I’ll be the first to admit that my films and I get a lot of mileage because of my gender. My status as the most active female producer in Mollywood also ensures that there is a protective layer around me – extended to me by my peers and the media too. I really just want to go with the flow and not tread on any exalted toes. I’m in it for the long run,” she says.

Sandra credits this never-say-die attitude to her mother, Ruby Thomas, who is her principal motivator and her pillar of strength. “Mummy’s an even sturdier pillar of strength than my father, Thomas Joseph, who is my co-producer. She taught my sister, Sneha, and myself that there was nothing in the world that we can’t excel at if we put our hearts to it; nothing in the world that boys can do and that we girls can’t do. So I learnt a bit of everything: Kalaripayattu, Karate, dance, Kathakali…everything except music. I can never carry a tune. Moreover, she believed in me when I wanted to set up Innovative Concepts, my ad company, soon after my graduation, and later when I wanted to jump feet first into the film industry. That’s the kind of support I have and thrive on,” says Sandra, a native of Changanassery, Kottayam, who was brought up in Kochi.

A graduate of business administration from Hindustan University, Chennai, and a post-graduate in international business from GRD College of Sciences, Coimbatore, Sandra says that she has always wanted to be her own boss and never intended to join the rat race. Hence she started Innovative Concepts in 2011 and was engaged in buying media slots on major television channels. “My connections in the television world opened the door to the world of cinema,” she says. Turning producer was not planned. “Haramees, a film on friendship, directed by Lijin Jose, with Vineeth Sreenivasan in the lead, was supposed to be my first production. But it got delayed and I was looking around for another project when I heard about Lijin and scriptwriter Najeem Koya’s other script, Friday. I was intrigued by the storyline and by the fact that it was set in Alappuzha, along the idyllic backwaters of Kuttanad, my father’s native place, which I associate with many a childhood adventure. As a producer, the story is always my first priority. Actually my order of preference is story, director, business potential and then only the actor,” says Sandra.

Turning actor too was rather accidental, more as a favour to her friend and Amen’s director Lijo Jose Pellisserry. “Lijo calls me Judgi chettan after he heard that I got into an argument with a senior member of the legal fraternity – twice! Tamil actor Namitha was supposed to play the role of band owner Mariyamma in Amen. After she backed out Lijo asked me if I could play myself on screen! Mariyamma is the closest to me in real life. Like her, I am bossy; I am competitive; I am determined and, as she proves towards the end of the film, I have a heart of gold too!” says Sandra, bursting into laughter. However, acting, she says, is not a priority. “Actors have the easiest job in the industry. From tea, water and money to fame and credit... they are just handed everything on the proverbial golden platter. Being a producer is a thankless job, our fortunes see-saw depending on the success/failure of a film. But it’s something I enjoy; something I am good at. I prefer to be one among the few producers than one among the many actors,” muses Sandra. Then why act at all? “If I get good roles, I don’t mind acting. In Zachariyayude…, for instance, I’ve got a great role. But from a producer’s perspective it means one less actor to pay. I am a businesswoman, after all,” she laughs. Indeed.

At the marquee

Zachariyayude Garbinikal: Will be directed by debutant Aneesh Anwar. It stars Lal, Joy Mathew, Aju Varghese, Rima Kallingal, Sanusha, Asha Sharreth, and yesteryear actor Lakshmi.

Philips and the Monkey Pen: Will be directed by newcomers Rojin and Shanil. Remya Nambhessan’s brother, Rahul Subramaniam, is the music director of the film. “The shoot will start on May 10. Jayasurya, Remya Nambhessan, Joy Mathew and Mukesh will star in the lead. Five celebrity kids, including director Boban Samuel’s son, actor Babu Antony’s son, and perhaps Suraj Venjaramoodu’s son and Indrajith’s daughter, will make their debut.”

Peruchazhi: Will be directed by techie-turned-filmmaker Arun Vaidyanathan of Achamundu! Achamundu-fame. “This is my biggest project to date. The shoot will begin later in the year. The film will be remade in Tamil at a later stage and Kamal Hasan might star in it!”

Boban Samuel’s next film

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s next

Keywords: Sandra Thomas