Humans are the worst creatures on the planet: Keerthi Pandian
The actress and Darshan discuss their roles in the recent children’s film, Thumbaa, that aims to spread awareness about the preservation of the natural world
Stories written around animals have traditionally proven to result in safe films. We have seen films around dogs, elephants and monkeys, but in last week’s release, Thumbaa, young actors Darshan and Keerthi Pandian shared screen space with a computer-generated tiger. “Puli-a paathaale oru geththu irukkum. If I had to be born a wild animal, I’d want nothing better than to live as a tiger," says Darshan. Keerthi likes lions better. “I even have a tattoo of one on my back. Lionesses are emotional; I think of it as my soul animal," she says.
For Darshan, it was the excitement of being part of a children’s film that made him pick Thumbaa. On the other hand, director Harish Ram LH's clarity convinced Keerthi. She says, "I had been waiting for a good script to debut with. Harish cautioned me that the film would involve a lot of pre-production work and that I would have to undergo acting workshops along with other actors like Darshan and Dheena. I was totally game; a film like this deserved such preparation.”
There were acting workshops, script reading sessions and staging sessions, before shooting could begin. This process, according to Darshan, saved them much time and money. "We were able to complete the entire film in only 32 days. If we hadn’t prepared well, it could have so easily taken more than 100 days." Though trained in theatre, Keerthi doesn’t think it gave her an advantage over the others. “This space, and the people, were entirely different. I learned many new lessons."
Shooting in a real jungle proved to be a different ball game though. “The chase sequences were demanding, as we had to run over slippery rocks and shrubs. We slipped multiple times, but always went on till the director said cut,” Keerthi says. Darshan adds that the entire experience was exciting for this reason. "We had to run for our lives for this film. The crew kept us motivated and energised.”
Though made for children, the central theme of Thumbaa — of forest conservation and wildlife preservation — is for the adults. Both actors feel strongly about this. Keerthi believes that exploitation of natural resources is the reason behind ecological imbalance and extinction of many animals. "We are the worst of all creatures on earth. It is sad that we continue to create technologies that destroy the environment. People have become self-centric and they hardly think about the fate of future generations," she says. Darshan is glad that Thumbaa is creating a positive influence on the audience. "However, our film isn’t preachy. We just wanted the audience to go, “Ada! Ipdi pannaale, animals-a save panalame!"
While Keerthi is the daughter of actor-producer Arun Pandian, she shares that she had to fight her own battles and earn her role in Thumbaa. "In no audition have I shared that I am his daughter," she says, "This isn’t about my ego; it is just the notion that I should get things I truly deserve." She does recognise though that she gets some privileges — like insulation from sexual predators. "They eventually find out who I am, and stop messing with me after that. But that isn't the case for my other female friends, who have faced many bad experiences."
The actor, in fact, broke down at a promotional event while recalling her bitter experiences with filmmakers in the past. "I wanted to speak about this issue of body-shaming, which has been prevalent in the industry and I thank director Harish for instilling a great amount of confidence in me. I'm a person who has performed a monologue against body shaming more than twenty times on stage and I believed I had total confidence in my appearance. I didn't think even I could be pressured into feeling bad about myself."
She feels change is ultimately in the hands of the audience. "Filmmakers claim to echo the taste of Tamil viewers, but I believe our audience has changed a lot over the years. That explains why there are quite a few films about women, these days."