INTERVIEW | ‘We hardly see women characters like Rangan Annan’: Actor Kani Kusruti

Actor Kani Kusruti, whose latest film All We Imagine As Light won the Grand Prix at Cannes last month, opens up about her career, politics and the state of women’s representation in the industry
Actor Kani Kusruti
Actor Kani Kusruti

BENGALURU: It hasn’t yet sunk in for Kani Kusruti. Two of her films – the Grand Prix Winner All We Imagine As Light (AWIAL) by Payal Kapadia and Shuchi Talati’s Girls Will Be Girls – were screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, catapulting her into an actor who has crossed many invisible borders. The actor is now back from the French coastal town and is busy shooting for a web series. Though congratulatory messages are pouring in, Kusruti says she hasn’t yet been able to return many calls or reply to texts. “I didn’t get time to sit with it and take it all in,” she smiles. In a free-wheeling chat with CE, Kusruti opens up about her life, acting career and more.  

Excerpts:

Two of your films were recently screened at Cannes with one even bagging a coveted award. How has life changed since then?

There hasn’t been any drastic change, but I feel happy and proud about being a part of these films. The audience at Cannes could connect well with both films.

Your red carpet entry and your watermelon bag that symbolised solidarity with Palestine were all widely discussed...

I didn’t think it would make so much noise. There were a lot of other statements being made at the festival. I think I got such attention because the clutch was prominent in photos. I wanted to propose this idea to my team, but since the festival had made it clear that they don’t encourage political statements, I decided to do it myself and not pressurise others. But as it turned out, our producers later felt it was important to express solidarity with Palestine on the red carpet. Almost everyone in our team was supportive. So I don’t consider it a personal statement, but rather, on behalf of all of us.

A still from Biriyaani
A still from Biriyaani

Shortly after you expressed solidarity for Palestine, people started discussing your film Biriyaani. You had also spoken about your disagreements with the film...

I actually spoke about it long back, but guess people have started taking me seriously only after Cannes. When Sajin Baabu approached me with Biriyaani’s script, I didn’t think he was trying to be Islamophobic, but I did feel that the audience might interpret Islam in a negative way. When I shared my concerns, he said this was his story and that his intention was to oppose patriarchy. Though I was aware of his intentions, I wasn’t pleased with the film’s release in the country’s current political climate. I was also unhappy with my character; she was continuously facing hurdles and I didn’t feel right about it. I told Sajin that aesthetically and politically, it wasn’t my kind of film.

He is the filmmaker and I, as an artist, only had the choice of whether to be a part of it or not. Irrespective of the actor, Sajin was going to present it in his own way.

I’ve had similar problems – either moral or personal conflicts – with most of my projects. Since Biriyaani was being made on a small scale, I was hoping that it wouldn’t reach a wide audience. Regarding criticism, I think it came at the wrong time. However, I believe that we should take accountability for our actions. I know a lot of artists who protect their integrity and I look up to them with respect. But as an actor, if I work based on my integrity, I might not get projects regularly. If the need arises, I might do it again, but if I’m financially stable enough to be choosy, then I might not do it.

Do you think creators nowadays are bound by political correctness?

I wish we were part of a developed society so that creators had the freedom to not be bothered about political correctness. Countries like France know how to film nuanced stories carefully. They are given space as creators and the audience is also welcoming of such stories. Sadly, we are not. Our society is still not ready to differentiate films from reality.

At the same time, I cannot watch somebody fighting, being killed or raped on screen. We as a society are still not okay with what a person wears, so we still have to go a long way.

Following your win at Cannes, we feel a strong sense of sisterhood among your peers in Malayalam. While male friendships often result in projects, it’s not the same with women. Do you feel like blaming the system for it?

Women are still behind in almost every walk of life. Irrespective of gender, there might be more talented people than the ones currently in the spotlight, who are stuck doing conventional jobs. Another aspect is that we do not have enough writers, and when the successful ones are predominantly male, producers will naturally lean towards them. We still have a long way to go before bridging that gap. Nowadays, we hardly see women characters leaving a lasting impression even after the film is over, such as Ranga Annan in Aavesham. Urvashi ma’am used to get such characters, even if the films were questionable in their totality. Whereas, male actors have always enjoyed good stories and characters. Also, there are no stories of transgender people yet. We also don’t see stories about different age groups. It’s mostly about people between 20s-40s. If you watch international cinema, you’ll know that all ages are well represented.

(With inputs from Krishna PS, Mahima Anna Jacob, Vivek Santhosh, Vignesh Madhu, Aishwarya Prabhakaran, Anna Jose, Harikrishna B)

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