Anna Ben on the success of ‘Kappela’: 'Art shouldn’t be restricted to a language'

Anna Ben talks about her breakout performance in ‘Kappela’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Babymol. Helen Paul. Jessie.

Three films, three complex characters that have struck a chord with audiences across south India, and three smash-hits.

Anna Ben is all of 21 years old, but is already the toast of the Malayalam film industry and on streaming platforms, as more viewers discover the likes of Kumbalangi Nights, Helen and her latest release on Netflix — Kappela — and immediately Google to find out more about the curly-haired youngster.

The daughter of scenarist Benny P Nayarambalam, Anna’s barely a year-and-half in her acting career, and already has emerged as a classic modern-day example on how to choose scripts for others aspiring to make it in the business,

Be it her bracing arc with Shane Nigam in Kumbalangi.., or keeping audiences on the edge of their seats in the survival thriller Helen, or indeed, headlining Kappela in which she plays a naive girl caught in a whirlwind forbidden romance that takes dangerous turns, Anna has chosen stories that not only play to her talents as a performer — with layered narratives and a fantastic supporting cast — but also capture the ethos of small-town Kerala and its people captivatingly.

Anna’s in demand — and as she waits impatiently for the lockdown to end (“I miss working and being on set more than anything else!” she says) — the actor is already fielding offers from other regional industries, such as Kollywood, as more filmmakers continue to notice and be taken with her disarming characters on-screen.

What does the success of ‘Kappela’ on Netflix mean to you? It is almost like a re-release of sorts...

Yes, we were quite disappointed when the lockdown happened as the film had just come out in theatres. It was my director’s first project and we were expecting a good release. This Netflix second coming has almost felt like another first day, first show experience. I have been getting calls, texts and so many positive reviews... it is actually overwhelming.

Kappela is a small movie with a small crew, but a heartfelt project. So you can imagine how much this means to us.

Anna Ben and Roshan Mathew in ‘Kappela’

Anna Ben and Roshan Mathew in ‘Kappela’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

All your films have been quite successful online. Could it be because they were not overtly commercial and were suitable for the small-screen experience?

Maybe. But I am also definitely lucky to be working during the pandemic, given how much these OTT platforms have helped us. Art shouldn’t be restricted to language or location, and I am thrilled that small-budget films are now accessible through these platforms.

Do you put a lot of thought into choosing your scripts?

Honestly, my first movie Kumbalangi Nights chose me. I just went for the audition and got selected, but had no idea what I was getting into. I am at an early stage in my career, but I keep this in mind: to not get too much into the technical aspects of the film. I listen to the script as a viewer and wonder if I would go to the theatre to watch a story like this. If it engages me, I am sold!

Your characters have become so memorable...

In Kappela, for Jessi’s character I had to put in a little bit more effort, as I’m quite the opposite of what she is. I don’t have the experience of living in a small village like that, being all choosy and harbouring dreams of a secret romance — that is so unlike me (laughs). I take inspiration from observing people around who resemble the character. We shot at a place near Calicut for the film up in the mountains. So before the shoot, I went up there, spoke to the locals and the children — they had such an organic, almost pure way of living — that really helped me get into the vibe of the film.

Anna Ben on the success of ‘Kappela’: 'Art shouldn’t be restricted to a language'

Baby and Helen, on the other hand, are more like. I’m from Kochi, but I grew up in a small town which is really close-knit. But I studied in the city, and lived in Bangalore for a bit. I guess I’m trying to say that I’ve had the best of both worlds, and was able to find some similarities to the characters to latch on to.

Your father has worked in Malayalam cinema for decades. Does his influence or background add to your confidence as an actor?

Yes, definitely, I’ve spent a lot of time with my dad on the sets of films he’s worked on. So I know how the system works and there’s a certain familiarity to it which added to my comfort levels. I’m a director’s actor, but I’ve also never been too nervous and I don’t overthink; I trust my intuition when it comes to work.

Do you have plans of acting in a big commercial entertainer?

Of course! It is just a question of what comes to me. The ones I am doing next are a rom-com and an action thriller. I have been getting a lot of inquiries from the Tamil film industry. I haven’t zeroed in on anything yet because of the COVID-19 situation. Something good should come up soon.

Any lockdown learnings?

It’s been quite boring actually. I’m with my family and sister, so we spend time together and I’ve caught up on all the films I've missed over the last year. I like cooking for them a lot actually. I’m a little bit of an introvert sometimes, but I have a close circle of friends and really miss them, so I’m constantly calling and checking up on that.

Most of all, I really miss working. I did back-to-back projects and was really in the moment, enjoying the bustle of it all. Then I had to suddenly shut down. I’m just really looking forward to getting back to it.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 12:51:01 AM |

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