Her dense dark hair gives her the mysterious look of a poet, but the 29-year old Meena Kandaswamy is more than that. The poet-activist-novelist has just acted in her first film, Oraalppokkam, which is directed by Sanalkumar Sasidharan.
So, is she going to put her poetry-activism on the back-burner? “I am still a poet and an activist,” she says. “I have not given that up. Artists cannot be confined to boundaries. A poet can be a novelist, singer, and actor.”
In her opinion, at the heart of creativity is a restlessness that brims over into any vessel that it thinks apt. “Besides, I am not looking at acting as a career,” she says. “I don’t look at anything as a career. If something pulls me, I follow it.”
Asked why she decided to play the role of Maya in Oraalppokkam, Meena says, “She is a free-spirited and fiery woman. What initially attracted me was the script. It was incredibly poetic and went to depths to explore the fault-lines of romantic relationships. It was also constructed as if it were a work of literature. I felt that it would be a dream to essay this role and bring the script to life.”
Oraalppokkam is the first online crowd-funded film in Malayalam. “It explores the patriarchal mindset and how a woman resists that subordination even when she is entangled in romantic feelings,” says Meena. “This movie attempts to capture the tensions of a man and a woman in an open relationship.”
When asked about her favourite films, Meena mentions the French film, La Haine, City of God (Brazil), and English films like Trainspotting, Dark Ride and The dangerous edge of things. “My favorite actor is [French actor] Romain Duris, but that is only because I have a massive crush on him,” she says, with a smile.
Since she is involved in social causes, Meena nurtures a dream to become a director. “I will do it only when I am convinced that I can pull it off,” she says.
Meena is excited about her first novel, The Gypsy Goddess, to be published in April 2014. She spent five years working on it. The novel discusses the history of Tamilians who lived in the interiors of Tamil Nadu, where neglect and oppression had become a part of their daily existence.
“I have seen the sample layout copies and do not know how to contain my happiness,” says Meena. “Unlike a poem you live a novel for years. It is easy to burn out. Being a poet has allowed me to be bold and experimental. I have treated every single word in the novel as I would treat every single word in a poem.” Meena has also published two collections of poetry, Touch (2006), and Ms Militancy (2010).
Asked for tips for aspiring writers, Meena says, “Read a lot. Read widely. Learn to be cruel, especially in cutting out what does not work. Most young writers do not even accept a suggestion that half a line in a ten-page poem can be removed or tinkered. Don’t be afraid to explore the unfamiliar. As [American writer] Paul Theroux says, ‘Leave home and do not be afraid. Don’t try to please anybody.’”