'I was anxious every single day on the sets of Kaala'

...says actor Avinash Tiwary, as he joins his co-star Nivetha Pethuraj, in speaking about Kaala, and other topics like the explosion of new content, the proverbial glass ceiling, and more
'I was anxious every single day on the sets of Kaala'

A gangster. A righteous cop. A gangster again. The past year has seen actor Avinash Tiwary headline three tentpole series of the three most important streamers in India right now. Khakee: The Bihar Chapter (Netflix), Bambai Meri Jaan (Prime Video), and Kaala (Disney+Hotstar) have made Avinash a bonafide star in the OTT space. "In my breakout role, I played one of the greatest lovers (Laila Majnu), and recently I played one of the most dreaded gangsters. There are people who now know me as Chandan Mahto (Khakee), Dara Kadri (Bambai Meri Jaan), and Ritwik (Kaala). It will take time for Avinash Tiwary to resonate in their minds, but if I am consistent enough, one never knows," says Avinash. If this clarity on charting one's career trajectory is impressive, his Kaala co-star Nivetha Pethuraj drops a banger of an announcement without warning. "I have a Telugu film coming up. Then, I am taking a break from acting. I'm not sure when I will return. But thanks to OTT, it is possible to make a comeback anytime. There is always an opportunity."

Disney+Hotstar's Kaala, which is about money laundering, blood, brotherhood, betrayal, and more, is directed by Bejoy Nambiar and was one such special opportunity for both Avinash and Nivetha, who swear by the working style of the filmmaker. "I didn't know Hindi at all, and it took some time to get to the groove," says Nivetha, and is soon interjected by Avinash. "She has a very rare sincerity about her. Despite not knowing the language, there was never a time when a scene had to be reshot because of her. Nivetha has a strong temperament. She was an outsider, and her calmness was mighty impressive." The warm camaraderie between these actors came to the fore once again, as Nivetha gracefully accepted the compliment, but revealed she had anxiety attacks during filming. "I remember sweating in my palms for the first time. Probably, it suited my character of Sithara. Plus, there was a sense of urgency while shooting, and we were like Bejoy's puppets," says Nivetha, whose sentiment is echoed by Avinash. "Bejoy is a maverick. It is almost impossible to match his energy levels. His working style brings us out of our comfort zones, and the performances become spontaneous. I had an adrenaline rush and anxiety every day on the sets."

Another common aspect of Nivetha and Avinash is their pragmatism which has clearly kept them in stead even when the chips were down. "Earlier, I was content with getting the right stories and characters. However, who tells these stories matters a lot too.  It is important to be involved with the right team to ensure the content reaches the people. You see, my films or series has to be on the menu card for people to order, and if certain makers don't have the bandwidth to put it on the menu, then it isn't always worth doing the project," says Avinash. Similarly, Nivetha who has oscillated between playing lead roles and supporting characters and cameo in big-ticket films is very clear that she has to make hay while the sun shines. "Actors contemplate a lot. Will this project add credibility? Will newcomers take our place? So many actors have come in, and the peak of stardom is just for a couple of years. Sustaining the stardom is more important. When I started out, I wanted to earn 50 lakhs, set up a cafe, and chill. With more opportunities coming my way, I grew to a level I didn't expect. Right now, I am in a place to choose my projects. Even if it is just a five-minute role like the one I played in Virata Parvam, I want to be part of such cinematic experiences. It was exciting to be part of Bejoy's world in Kaala. I want to be part of projects where I can learn things, and work with teams that allow a collaborative process."
With OTT blurring linguistic barriers, and pan-Indian becoming quite the phenomenon,  Avinash is confident that India has the potential to tell stories to the world just like how Indians consume series or films from across the world. "We need a breakthrough moment in our content creation. Look at what RRR did to Indian cinema. We must constantly push the boundaries. That is the vision we must have. Honestly, we have been doing pan-Indian films for a long time with talents moving across languages. In fact, this conversation started when there was a lull in the Hindi cinema box office. But it is important to realise we are making films for the world. It isn't enough if it is the same audience that is making up the numbers in the international box-office. We need to create more footfalls and newer sets of audiences for our films."

Nivetha signs off by pointing out that more the things change, some things stay the same. "I keep wondering all the time about the importance of doing smart work rather than just plain hard work. Even if the women give blood and sweat to a project, we are footnotes in reviews, and sometimes, don't even make the posters. Take, for instance, Nayanthara, who is Lady Superstar in the South. It is still called Shah Rukh Khan's Jawan or Vijay's Bigil. She is capable of doing so much more, and there are filmmakers who tap into that potential. But there is no denying that there is a certain ceiling of sorts. I think by now, I have resigned to the fact that there is only so much we can push the envelope."

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