Actor Mamta Mohandas talks about bouncing back to the Malayalam film industry after bad health

“You suck in short hair,” tweeted a nasty one. Before more unwarranted feedback came her way, actor Mamta Mohandas decided to clear the air. She cryptically told the world about her battle with lymphoma. Her short hair was no fad, but what was left after sessions of chemotherapy.

A few months on, she tweeted again, this time to spread the word on her impending marriage to a Bahrain-based businessman. Between the two tweets much had happened in Mamta's life — a State film award for her performance in Sathyan Anthikad's Katha Tudarunnu and notable roles in a fistful of films. The suave actor and her understated performances have found a foothold in Malayalam cinema. Another actor at the top of her craft may have had second thoughts about marriage now, but Mamta has always veered away from the norm to create her niche. She is the “new woman” of Malayalam cinema — young, urban and supremely self-assured.

Whenever the talk of marriage came up, the 26-year-old says, “I would tell my mom to wait till I touched my peak. I was beginning to reap something from my career and was hungry for more when lymphoma struck.” Today her diary is packed with Malayalam and Tamil projects and she spends the fortnight before her wedding flitting from set to set. In director Shyamaprasad's latest project, Arike, Mamta essays a pivotal role along with Dileep and Samvritha Sunil. She also has Padmashree Bharat Dr Saroj Kumar with Sreenivasan and Njanum Ente Familyum in the pipeline.

In the last six years, Mamta worked with the best in the business. But it was never a smooth ride. An only child of Bahrain-based parents, she was more at ease with English than with her mother tongue. She exuded confidence, never feigned ignorance about her craft or attempted to fit into the conventional mould of a Malayalam heroine. ‘Mayookham', her debut directed by the renowned Hariharan, didn't create a flutter, though Mamta was noticed. Her subsequent movies didn't help either. Though she shared the screen with superstars, the films smacked of lazy selection. The actor candidly dissects the “dip” that followed.

“Firstly, I lacked the ambition to become an actor. There was no focus, no homework and I was too laid back. It took me three years to start enjoying my work,” says the girl who speaks with a pronounced Kannur accent, yet confidently dubs for most of her roles now. “I could not penetrate the Malayalam industry easily,” she admits. Disheartened, she ventured into Tamil and Telugu movies and found success. She even became a popular playback singer in Telugu.

When called for ‘Passenger' (2009) in Malayalam, a different Mamta came on board. Her portrayal of Anuradha, the broadcast journalist, in ‘Passenger' set the ground for a successful second innings. The industry came round and saw in her an actor who could deftly handle complex roles.

Vidyalakshmi, the young widow and mother cornered by circumstances in Sathyan Anthikad's ‘Kadha Tudarunnu', could easily have been weepy, but Mamta made her stoic.

“Soon after ‘Passenger' I was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to back out from four films. But a month into treatment I realised I had to continue working,” she says. When she was deteriorating medically, movies helped her get a grip on life.

“I signed ‘Kedi', a Telugu film opposite Nagarjuna which was completed during the five months I was under treatment.” A little later Sathyan Anthikad called her.

“I begged my oncologist to speed up my treatment. I started shooting for ‘Kadha Tudarunnu' a day after my radiation ended and it was my re-birth.” It was followed by Amal Neerad's ‘Anwar'. “I think I looked my best in Anwar,” she says.

Mamta admits it was tough to pull herself together after she knew the diagnosis. “Initially, like anyone told about a so-called terminal disease, I felt, ‘Why me?' Later, the way I battled it, I said to myself, ‘Thank God it was me.' I was also acting, so with the make-up and hair, I at least looked presentable in the mirror.”

The gruelling days are still a fresh memory. “If I am relapsing, I will be scared. I want to live happily. But when there is no other choice, one fights to survive. When you go through a ‘Is this going to be it' moment, you learn to enjoy everything —food, sunlight and each shot you give,” says Mamta.

Moving on grittily, Mamta is looking forward to the wedding on December 28 at Kozhikode and life there on.

Options

“I have a couple of options. My fiancé doesn't restrict me in any way. I will take a short break and return from Bahrain in April for a film with Dileep. I also have a retail outlet in Bahrain which is running well and Prajith (her fiancé) is into multiple businesses, so I will have to keep myself informed.”

“I want to go look out for other things. But I also want to come back and maybe produce a film,” Mamta says.