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Memes keep you in people’s memory: Manjima Mohan- Cinema express

Memes keep you in people’s memory: Manjima Mohan 

The actor is set to have her first Tamil release in almost a year and a half with Gautham Karthik-starrer Devarattam, which is slated to hit the screens on May 1  

Published: 28th April 2019

With Avengers: Endgame fever gripping everyone, I ask Manjima Mohan how it feels to compete with the biggest film of the year with her comeback project -- Devarattam -- after a year-and-a-half. She laughs. “There's no question of competition. Personally, I am not a big Avengers or Marvel fan, but seeing this craze, I have now started to watch all the prior films. It’s a significantly bigger film.”

Manjima is coming back after a significant break. “I didn’t intend to take a break. Both Sathriyan and Ippadai Vellum released in the same year as Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada(AYM). Then, I signed for a project like Zam Zam, which I think kept me out of releases for a while.” 

Ideally, wouldn’t playing the lead role in the Queen remake bring her more roles? “I was shooting in France for 50-60 days and did get a lot of offers. But the dates kept clashing with my shoot schedule and I had to refuse them. The problem in our industry is that once you say no to some films, word travels that you are choosy in selecting a script or are concentrating on films of other languages, even if that isn’t the case.”

Did things improve after she finished shooting? “I returned after shoot, and no one called me. When they did, the offers I got were female-centric roles akin to Zam Zam. I had to reject them," she says. "See, I am not a brand who can sell a film on my own. I don’t have that reach here in Tamil. Someone once told me that when I enter a room of ten people, all ten should recognise me. Right now, I think it's three or four. It was around April/May last year that I got Devarattam.”

She is candid that she took the film because she didn’t have any opening at that point. “I received a call from KE Gnanavel Raja saying director Muthiah wanted to cast me in his film, and given my state then, I accepted without a second thought." Further, the actor reveals yet another reason, "Earlier, Muthiah sir approached me with a script similar to the genre that Sathriyan was and I had to say no. He then told me about this other script in hand and how he would definitely come back to get me on board. He stayed true to his word. I just had to say yes. It was destiny.”

According to Manjima, due to previous experiences, the period between committing to Devarattam and actually going for shoot was 'hellish'. “You see, I had committed to a few films between AYM and Sathriyan/Ippadai Vellum. In two of the projects, I got replaced due to reasons, including the hero wanting to cast an established face. Then, two projects, one with Vishnu Vishal and Udhayanidhi Stalin, and the other with just Vishnu, got dropped," she says. "I couldn’t handle it. So after signing up for Devarattam, I was waiting for the first day’s shoot to get over to heave a sigh of relief. What if the project got dropped? What if the film didn’t release? I still have no answers to these questions, and such insecurities are still there. I don’t take anything for granted.”

Devarattam was narrated to her over a phone call. “Muthiah sir was honest. He said that unlike Komban, which was about the relationship between the lead pair, Devarattam is based more on the brother-sister relationship. However, he assured that all my scenes would be intense, and my role would definitely be a turning point for the film.”

She is happy to have worked with the film's team. “Whenever you sign a film, you know the team is your second family because you are going to be with them for 30-40 days. Though Gautham took a few days to get into the groove, soon after he did, it was a riot. The director and AD team only spoke Madurai Tamil. I would listen intently, and not understand anything. But I learnt the language quite fast, in about two-three months, and if I am speaking well enough in Tamil now, all credit should go to them.”

She came through the ranks back home in Kerala -- from a child actor to debuting as a heroine in the Nivin Pauly-starrer Oru Vadakkan Selfie, and yet, she isn’t doing any Malayalam films. Even her recent Malayalam film, Mikhael, had her in a short role. “It is funny. After Oru Vadakkan Selfie, there was this opinion doing the rounds that I couldn’t act. Yet here, in Tamil, an acclaimed director last month told me he wanted to cast me in his first film after watching that film. There were a lot of memes about my lack of acting ability. When I won the Filmfare, all these memes changed to compliments. Memes are so important in narratives now. No memes means no memory of you.”

As a daughter of a famous cinematographer, does she ever want to go behind the camera? “For cinematography, no. But for directing, yes. My father once told me a story which I want to make a film out of. So when I am on sets and in between breaks, I keep observing everything around me. I also watch a lot of behind the scenes videos like Wonder Woman and 2.0 to understand and learn more.”

What next after Devarattam? “I have a Jiiva-Arulnithi film coming up in Tamil. I have tried my hand in comedy for the first time. In Malayalam, of course, I am awaiting the release of Zam Zam.”  

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