In Tamil, I pick quality over quantity, says Nikhila Vimal

Por Thozhil seems to have come at the right time in Nikhila’s career, which is clearly on an upswing. Up next, she is starring in Mari Selvaraj’s Vaazhai.
Actress and model Nikhila Vimal.
Actress and model Nikhila Vimal.

Nikhila Vimal made her Tamil and Malayalam debut around the same time in 2015-16. Since then, although she has constantly been seen in Tamil cinema, it was in Malayalam that she grew from strength to strength. In Tamil, despite starring alongside the likes of Sasikumar (Vetrivel and Kidaari), and Karthi (Thambi), Nikhila hadn’t yet made a similar impact in the collective consciousness of the audience. Then came first-time filmmaker Vignesh Raja with Por Thozhil.

“When Vignesh narrated the script to me, I was aware that my screen space was comparatively lesser than that of Ashok Selvan and Sarath Kumar sir. However, the clincher for me was that my character had more scope than just dancing, singing, or being relegated to a romantic interest,” says Nikhila, who reveals that the importance of her role outweighed the screentime in the film, which not just received rave reviews but kept the cash registers ringing in many places.

“When I heard the script I knew Por Thozhil will be widely watched and liked by the audience,” says Nikhila, who plays Veena, a data analyst with the police force who works along with investigating officers to update records and do background research on a case. In fact, Nikhila shares that Por Thozhil marks the first time she is playing a role that is remotely connected to being a police officer. “Preparing for Por Thozhil, I often wondered if the khaki would suit me.

Thankfully, Vignesh told me that I would just be wearing casual everyday wear because I was only an assisting officer,” says Nikhila. While the khaki conundrum was solved, there was one other colour problem that cropped up. “I had brown streaks in my hair. So we spent a lot of time thinking if we should make Veena a girl with a mean brown streak, or dye it back to black. After much deliberation, we went with black hair.”

While there is no doubt that Por Thozhil is one of 2023’s most-lauded Tamil films, one common criticism levied against the film was the lack of depth in Veena’s character. While she is introduced as a graduate of Massachusetts Insititute of Technology (MIT), who chose to take up this job to work for her country, there is very little that comes off this seemingly important character description.

However, Nikhila is quick to point out that there was clear reasoning for all her actions, but it met a worthy adversary... the edit table. “Veena’s father is a data analyst, and after his demise in service, the job is assigned to her. Once Veena takes it up, she starts understanding the nature of the job, and how it is of national importance. But it was chopped off in the post-production,” explains Nikhila, adding, “In fact, parents impacting the child’s career choice is a common theme between Veena, Prakash (Ashok Selvan), and Loganathan (Sarath Kumar).”

Although a Malayali, Nikhila is an actor who insists on dubbing for all her characters, including Por Thozhil’s Veena. “I have been fluent in Tamil for a while now. I can confidently say I can speak better Tamil than a lot of other non-Tamil actors in the industry. I learnt Tamil out of my love for it, and I even know how to read and write the language,” asserts Nikhila, who is glad that Por Thozhil has put the focus on her acting potential.

“It has been so long since I did a Tamil film, and I’m glad Por Thozhil is the film that brought me back. I know the film has reached a huge proportion of the Tamil audience. I have been receiving relentless calls from my colleagues in the Malayalam film industry. In fact, many of them didn’t even know I was part of the film because the posters predominantly featured Ashok and Sarath sir. Considering the success of the film in Kerala, I have been overwhelmed with the responses coming my way,” shares Nikhila. 

Por Thozhil ends with a hint for a sequel, and with the Prakash-Loganathan duo moving on to the next case, one can’t help but wonder if Veena would join them on their next investigation, albeit with more to do this time around. While Nikhila hasn’t really given thought to what’s in store for her in the Por Thozhil universe, she does believe there is a possibility of the trio reuniting. “Probably, there will be more cases that will feature the trio. Possibly, the dynamics of the relationship between Veena and Prakash might also be explored. But one thing is clear... Por Thozhil’s focus will always be on the investigation.” 

Por Thozhil seems to have come at the right time in Nikhila’s career, which is clearly on an upswing. Up next, she is starring in Mari Selvaraj’s Vaazhai. “The moment I got the call for Vaazhai, I knew I had to do the film. Although my role in the film is as limited as that in Por Thozhil, I can assure you that it is a significant role that will have a lot of importance.” 

Coming back to her seemingly limited presence in Tamil, Nikhila exhibits a clear vision of her career. “When it comes to Tamil Cinema, I have the option of picking only the best scripts. Since I am already doing a lot of Malayalam films, I don’t have the pressure of ‘I have to do a Tamil film now.’ When it comes to Tamil, I pick quality over quantity. I want to be known as a versatile actor in Tamil cinema, and essay roles that will earn me respect.” 

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