Many actors across film industries had a quiet last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not Joju George. He was prolific and had been part of eight Malayalam releases including Lijo Jose Pellissery’s eerie supernatural thriller Churuli , Martin Prakkat’s political drama Nayattu , and Mahesh Narayanan’s Malik . Thanks to the recent popularity of Malayalam cinema, Joju is not just an acclaimed Malayalam actor. Last year, he also made his Tamil debut with Karthik Subbaraj’s Dhanush-starrer Jagame Thanthiram .
Meanwhile, missing in action from Tamil films for a while is Nadiya. After Thiraikku Varadha Kathai , a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual in 2016, she has not acted in a Tamil film. “I don’t know why,” she replies when asked about the reason for the long break, “It’s just that I got busy in Telugu. Nothing exciting came my way in Tamil. But I am working on a Tamil-Telugu bilingual film right now.”
Both actors unite for Madhumitha’s short film, Mouname Paarvayaai , in Amazon Prime Video’s Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa... , an anthology set during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They talk about how they pulled through the pandemic, working together, the difference between a feature film and a short, and more.
Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa... is about hope. What was your moment of hope from the pandemic?
Nadiya: It kept changing. When COVID first hit, we had to deal with the curfew. When the restrictions lifted, there was a moment of hope. But then came the lockdown. Once the lockdown lifted, things opened up, there was again a moment of hope that things were getting back to normal. Now we are facing more restrictions. So, there is so much uncertainty and you just accept what comes your way and make the best out of the situation.
Joju: I got a lot of work after the lockdown. So, that gave me hope. It felt like going back to school after a vacation.
When you got cooped up in your homes, what was one thing that kept you going?
Nadiya: My family got consumed by housework during the lockdown as house help was unavailable at that point. We did a lot of video calls. At the end of each day, we would sit together to watch a film. But we would be too exhausted to even sit through the whole film. Besides that, it was a nice time to just chill.
Joju: Before COVID, I was too busy asking for chances. Once I got the chance, I was too busy working. So, during the lockdown, I went for a four-month vacation to an Ayurveda centre. It brought a lot of changes in my personal life. I reduced 20 kg. I am in better shape now, more disciplined. So, the lockdown made me reflect on myself.
Nadiya, what made you sign up for Madhumitha’s short, Mouname Paarvayaai ?
Mouname Paarvayaai ’s script was very interesting. And, Madhu [Madhumitha] gave it a different treatment. That excited me even more. Just being able to work with Joju and Madhu, whose works I have seen earlier, was a good reason to do it.
Can you tell us more about it?
Nadiya: All five films in the anthology deal with hope, love, friendship, and important human emotions. What we have tried to tap on [in Mouname Paarvayaai ] is communication or the lack of it sometimes. It talks about the importance of communication in a relationship. In this film, it is the relationship between a husband and a wife.
Joju, how was it working with a veteran like Nadiya?
For me, Nadiya ma’am was the most exciting aspect of Mouname Paarvayaai before it even began. But once we started shooting, I loved all the other things about it as well. Madhumitha and her team were so good. I think it is going to be a superb film.
Is there a difference between acting in a feature film and an anthology?
Joju: As an actor, I don’t think there is a difference. It is challenging to design a character in a short film as well. Only the scenes and screen-time are fewer.
Nadiya: Yeah, it doesn’t matter what the medium or the length of the film is. I think the shorter the version, the tougher it is to send the message across. In a full-length feature, you get to emphasise a lot of things in order to convey the message. I think it is tougher when it is shorter. But for actors, it is all the same.
In a feature film about a relationship, you have enough time to flesh out the characters and show the gradual progress of that relationship. Can you do the same in just 20-30 minutes?
Nadiya: Yes, it is challenging. But it can be the other way around as well, where people say, ‘Oh my god! They just dragged the whole thing.’ So, if the characters are fewer, the smaller the better.
Joju, of late, people across the country have been discovering and raving about Malayalam cinema. But how do people in Kerala see Tamil films?
Joju: Malayalam industry is small. So, we try to make good content with a small budget. But we are always waiting for Tamil films. We are fans of Tamil actors and directors like Vetri Maaran and Pa Ranjith.
Nadiya: There are so many South Indian films dubbed in Hindi. In Bombay, where I live, people recognise me from these films. And, some of the favourite stars of these people are from South India. This market for dubbed films has been unbelievable in the last few years.
Joju, will you be doing more Tamil films?
Absolutely! I know my Tamil is not that great. So, I am trying to improve that. In 2022, I will be doing two-three Tamil films. I have heard a script, wherein I play a character spanning three age groups. It is one of the best scripts I have heard. If it happens, it will be a superb film.
You must have watched a few films and series during the lockdown. What were your favourites?
Nadiya: I prefer watching rom-coms. I don’t watch anything heavy before I go to bed at night. So, I have been watching Emily In Paris with my family. And, a few days back, I watched Joju’s Madhuram , which as the title suggests, is a very sweet film. In Hindi, I watched Arya and Aaranyak .
Joju: I like watching old movies in Malayalam and Tamil. I was watching Mahendran Sir’s films during the lockdown. I try to identify how a particular director designs his characters. I also follow the yesteryear actors. It is quite superb what they did during their times.