Audiences judge actors based on just two films: Anjana Jayaprakash

The actor opens up about her latest film Turbo, her experience working with Mammootty, female representation, her aspirations and more
Audiences judge actors based on just two films: Anjana Jayaprakash

Anjana Jayaprakash discovered her passion for acting while pursuing her college education in Coimbatore, following her stint in some short films. Initially, her parents did not take her career aspirations seriously, although they never discouraged her. In the beginning, her auditions did not go well, and she was replaced in the film Premam (2015), marking an embarrassing period in her life. However, her debut film in Tamil, Dhuruvangal Pathinaru (2016), opened many doors, prompting her to shift from Kochi to Chennai, where she had more opportunities to keep herself busy with ads and web series like Queen (2019).

Eight years after an insignificant appearance, Anjana made a significant return to Malayalam cinema through Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum (2023), alongside Fahadh Faasil. Her refreshingly mature performance put her in the spotlight. She is now back with Turbo, featuring her in a meaty role as the female lead Indulekha, who is not in awe of its protagonist, played by Mammootty. As she is absorbing the appreciation for her assertive presence in the film, Anjana gets candid in this freewheeling chat.

Excerpts :

How did you get approached for Turbo?

Just months after the release of Pachuvum Albhuthavilakkum, I received a call from MammoottyKampany. Soon after, Vysakh sir narrated the story to me, briefing the plot in an hour. In the film, I am the heroine, but not Mammookka’s pair. I liked how my character was positioned, along with how Bindu chechi’s part was placed. The screenplay drafts kept changing until the fourth draft, which felt perfect before shooting began.

How was the experience to work with an actor of Mammootty’s stature?

I know it will sound clichéd, but his passion for acting is so irresistible. It has been around five decades since he debuted, yet his greed for working with new talents is so inspiring. He approaches each project with the eagerness of a newcomer. When I casually mentioned that I had written and directed a short film, his immediate response was that I should try writing a screenplay for a feature film. Speaking about Mammookka’s energy, Midhun chettan and I often discussed whether we would be able to walk properly at his age.

Were you starstruck?

Of course, I was for the first two days. However, as I began performing alongside him with more dialogues, I started feeling more comfortable.

What was the most memorable moment during the shoot of the film?

The car chase sequence with Bindu chechi is something I won’t forget. Her character is cool, but in real life, she was tense throughout the shoot, even though Mammookka is one of the most expert drivers around.

Would you have committed to Turbo even if it had lesser screen time or significance for your character, especially coming after Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum?

For me, what matters more than screen time are roles that contribute to the plot. I’m not denying the irony of committing to something less substantial after Pachu..., but in Turbo, I felt my character was significant throughout the film. Another factor that drew me to this project was director Vysakh sir, who has delivered many blockbusters. It was an arena outside my comfort zone. Fortunately, I was able to align with his vision, thanks to his welcoming and receptive approach.

Hamsadhwani in Pachu... and Indulekha in Turbo. Both are somewhat mature and sorted characters. Do you feel like you are being stereotyped?

Even though both Hamsadhwani and Indhulekha share similarities in terms of maturity, I believe the difference in genre between the two films plays a crucial role in distinguishing them. To be honest, I had the same discussion with Mammookka, and he emphasised the importance of avoiding repetition. However, he also mentioned that there is a shortage of actors who can convincingly portray mature female characters nowadays. It all comes down to a director’s vision of whether an actor can successfully inhabit a character in a new zone. Unfortunately, these days, it only takes two films for the audience to judge an actor and bracket them.

What is your take on the recent controversy that women characters are being invisibilised in Malayalam cinema?

I think it’s a very interesting discussion that needs nuanced analysis. I feel we are jumping to conclusions a bit too quickly. For instance, last year, when our cinema was going through a lean patch, people were quick to judge that Malayalam cinema was facing some sort of doomsday. But when our industry experienced unprecedented growth this year, every naysayer was proven wrong. Likewise, just because recently successful films have had hardly any scope for women characters does not mean this will become a norm. Also, I don’t subscribe to including a female character just for the sake of it, like the conventional stock heroine who has hardly any influence on the plot. Even in a film like Aavesham, where the female presence was limited, the role that Pooja played of a sex worker was devoid of the stereotypes we usually associate with such characters, which is a positive step.

Even if I am not overly hopeful, like in Hindi cinema, I feel there will come a time when Malayalam cinema will embrace women-centric films much more than it does now. At the end of the day, audiences want to see films that are well-made and entertaining, regardless of who is headlining them.

Since you mentioned the Hindi industry, do you feel Malayalam cinema lacks female representation behind the camera to address this issue?

Of course, in Malayalam cinema, despite women filmmakers making some inroads, we are still in a nascent stage compared to the Hindi film industry. In Bollywood, almost everyone is paid their due, unlike here, where it is challenging for women to choose the film industry as a sustainable option.

Since you have already written and directed a short film, do you aspire to be a storyteller in the future?

I don’t aspire to be a director, as I lack the knowledge and experience for that. Although it requires a lot of effort, I am working towards becoming a writer. I have some story ideas, but they will require time to develop.

As an actor, what is the most rewarding thing?

The ability to live different lives through the characters you play. The collaborative effort with talented filmmakers and performers who bring out the best in you. Most importantly, when someone watches your performance and says they were able to connect with it, that is the most satisfying aspect of being an actor.

And the frustrating aspect?

The immense amount of attention you receive, even though it is inevitable. It is also disheartening when you are treated like a product. I acknowledge that it is a reality in the larger scheme of things, but it can be weird.

Do you wish to do certain kinds of roles that you are not getting offered?

I am interested in doing full-fledged comedic roles, even though they can be tricky to pull off. Also, I would love to portray a character with negative shades. I’ve expressed this desire repeatedly to Midhun chettan during the promotions of Turbo.

What’s next in store for you?

I have been hearing some interesting narrations, but I have not finalised anything as of now. I am hopeful of doing one more film this year.

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The New Indian Express