Nivetha Thomas knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride, to reprise Taapsee Pannu’s role from Pink (2016) and that of Shraddha Srinath from the Tamil remake Nerkonda Paarvai (2019). But she pulled it off with élan and along with her co-stars Anjali and Ananya Nagalla, held her own amid the starry presence of Pawan Kalyan in the Telugu remake Vakeel Saab .
Playing Pallavi Vemula, a victim of sexual abuse who is in turn accused of inflicting injury on her perpetrator, turned out to be an emotionally draining experience. The actor who recovered from COVID-19 just in time for the film’s release, watched Vakeel Saab at one of Hyderabad’s popular single screens, Sudharshan 35mm at RTC Cross Roads.
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“I have to watch my film with the audience; then I am willing to deal with appreciation or criticism from critics, my friends and family,” she says.
Brush with the virus
She says her brush with COVID-19 “was rough, but I am thankful I pulled through.” She was filming in Hyderabad for the Telugu remake of the Korean action-comedy Midnight Runners , directed by Sudheer Varma, when she began to show symptoms: “My staff and others around me in the unit tested negative. I didn’t venture out anywhere else, so I was surprised how I got infected,” she says.
Nivetha has featured in several original stories, but remakes aren’t new to her. She featured as Kamal Haasan’s daughter in Papanasam , the Tamil remake of the Malayalam thriller Drishyam .
“If you ask me, I’ll say don’t remake a film. There’s a reason why a film gets appreciated and becomes a huge hit. It’s a tough space to get into,” she admits. Stepping into Taapsee’s shoes was a responsibility she was willing to take, given the film’s stance against sexual violence. “There’s a sense of happiness in being able to do such a character,” she adds.
She had watched Pink twice when it released but didn’t get around to watching Nerkonda Paarvai . For the Telugu adaptation, Nivetha had several conversations with director Sriram Venu and wanted to bring in her own interpretations.
Her character Pallavi represents the many urban working women who live on their own: “I have friends who’ve gone through bad experiences. It was important for me to understand Pallavi’s emotional trauma,” she says.
“An extreme sense of sadness”, she says, washed over her in the courtroom scenes where the women face character assassination. In the theatres, Pawan Kalyan’s counter to Prakash Raj’s venomous views on the victims elicit a rousing response, and Nivetha hopes that beyond cheering their favourite star, viewers will also pay attention to the idea of consent, as told in the film.
The courtroom scenes were filmed in sequence and there were six cameras, each focusing on different portions of the room. So she stayed focussed and ‘in character’ at all times. “This helped to emote right, but it was also draining. I had to switch off after each cut so as to not get overwhelmed.”
Her outburst in the court was among the demanding scenes. Rather than cutting away from her soon after the outburst, the camera lingers as she doubles up, venting the frustration, anger and helplessness. “We talked about how this scene will be filmed and I’ve always been critical of everything I did while working on the film. This scene got cleared in one take,” she says.
Stars as colleagues
Ask her how she manages not to get overawed in the presence of a superstar — be it in Papanasam , or in Darbar where she played Rajinikanth’s daughter or with Pawan Kalyan, and she attributes it to her long innings in cinema. She’s been in front of the camera since the age of eight, starting her career with Malayalam cinema before foraying into Tamil and Telugu.
“For years, I’ve seen how people behave when there’s a star on set. A star’s presence dictates the mood. I’ve found that it helps to talk and break the ice so that in front of the camera, we can work as colleagues,” she says.
Dabbling studies and cinema since childhood, Nivetha is an architect and an actor. The toughest thing during the lockdown, she says, was the anxiety that Vakeel Saab shooting had been paused. “Otherwise, I can be happy in my own company. More than the pandemic, I was restless in 2018 and 2019 when I wasn’t signing many films; I wondered if I should freelance as an architect. Then Darbar and V (Telugu) happened. Interesting projects are coming my way and I am careful in selecting what I want to do,” she says, signing off.