Anna Ben: I never expected people to notice me or my character in Kumbalangi Nights
The debutant talks about working in Kumbalangi Nights and the unexpected response to her character, Babymol
There’s a scene in Kumbalangi Nights where Babymol (Anna Ben) sees Bobby (Shane Nigam) for the first time and immediately confides in her friend about Bobby being her childhood crush. She portrays recognition, excitement, subtle shyness, and mischievousness all at once, thereby building up layers to a simple scene. Lending herself to Babymol came easily to debutant Anna Ben.
“Initially Babymol was a shell — she existed just as an outline that Syam Pushkaran and Madhu Narayanan narrated to me — and then evolved into a fleshed-out character as the film progressed. They understood the person I am and let me add my own elements to her. So, the Babymol you see towards the end of the film is partly me and partly the shell. That’s how I think I brought a difference to the character,” says Anna.
A whopping success at the theatres, Kumbalangi Nights continues to be praised for its fresh take and rich scriptwriting embellished by characters played to perfection. Anna says she knew the film was really good but was quite taken aback by its unexpected success. “It is surreal. I never expected people to notice me or my character,” she says.
Anna, who hails from Vypin, was already familiar with Kumbalangi. “We see girls like Babymol all the time. She is modern and traditional simultaneously. She’s rooted, with her own point-of-view, like us. When Syam narrated the character to me, her clarity of thought, views on religion, and dialogues were all relatable. She sticks to her opinion, but at the same time isn’t arrogant. Baby is influenced by movies, like I am, considering my background,” says the actor, who is the daughter of scenarist Benny P Nayarambalam.
Her father who had never seen his daughter exhibit any signs of acting was rather astonished and thrilled on seeing her breathe life into Babymol. “Even when I got a call back from the audition, I confided only in my mother who was apprehensive about my dad’s reaction. She was really into it: she accompanied me for my auditions, was present throughout my shoots. Eventually, dad was informed. He knew the theme was good, but didn’t expect me to perform well,” she says.
Anna feels all praise for her character must be bestowed on her team. “Honestly, I didn’t have to think a lot. I was briefed about most scenes on the very day of the shoot. There was absolutely no worries or tension on the sets. The whole atmosphere was very relaxed — it was like being welcomed into a new group of friends,” she says.
Having studied BSc Fashion and Apparel Design at St Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, and worked in Bengaluru for a year, one day, Anna responded to Aashiq Abu’s casting call for Kumbalangi Nights on Instagram.
“There were four rounds of auditions. Post selection, I had a one-on-one with Dileesh Pothan (the producer). He explained emotions and made me enact situations. If at all I’ve done something great, its because of the guidance I received,” she says.
With superb chemistry, Babymol and Bobby had audiences rooting for them. “I met Shane for the first time on the set. A ball of energy, he would break into impromptu dances at regular intervals. We became friends easily — we’re of the same age, with similar interests. This was translated on screen and so the combination scenes were rather easy,” says Anna.
Her most memorable scene, however, features Fahadh. “Working with him was magic. It was difficult to understand if he was acting. Once the camera starts rolling, he switches into character instantly. He would become Shammi in seconds,” she says.
Anna has set her heart on a career in cinema. “I can’t think of anything else which gives me so much joy. But I want to complete my post-graduation too. The best thing about our time is that we have the capacity to do multiple things, have multiple interests and pursue all of them simultaneously,” she signs off.