Poornima Indrajith Interview: It is our duty to address the issues of the underprivileged

In this interview with Team TNIE, Poornima Indrajith opens up about her breakthrough performance in Thuramukham, the homework, the long break from cinema, evolving as an entrepreneur, and more
Poornima Indrajith Interview: It is our duty to address the issues of the underprivileged

It's not surprising when most 90s kids, who got introduced to Poornima Indrajith when a cable television connection was installed in their homes, marvel at her growth today. From her days of modelling, anchoring and appearing in television serials, and her notable turns in films such as Megamalhaar, Randam Bhavam, and Valiyettan, Poornima has come a long way. The actor got the opportunity of a lifetime when Rajeev Ravi contacted her to play the mother of Nivin Pauly, Arjun Ashokan and Darshana Rajendran in Thuramukham

Edited excerpts...

Your performance in Thuramukham is remarkably restrained, devoid of melodrama. This mother (umma) doesn't behave like any other onscreen mothers. You would expect her to be a certain way, but she doesn't.

Yes, that happens in multiple instances. Maybe Poornima Indrajith would've reacted differently; she would've exploded, but not this umma. But there's much anger in her, which we can perceive from her body language. Audiences usually have expectations from certain characters. That's all because of our past conditioning and the films we have seen before. The most important thing to say is that neither the makers didn't want to show the umma that way, nor did I want to interpret her that way. 

There exist different kinds of women with different emotional journeys. This umma has kept bottled up all the uncertainty and worries in her, but they don't come outside. Maybe women back then were like that -- having to think a lot before expressing. We can't relate to them, their time or their difficulties. So I would've to approach it differently. I simply did my kind of interpretation, facilitated by the script, director and the scenes. The director has a vision of a character, but it takes individual homework to reach there -- aided by, of course, the support system in the form of the co-actors, the story, and the period.

The umma doesn't smile at all in the film, does she? Also, were you aware of this history before you got into it?

We see a small glimpse of a smile in those rare situations when everyone sits together to have a meal. The day before Kachi's (Darshana) wedding, Hamsa tells Moidu umma hasn't eaten, and the following reaction elicits a faint smile. She is just living in the moment. The family is together, while in other instances, she is frustrated and angry due to various factors, and she is trying to fit in somehow.

A film's potential for success depends on the way it makes viewers ask questions. We wanted viewers to reflect: What happened? Why were people like that back then? In Mattanchery, a lot of people from various corners come to survive. The women are just something else altogether. Rajeev (Ravi) once said there is more drama in real life than in movies, a thought that I carry with me all the time because it's a fact.  

As for the history, we mostly learn about the stories of the victors, don't we? The account of losers rarely gets a mention, and it's usually through a casual reference like a 'period of starvation' or something like that. The privileged among us didn't find the need to know about these things. But those who are intensely passionate and curious embark on a journey of discovery -- to narrate those stories. That only happens when you really respect and value the lives of those who have lost, but it's that loss which got us where we are now, not because of those who have won. We are enjoying a lot of privileges, and it is our duty, as a community, to address the issues of the underprivileged.

How much do the make-up and body language modifications give you a push as a performer? For some actors, the minute they put on these things, they feel like they've become that character.

It's true. Actors live in costume for a long time. Every single thing helps. Cinema is a beautiful craft. When recreating costumes and make-up and production design, during execution time, our energy becomes attuned to that, and that's what helps you the most. All these props help with the emotional give-and-take, the interpersonal politics, and all that... Actors are props through which the filmmaker tries to tell what they want to say.

Did you get to meet any of the survivors of the Mattancherry incident? Did you find a real-life inspiration for this umma?

I did, actually. I found this one umma who gave me space, time, and food. She was happy with all the attention and the sight of a camera. I told her about me playing an umma, and she mockingly asked, "You?" (laughs) She was this adorable woman who had lots of stories to tell. What stood out the most from that conversation is the realisation that Mattancherry of the past and present is completely different.  

You took an 18-year-long break from cinema post-marriage. Was it your choice or because of a lack of opportunities?

When I got married, the conditioning in the film industry and society was such that female actors don't act after marriage. Naturally, I didn't get any offers after marriage. Even though I wanted to be active in cinema, I was just a 23-year-old who wasn't brave enough to challenge such existing notions. Moreover, I was excited about being married and was busy enjoying every phase of it. But after a point, the creative person inside me woke up, and I knew I had to do something to get the creative juices flowing. That's when I got back to doing TV shows. But after a while, I lost the excitement and realised this is not what I wanted to do. I had a lot of doubts and insecurities during that time, and I used to share them with Indran. It was one such casual conversation with him that helped me finally realise what I'm passionate about.

Can you elaborate on your entry into the world of fashion?

I always wanted to pursue a course in fashion design, but since my parents were a bit overprotective, there was no option of moving out of Ernakulam for studies. I eventually did my graduation in mass communication and journalism and got myself busy with TV shows and films. After Prarthana was born, there was a phase when I was pondering over what to do next. That's when I remembered the comments I used to get for my TV shows appreciating my fashion sense. I knew I'd always been passionate about fashion, and I wanted to do something about it. I told Indran about my plans to launch a clothing line for kids. I wanted to start designing for kids because there was a blatant lack of options in the market for them. Indran pushed me to dream bigger and encouraged me to establish a label of my own. Though I initially thought he was joking, I gradually started working on it. Finally, in 2013, I took the leap of faith and launched our brand, Praanah.

The transition from an actor to an entrepreneur might not have been easy...

When I started out, I just had a few ideas about colours, fabrics, and how to mix and match them. Naturally, I went through a lot of failures and made some terrible mistakes. I initially didn't know what the brand wanted and ended up making what the market wanted. There was also a general conception among ordinary people that our designs won't be affordable, which was true because that's how things were then. We were labelled as a celebrity brand endorsed by celebrities, and we continued catering to that market. It was only in 2015, during a self-introspection process, I realised that I didn't have anything from my brand in my own wardrobe. I started questioning where the brand was heading to. 

For a brand to flourish, it should have an identity of its own and connect with customers. Only that can ensure longevity. That's how my tryst with handlooms started, and today I'm proud of our continuous efforts to support weaving, which is unfortunately a dying art. We are also planning to launch a new line of clothing, which will be in tune with the changing trends in the post-pandemic fashion world. Today, when I look back, I'm eternally grateful that I took the gamble to launch the brand. It taught me so many invaluable lessons. The first thing I learned was to say 'no'. I understood that it is your 'nos' that make you. I also realised that the uncertainties of life sometimes can be beautiful.

You seem to be branching out as an actor as well...

Yes, I made my Hindi debut last year with Netflix's Cobalt Blue. I've also completed shooting for two more web shows in Hindi. One is Union, in which I act opposite Kay Kay Menon. The other one is a show titled Kaalapani. Though I'm not very fluent in Hindi, I enjoy the work I do there. I like to put myself out of my comfort zone because only then I can learn and evolve. Most people with whom I work in Bollywood aren't aware of my previous films or my family. So the respect I get there is purely based on my performance, which is what any artist craves.

(With inputs from Vignesh Madhu, Kiran Prakash, Cithara Paul and Krishna PS)

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