Malayalam actor Rima Kallingal says that Basheer’s Bhargavi of ‘Neelavelicham’ inspired her

Rima plays the pivotal role of Bhargavi in ‘Neelavelicham,’ the remake of the classic ‘Bhargavi Nilayam’

Updated - April 26, 2023 04:03 pm IST

Published - April 26, 2023 03:30 pm IST

Malayalam actor Rima Kallingal 

Malayalam actor Rima Kallingal  | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“Nervousness,” says Rima Kallingal. That was her first reaction when she was cast as Bhargavi in Aashiq Abu’s Neelavelicham, the remake of the classic Bhargavi Nilayam.

The heroine of the first screenplay written by Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, Bhargavi had enchanted viewers in the 1964 original. Almost 50 years later, Rima Kallingal has reinterpreted the character without losing the essence of that character.

Speaking over the phone from Kochi, Rima says that initially, the team behind the making of Neelavelicham was anxious about the task they had taken up. However, as actors, they were also enthused by it, the literature, the sheer passion and romance of the characters, the surrealism in the film…. “We knew it was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she says.

Ratheena casts Rima as a dancer
Coming up next for Rima is a contemporary role of a dancer, a series that is being helmed by Puzhu-director Ratheena PT. “That is for Hotstar. The script has been locked and we are likely to begin shooting in May,” says Rima.

They decided that Neelavelicham would be a tribute to the magic of Basheer — the soundscape, landscape and characters he had created. “There is one version that the legends had done, which ticked every box as a film. We decided we will do our version of the screenplay and go all out when we are doing it,” explains Rima, outlining the thought process behind the remake.

Rima Kallingal as Bhargavi in Neelavelicham

Rima Kallingal as Bhargavi in Neelavelicham | Photo Credit: R Roshan

Nevertheless, prior to the shooting, Rima wondered if she would be able to understand a woman from the ‘60s. To her relief, when she read the script, she realised that Bhargavi was a woman with a mind of her own, a woman who lived life on her own terms even within the constraints of the conservative society the story is set in. “This woman bares her soul, whether it is in romance, the way she wants to live and even in her pain and vengeance. She inspired me,” maintains Rima.

Pointing out that rarely do actors get such characters, Rima says that most of the time, there is a narrative and actors are part of a story that is being told. In Bharagavi Nilayam, Bhargavi’s presence — seen or unseen — is present in every scene. “It is all about Bhargavi, whether it be the writer’s relationship with her, her romance with Sasikumar, her sorrow or her vengeance. She is pivotal to the narrative.”

Rima Kallingal in Neelavelicham

Rima Kallingal in Neelavelicham | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

From a technical perspective, the team wanted to use all that was available to recreate the background in which the story is narrated.  “We wanted to use the best technology to achieve what he has written. But, prior to the shooting, I was quite sceptical as an artist because it is a period film. Bhargavi Nilayam was a contemporary film when it was made but we were doing a period film by recreating the sixties,” points out the actor.

However, the cast and crew were wonderstruck by the timelessness of Basheer’s story and his characters. Before the shooting began, they had a reading. “At that time, there was chaos in my mind. Every one had their own take on the story and the characters. Aashiq cleared the first hurdle by reminding us that Neelavelicham was our take on Basheer’s screenplay. Right or wrong, this is about how we experience Bhargavi Nilayam. That created a space, a sense of peace from which we could springboard into the next level.”

A week-long theatre camp was held and the cast read their lines. “We wanted a 50-year-old script to connect to a contemporary audience. There were challenges about how the dialogue delivery should be. Without losing the poetry and the romance in the lines, we wanted to make the characters and their emotions relate to a present-day audience,” she says. 

After a fair amount of experimenting, they landed on a narrative that was natural; the vocabulary did not stick to the theatrics of the Sixties. The actors decided to alter their body language to suit the ethos and pace of life of another era.

To understand Basheer’s mindscape and time, the actors read his works and “there was the whole element of Basheer’s story, ‘Anuragathinte Dinangal’, nuances of which we borrowed for the Sasikumar-Bhargavi romance.”

“It looked like Basheer had modelled the romance on his own experiences with Saraswathi Devi. We did take a creative license of thinking of Saraswathi Devi in the scenes. For instance, there is a scene in which Bhargavi requests Sasikumar to write a speech for her. In ‘Anuragathinte Dinangal’ too, Saraswathi Devi requests the author to write a speech for her. It can’t be a coincidence!”

Rima Kallingal and Roshan Mathew in Neelavelicham 

Rima Kallingal and Roshan Mathew in Neelavelicham  | Photo Credit: R Roshan

The shooting was in Thalassery, on a 14-acre plot with a two-storey building in it. “Every day, as we entered the gate, we found ourselves transported to another age. Of course, the attire, make-up and music helped in getting the right ambience.”

Which was the scene that was tough for her to enact? “Oh, the scene where Bhargavi declares her love for Sasikumar without seeing him, as there is a wall between them. I had to strip myself of all the emotional shields one acquires to live in this world and bare my emotions. Bhargavi is bold and vulnerable at the same time. If that is not courage, then what is it? The songs and the music just handheld me and walked me into Bhargavi,” says Rima.

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