Rajisha Vijayan warns against comparing Karnan with Mari Selvaraj’s debut film, Pariyerum Perumal, even though there’s an obvious temptation to do so. “They are two different worlds,” she says.
The actor, in fact, began work on this film even before she had seen Mari’s debut. She may not have seen the film, but she had heard of the director’s importance already. That’s why she paid no heed to the injury she was recovering from—a ligament tear she suffered while shooting for the Malayalam film, Finals (2019).
“The healing is still going on, because even after the injury, I kept shooting and ended up aggravating it,” she says.
There were other challenges too for her, like the language, for one. Karnan is this Malayalam actor’s first Tamil film.
There was also the matter of not being too familiar with the dynamics of the film industry here. She agrees that learning Tamil in advance might have made matters easier. “I would have been more confident on the sets. When you know the language, you can suggest small changes in dialogue, or speak more fluently. It also helps portray people more authentically.
However, it helped that I had a good director willing to patiently guide me through the process and extract the best,” she says. It has been a year and a half since she began learning the language, and her Tamil is considerably better now. “I try. Even if I make mistakes, I make it a point to keep speaking the language.”
What she might have lacked in linguistic knowledge, she made up for by early preparations to play the character of Draupadi. “I lived among the locals in the village for more than a week and got a chance to observe their everyday life. They were such great teachers,” she notes. “It was hard to take in so much information in such a short period—I mean, as actors, we have to emulate the body language, with an understanding of the identity and lifestyle of the people. Mari sir’s guidance was crucial.”
She says Mari’s process is spontaneous. “Only he knows the intricacies of the film’s vision. He would shoot so much that may seem random to us, but on the edit table, he knows how to bring it all together beautifully into the film,” she says. “There were a lot of improvisations and so, we had to stay in character all the time. Working with him is not like a day job. The acting process gets reinvented.” And this topic of the process of acting is something she speaks about quite a lot. “The process changes with the genre, character, and the type of film I do. But generally, I depend a lot on homework. I struggle to snap out of a character immediately; sometimes, it takes me a couple of days.” She adds that actors, like Mohanlal, who are able to snap out of their characters, “are blessed. It requires a lot of talent, I think. It also helps to have really talented actors around you.”
In Karnan, Rajisha has the two-time National Award-winning Dhanush for a co-actor. “It is not about mimicking the other actor; it is about observing and learning. When you are working with an experienced actor, it gets exciting to learn about their process,” she says. It helped a lot, she adds, that Dhanush was helpful not just to her, but the hundreds of natives who acted in the film. “He was so supportive of all of them. It reassured everyone and showed that acting is teamwork. Also, he has achieved so much in terms of variety in films, awards, and recognition… and yet, he works so hard. That’s the reason for his longevity, I believe. Being an actor is a continuous process.”
Rajisha too, admittedly, has been working hard. With multiple projects lined up, there is hardly any room for a break. “The silver lining of the pandemic was the break, but now, with the industry having opened up again, multiple projects are starting simultaneously. I did Love and Kho Kho (slated for release on April 14) during the lockdown, and immediately after that, the shooting for Karnan got restarted.” By now, Rajisha might have managed to snap out of her character, but such is the strength of Mari Selvaraj’s second film that we, the audience, might not find it so easy to stop thinking about the many characters of the film, including, of course, Rajisha’s Draupadi.