Moothon actor Melissa Raju Thomas: Without any godfathers, it's not going to be easy in the industry
Debutant Melissa Raju Thomas talks about her experiences acting in the upcoming film, Moothon, and her future career prospects
Some time ago, inside a dance bar at Malad, Mumbai, Poonam is gyrating her hips. She has kohl-rimmed eyes, red lipstick, hoop earrings, long hair, and is dressed in a bluish-green lehenga-choli. She is dancing to ‘One Two Three Four’ from the Shah Rukh Khan film, Chennai Express. She swirls her hair from side to side. The strobe lights on the ceiling are going clockwise and anti-clockwise. The mostly-male audience claps and shouts. A few throw hundred rupee notes at Poonam.
At one side of the bar, two women are watching intently but silently. One is the Mollywood director Geetu Mohandas, while the other is the debutant actor Melissa Raju Thomas. The reason is simple: in Geetu’s bilingual film, Moothon, Melissa plays a bar dancer.
As she watches Poonam, Melissa is struck by the lack of expression on her face. “There was no happiness or sadness,” says Melissa. “I got the feeling she was just doing a job. Even her smile was mechanical.”
Later Melissa met Poonam and the latter confirmed that it was only a means to earn a living. “Poonam thought that I wanted to get into it, so she told me to stay away,” says Melissa. “That moment stayed with me.”
In the film, Melissa is a village girl based in Lakshadweep. And because of an element of magic realism in the film, she also plays a mermaid. But the shoot was a tough one. “I put a fishtail, so my legs were restricted,” says Melissa. The shoot was done 15 feet below the surface of a pool in Mumbai. There were divers nearby who would give Melissa the oxygen mask. But a few moments before the shooting began, they would take it away. “I managed for about 45 seconds or so to hold my breath,” she says. When Melissa could no longer do so, she would make a sign and the divers would come and reattach the oxygen tube.
Moothon stars Nivin Pauly and Roshan Mathews, and the tale is of a boy who goes in search of his elder brother in Mumbai. As for Melissa, it has been a learning experience. “One day, seeing me looking tense, Nivin told me to relax,” she says. “I realised that taking it easy is better than getting immersed in my lines and doing too much thinking. Instead, it was important to be in the present and react naturally to what was happening in the scene.”
Melissa is the daughter of an Army officer Raju Onattu Thomas. Thanks to her father’s transferable job, she grew up in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, and Nagaland. But at age 13, her family relocated to Thiruvananthapuram, and later, Melissa was selected for the Asianet Plus VJ Hunt Reality Show. She anchored the popular show Valkannadi for two years. After her class ten, she got a scholarship to study in Singapore, and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
“Studying in Singapore changed me as a person,” she says. “The society is very competitive. To stand out, you had to work hard. And there is a culture of meritocracy that I liked very much. If you are good, you are rewarded.”
Melissa also liked the emphasis on physical education and fitness. “So you tend to go for a workout or a run every other day,” says Melissa. “That is something that our Indians schools should focus on, especially with our rising stress levels.”
It was in NUS that she studied theatre, acted in a few plays and got hooked onto acting. And now, she feels happy about her decision to concentrate on acting. Moothon received appreciation when it was screened, last month, at the Toronto Film Festival. The film, which is produced by noted Bollywood director Anurag Kashyap, who also wrote the Hindi dialogues, is slated for a November release. Now Melissa is halfway through a shoot for Bejoy Nambiar’s next film, Taish. Asked whether she was settling in for a career in Bollywood, Melissa says, “It depends on how things work out. It is a complicated industry and since I am an outsider, without any godfathers, it is not going to be easy.”
She says she also has a keen interest in scriptwriting as well as direction. She may have a talent in that direction. Melissa wrote the script for a short film called Faded, which was released on HumaraMovie, a leading YouTube channel and garnered more than two million views. “Story-telling is what I love the most,” says Melissa, who has acted in numerous TV commercials.