It’s not every day that a female actor gets a useful part, let alone one in which she gets to play an astronaut, and what’s more, one who’s not romantically inclined with the lead male role. You can see why Nivetha Pethuraj, who was a part of Tik Tik Tik — dubbed India’s first space film — is receiving accolades for her performance as Lieutenant Colonel Swathi. “I’ve been getting calls non-stop, congratulating me. Most of them are from those who have watched the film more than once,” she says. “There are some who have even watched it as many as four times. I’m delighted with the reception of the film.”
The actor was quite sceptical about signing up for the film. “When I chose Tik Tik Tik, I thought ‘naan gaali’ because I wasn’t sure about what was going to happen. But as Ravi had chosen this film, I had confidence it’d be up to standards,” she says. “Also, I’ve seen Shakti sir’s previous film Miruthan as well. It was still a huge risk to do Tik Tik Tik, not just for me but for all of us.” It was when she saw the film’s sets that her apprehension vanished. “The set made us feel that everything was executed as per plan and art director Moorthy sir’s work, in particular, floored us. The set felt like an actual space station.”
Nivetha’s role in Tik Tik Tik came with the challenges unique to the genre. “Once we wore the space suit, we could not use the restrooms as getting out of the suit and harness would take 20 minutes. So we had to limit our water intake. We also couldn’t eat properly as the suit was tight, and bloating was an issue. I’d have one idly in the morning and that would be my only meal till lunch, and even then, I couldn’t eat much,” she says. “Also, the experience of being pulled up with harnesses was quite novel.” The cast apparently had a hard time getting used to the harness during the first week. “But we eventually got used to it. Instead of gulping water, we started taking smaller sips. Small injuries too became an everyday occurrence and we’d often jokingly ask, ‘Iniku yaaruku enge adi pattuchu’.” In hindsight, she feels such humour was crucial, as it made everything easier.
Nivetha is glad that the film doesn’t have a romance angle. “It’s the best thing about the film. I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan and I love what he did with Interstellar and Inception. Interstellar is my favourite as I love space subjects. If there had been a romance angle in Tik Tik Tik, it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. I’m glad that Shakti sir took this route.”
This is her first film with an experienced director, and she’s all praise for Shakti Soudar Rajan “I think he’s one of the finest directors in the industry. He doesn’t want anything to be overly exaggerated. He wanted the film to be in Hollywood style. In any case, there wasn’t any reference for this genre in our cinema. If we overdid a shot, he’d want us to reshoot it. He was keen that it shouldn’t be filmy,” she says.
Nivetha’s first three films, including Tik Tik Tik, have all been quite different from one another. “I feel that the directors who approach me know that I want to do something new. Though it’s not a conscious decision, I’m getting to show variety in my roles. Up next, I play a cop in Thimiru Pidichavan (starring Vijay Antony) and there’s another film in which I’ll be doing a rural character once again.”
She’s got more films lined up. “I’ve completed Party and just like every film of Venkat Prabhu sir’s, it’s also a fun film. I’ve also got Jagajala Killadi (with Vishnu Vishal), which is a very jolly film. I’m shooting simultaneously for Jagajala Killadi and Thimiru Pidichavan.” Nivetha also has a Telugu film with director Vivek Athreya, with whom she has previously collaborated with in last year’s Mental Madhilo.