When Archana Kavi finished her Class 12 exams she told her parents she wanted to stay in a hostel and experience freedom and independence. Her parents, the Delhi-based senior journalist Jose Kavi and his wife Rosamma decided to send her to the Mar Augustinose College, in Ramapuram to do a Bachelor of Business Administration course. The college had an attached hostel: the Carmel Jyothi.
In 2006 Archana moved from Delhi to Ramapuram. And the shift was not easy.
“I knew Malayalam very well because my parents insisted we speak the language at home all the time,” she says. “However, I had trouble communicating with my classmates.” And, unfortunately, there was the erroneous notion among the other students that the girls who were brought up in Delhi or Mumbai were of a loose character.
“I was just a normal kid,” she says.
An unfazed Archana concentrated hard on her studies. One day, feeling bored, Archana, who had been the house and culture captain at St. Xavier’s School in Delhi and had been deeply involved in theatre, music and dance, applied for a job at the Indiavision television channel.
She was selected and every weekend she would go to Kochi and assist in the production of certain programmes. After a year she got a job to anchor a show, ‘Bloody Love’ on Indiavision’s youth channel, ‘YES’.
Director Lal Jose saw her on this programme and in March, 2009, he called Archana for an audition for the remake of ‘Neelathamara’. This film has created history because it is the first time in the Malayalam film industry that a movie is being remade. M T Vasudevan Nair, who had penned the script for the earlier film, which was released in 1979, has written for this one also.
During the interview, both Lal Jose and M T were impressed by Archana. “I liked her energy,” says Lal Jose. “She was smart and passionate about cinema.” But the role was a difficult one. Archana would have to play a servant girl, Kunjimallu, set in an ancestral home in a village. “I was apprehensive because of Archana’s modern way of talking and body language,” says Lal Jose. “She also does not know to read and write Malayalam.” Archana says she had some idea of the character. “I used to spend my annual holidays at my grandmother’s home in Kannur,” she says. “I have seen my aunts milking the cow, sweeping the courtyard, and cooking in the kitchen, all the tasks which Kunjimallu does. I just lacked practical knowledge.” The tipping point for Lal Jose came when he saw Archana in make-up and costume. “She looked perfect for the part,” he says.
When Archana was selected her parents went through a bout of introspection.
“We were apprehensive about our daughter taking up acting as a career,” says Jose Kavi. “However, our fears were allayed when family friends who knew Lal Jose told us he was a no-nonsense person on the set.” But for Kavi what was most thrilling was that M T had written the script. “It is a privilege for my daughter to act in his films,” he says.
The film was shot over a 50-day period at Kuttipuram, 50 kms south of Kozhikode.
“Kunjimalu is a person who does not talk much,” says Archana. “If she is happy or sad it is within her. She rarely expresses it.” She is grateful to Lal Jose for describing in precise detail what the character was going through in a particular scene.
Asked on the tips on acting that Lal Jose imparted to her, Archana says, “He told me to react, and not act. In any situation, just behave normally. If you try to act, it will become obvious. When I walk, and if I think I am performing, it will come across as artificial. So you have to forget that there is a camera recording your every move and the presence of numerous people and immerse yourself in the scene.” And Lal Jose has been happy with the end result. “Archana has an in-born talent,” he says. “She amazed me with her high concentration levels and remarkable memory.” The director had read out the script only once to Archana and she had memorised all the scenes. “She always knew what the next scene was going to be,” says Lal Jose.
Jose Kavi says his daughter is a determined child. “Once she sets her eyes on something she will work hard to achieve it,” he says.
At Kochi, at a friend’s place, sans make-up, clad in a T-shirt and jeans, Archana looks like any ordinary young girl having the time of her life. However, she is keeping her fingers crossed that when the film releases in October her acting will click with the audience.
“If not I can always try journalism,” she says. “Like films, it is another way of telling stories.”