Manju Warrier: I wanted to be in Asuran even without listening to the script
The Malayalam actor, whose Tamil debut has come out to rave reviews talks about working with Dhanush and Vetri Maaran
It is hard not to notice Malayalam actor Manju Warrier's strong command over the Tamil language. As we sit down to talk about the success of her debut Tamil film, Asuran, she begins by explaining why she is great at Tamil speaking. "I was born and brought up in Nagercoil. Paththu vayasu varaikum ange dhaan irunthen. So, Tamil nallaave theriyum," she says.
Excerpts from the conversation:
You have spoken about why you haven't been able to commit to a Tamil film earlier despite many offers. Why was that?
There were different reasons. I wanted to do a few films but there were date issues. For some films, I was not in agreement with the script. Some were not satisfactory at all. I didn't even know some directors thought of me for a role in their film. Only after the release, would I come to know that they felt I would have been a good addition to it. I believe that whatever that is meant to happen, will happen. Dhanush sir himself had called me for a few of his films, but they didn't work out for various reasons. One day, he called me for Asuran, but this time, everything fell into place.
We heard that you watched all the Dhanush-Vetri Maaran films.
Oh, yes. I have always been a fan of Dhanush sir and Vetri Maaran sir. Their combination has given amazing results. When I knew they were coming together once again, I really wanted to be a part of the film without even knowing the story. But then, Dhanush sir insisted that I listen to the script first. It was an instant yes from me.
Vekkai, the novel Asuran is based on, has a strong aunt character apart from the mother character. Vetri had linked both of it for your character, Pachaiyammal. Did you get to read the novel?
No, but I know that Vetri sir always gives a strong personality to his female characters irrespective of their screen time. He calls Asuran as his first family film and like everywhere, a woman is the backbone of the family. Vetri concentrated more on Sivasami's character but more than the other female leads in his films, the personality and individuality for Pachaiyammal is more layered. Even when we were shooting, the crew was saying that this was the first time a female character is made to be part of many powerful situations. I feel proud and fortunate to be able to play Pachaiyammal.
Was the role, and the Nellai accent, a challenge for you?
I went to the sets as a blank sheet. Whatever the director wanted to write on it is what we see on screen. So the credit should go to Vetri sir, my co-actors and the crew. They all played a part in bringing Pachaiyammal alive. I don't think I can personally relate to her and I think that's the best part of being an actor -- we can play roles that are poles apart from who we are. The only thing I had to do was look convincing.
After your comeback with How Old Are You, all your films have been appreciated in Kerala. How has Asuran been accepted?
The response is amazing and it's not even because I am a part of it. Vetri sir and Dhanush sir's films have a huge fan following in Kerala. I am sure even the rest of India is as excited. My filmmaker friends were more excited than me. They all went, "Are you serious? Say yes to it first before breaking it to us (laughs)." Almost all of my friends caught the show on the first day and they all said I am lucky to be a part of the film.
Kamal Hassan shared his appreciation of you after watching the film.
He really enjoyed the film and said we have done a good job. He spoke more about the message in the film and how important it is. He said that the word 'caste' should not even be in the dictionary and kids in the coming generation should not know about the word.
How do you see the Tamil industry where a star's presence in a film makes it a huge project instantly, as opposed to Malayalam films where an established star is allowed to do smaller films?
Box office, technicalities and terms laam enakku perusaa theriyathu. But I am sure it's not the state. For example, Ajith sir did a Nerkonda Paarvai recently where the content was the focus. Brilliant filmmakers and actors will understand the value of such projects. I am glad that such actors are looking at the bigger picture. That said, the business aspects of a film should also be taken into consideration. They want to give films that entertain the masses. If content-driven films are successful, filmmakers would be encouraged to fo more films like that. Asuran, which has a star like Dhanush in it and also carries a strong message, is a good example of the sort of films that need to be encouraged.
Your films have been remade in Tamil and you have also been a part of many remakes. How do you see them?
(Smiles) I really enjoyed 36 Vayadhinile. There were a few changes but Jyotika did a fabulous job and I loved it. Interestingly, my next film, Prathi Poovankozhi, is also directed by the same director Rosshan Andrrews.
When can we see you again in a Tamil film?
I am looking forward to doing good Tamil films with good actors and directors. I am waiting to see what's coming my way.