'Peranbu has changed people's mentality about trans people'
...says actor Anjali Ameer, who has made her Tamil debut with the Mammootty-starrer Peranbu
A smile of achievement and a dash of coyness is what you first notice when speaking with trans woman actor Anjali Ameer whose debut film, Peranbu, has opened to great reviews. "People have said I did not act like a debutante and I cannot express how happy I'm about that," says Anjali who is on cloud nine for starring alongside Mammootty in her very first film.
"Mammukka, Ram sir, and many from the Tamil and Malayalam industry have wished me well. In a film featuring Mammukka, I'm glad that critics noticed me and mentioned me in their reviews -- especially the scene in which I travel in Amudhavan's cab, and the one in which he berates me. Even people from Rotterdam (where the film premiered) called to wish me, and members of my community were happy with my role too," says Anjali who makes fun of her Tamil that's got a strong Malayalam accent. "My Tamil knowledge can be easily categorised as 'before Peranbu' and 'after Peranbu' (laughs)."
The laughter gets louder when I ask about how she got her acting break. "I was modelling and did a couple of TV shows. Mammootty sir had apparently seen one of my documentaries and suggested me to Ram sir. When I got a call from Mammukka's office during an ad shoot, I thought someone was pulling a prank and did not pay heed," says Anjali, who compares it to the scene from Ghajini involving Asin. "When they called me again, I asked them where they got my contact from, and I got to know that a reputed TV channel gave my number. I cross-checked with the channel who affirmed they were actually calling from Mammukka's office. Following that, I was called in for an audition and I did a screen test," says Anjali.
Despite being a fan of the Aanandha Yaazhai song (from Ram's Thanga Meenkal), she was not familiar with the work of director Ram. "But then I watched Thanga Meenkal, and loved it -- especially the line 'Magalgalai petra appakkalukku mattumdhaan theriyum, muththam kaamathil serthathillai endru' (only fathers with daughters know that kisses aren't born out of lust). But when I knew I was going to be a part of his film, I was a little terrified as his films are very raw. However, Ram sir, just like Chellama's father (in Thanga Meenkal), was like a father to all of us on the sets," says the actor who had stayed at Ram's house with his family during the pre-production stages.
"I love cooking and would cook for his family. Sir enjoyed it even if it was not up to the mark. I suppose that's why he had a scene in the film in which Meera (her character) cooks (laughs). I also learned a lot from Sadhana (who plays the role of a cerebral palsy victim). She's a born talent," shares Anjali.
But Anjali did have her share of hardships as a newcomer. "Ram sir does not have written scripts and has everything in his mind. Just five minutes before the take, he would give me the lines. Without knowing the language, I struggled a bit, but I'm happy to see the end product," says the actor who admits to having learned a lot from Ram. "He would often say that we should not consider the character as a different person but put ourselves in their shoes. He would explain the scene but not tell us how to act. He wanted us to imagine ourselves in that situation and emote accordingly."
Anjali was initially apprehensive of working with Mammootty. "I've heard from some in the Malayalam industry that Mammukka is short-tempered but he was anything but. He's a walking textbook of knowledge and there is a lot to learn from him. The briskness with which he climbs stairs at his age (67) is something even I can't emulate (laughs). Even if his co-stars are not able to pull off a scene in one take, he is extremely patient. He's the first one on the sets and the last to leave. When someone with hundreds of films under his belt does it, that shows much love for the art."
Anjali knew she could trust Ram with a sensitive portrayal. "I've seen Ram sir's films, so I know he would not stigmatise the character. What more can I expect, considering I play the role of the hero's wife in the end? I got a lot of messages of people telling me the film changed their mentality on trans people." She adds, "Good portrayal comes down to the mindset of the directors. Nowadays, we are in reputed professions such as law. But some director might have had a bad experience with a trans person and might just portray us based on that experience." Calling the change in general mindset a welcoming one, Anjali adds, "Not just in the film industry but even in other streams, when people from our community try to live a normal life, they are often subjected to abuse. They don't understand that we too have feelings. Nowadays, there are some who are in a relationship with trans people but society makes fun of that person. Before giving us employment and everything else, society should first give us the space to live."
A fan of Tamil cinema
I watch a lot of Tamil films from the 90s. I love Oru Thalai Ragam, Poove Poochoodava, Munthanai Mudichu and a lot of Mohan sir's films. I also love Ajith sir and I've been crushing on Suriya sir after seeing him in Ghajini.
The actor is now working on a Malayalam film as well as her Telugu debut. "I am looking forward to working more in Tamil cinema as I like it the most. There is a lot of good content coming out and I would like to be a part of it."