Manju Warrier: Audience appreciation matters more than awards
The actor on the nationwide recognition for Marakkar and Asuran, her foray into horror with The Priest and Chathurmukham, and more
With 2021 bringing good tidings for Manju Warrier — Marakkar won the National award for best film, Asuran for best Tamil feature, and The Priest and Chathurmukham did solid business in theatres — I ask her if she regards the year as her best. "Well, I see every year the same way. Yes, I'm happy with all the acknowledgement, but each year has its trials and tribulations too," she shares.
"When Asuran came out, I was overwhelmed by all the praise, and now the film getting nationwide recognition brings me more joy. But at the end of the day, it's audience appreciation that matters more to me. When you take a film like Asuran, I don't think anyone made it with the hope of getting an award. When we got one, it felt like a bonus," she adds.
Excerpts from a conversation with the actor:
The Priest and Chathurmukham are doing well in theatres. I heard you shot for the latter first. Did your experience on Chathurmukham encourage you to do one more horror film?
No, doing two horror films and the fact that they were released within a month of each other is just a coincidence. Chathurmukham was supposed to be out last year, before The Priest. But then, there was a delay due to the pandemic, and The Priest ended up getting released first. Though both are of the same genre, they have different stories and characters. I think that's why they worked. The aim of every film is to ensure a good experience for the viewer, and I believe both films were able to achieve that.
I heard that you shot for the climax of The Priest first. Did you shoot for Chathurmukham in the order it was written?
Not exactly. Like any other film, there were some changes here and there, but it was on The Priest that I shot for the climax first. That was a new experience for me and it was quite a challenge. Figuring out the correct emotional arc of the character and the resolution was achieved after multiple discussions with the writers and directors.
Both films have VFX and sound effects playing an integral part.
Given that we have an audience familiar with international cinema who can tell the difference between good and weak visual effects, we had to be extra cautious. Every crew member put in a lot of effort.
Chathurmukham presents a lot of fresh ideas hitherto unexplored in Malayalam cinema in the horror genre. Was there ever a concern of how the audiences would respond to them?
Not at all. The prospect of acting in a horror film for the first time was in and of itself exciting. And the fact that these two directors (Ranjeet Kamala Sankar and Salil V) and their writers (Abhayakumar and Anil Kurian) came up with novel horror concepts free of the usual cliches only amplified that excitement.
Did this factor also compel you to become the film's co-producer?
I made that choice when Chathurmukham was nearing completion. I was confident about the film turning out well.
In Chathurmukham, your character is a social media addict. What about you?
I don't use it a lot; it's mostly for work. Yes, there is the occasional scrolling and replying to comments, but that's about it.
You have lately signed the films of several debutant filmmakers. Do you find newcomers to be more convincing with their story pitches?
I wouldn't say I give newcomers more consideration. It's just that after interacting with them, you get an idea of the inner spark driving them and that gives you the trust and confidence to go ahead with their projects.
You are starring in and producing your brother Madhu Warrier's directorial debut, Lalitham Sundaram. Did he struggle a lot to get the film greenlit?
Well, he was working on another script before Lalitham Sundaram for a long time, but it didn't materialise for various reasons. Lalitham Sundaram has been in the works for two years. In fact, Chathurmukham was in development way before that. Ranjeet and Salil have been working on it for some years.
After seeing your performance in Asuran, many wondered why you didn't enter Tamil cinema sooner. Have you been getting a lot of offers from Tamil?
Yes. But because I did Asuran, I have to be very careful when it comes to my next Tamil project. It has to be either something better than Asuran or on par with it. I'm still waiting for it.
Now that you've done horror, any chance of seeing you in a full-fledged action role?
(Laughs) Well, I've been approached for the same by some. Speaking of, I had to do a few stunts - not the hitting type - in The Priest and Chathurmukham. For me, that was like a trial run. A lot of new things are happening in my life. I mean, I never thought I would act in a horror film one day. Let's see.
Do you see the audience response to the recent spate of thrillers as a good sign?
Yes, it's encouraging to see films like Nayattu and Joji getting a lot of appreciation. And the fact that there are filmmakers daring to experiment in Malayalam cinema is definitely a good thing.
You are an inspirational figure for many. Recently, a picture of yours went viral, and your fans expressed admiration for your style and the way you break certain conventions.
It's not something I do consciously. I don't know how to explain it. I believe inspiration is within everyone, and sometimes what I or someone else does emboldens others.
You recently spoke about your mother's kathakali arangettam (debut performance) and her writing. Would you say she is your inspiration?
Well, she inspires me the way all mothers do their children, irrespective of her achievements. I'm sure what she does inspires me both unconsciously and otherwise. She, too, has inspiration within her.
Marakkar is your next release. What's coming after that?
Santosh Sivan's Jack and Jill. It's a mix of science fiction, thriller, and revenge. The fact that it's a Santosh Sivan film is one of its USPs. I'm also making my Hindi debut with Amrikki Pandit, with R Madhavan. The shoot for that is going on at the moment in Bhopal.