Anna Ben: Everything still feels new to me
The actor talks about her work so far, her father's approach to screenwriting, her new film Sara's, and more
It's not every day that you see an actor who, within two years of their debut, appeared in three consecutive films that, in addition to earning critical acclaim, placed the said actor on the pan-Indian radar. But Anna Ben, despite being in such an enviable position, prefers to approach every film as though it's her first. "For me, everything still feels very new," she says. "I'm still at the start of my career, and for a long time, that's how I'm going to think. I'm still experimenting with characters I have not tried before. Besides, every film set is different because every director has a different style. You are learning and unlearning on every film."
Ahead of the July 5 premiere of her new film, Sara's, directed by Jude Anthany Joseph, on Amazon Prime Video, the actor talked to us about her work so far, her father's approach to screenwriting, the reduced number of feel-good films in Malayalam cinema lately, and more.
Kumbalangi Nights and Kappela had you playing a protagonist dealing with flawed men. When you did the latter, did you at any point feel your performance in KN might influence your performance in Kappela?
No, I didn't feel that way precisely because they are two diametrically opposite characters. I would say Babymol is much closer to me as a person than all the characters I've done so far, and I think that's why they chose me for that part. The character in Kappela is very much unlike me, and since I had that as a focus point, it worked well for me.
Helen belongs to a genre (survival thriller) rarely explored in Malayalam cinema. What was your thought process when you picked it?
It was challenging, especially since it's my second film. But the thought of doing something of that scale was exciting for me. We shot it in an actual freezer, an idea that proved to be very difficult for the actors and technical team. Besides, it's already a high-pressure environment given that we had a deadline to meet and had to think about wrapping up everything on time. We made it after consulting a lot of medical experts, considering the heavy risk factor involved. We didn't want to compromise our health. As there were health professionals on set to supervise everything, we felt very safe. Fortunately, it turned out well because we had a great team.
You have appeared in music videos before your debut. Did that prepare you to face the camera?
Well, that was a relatively more casual experience because I was already friends with the people who made them. No shyness there, you see. But when you take something like Kumbalangi Nights, it's different because we are talking senior professionals, big actors... it's serious stuff. It was not scary for me, though.
Writer Syam Pushkaran is known for his hands-on approach. He is always on the set supervising the actors' performances. Could you describe that experience?
I found his method familiar because my dad (scenarist Benny P Nayarambalam) is that way too. He was always on the set of every film he wrote. I've seen how effective that is because the writer and director are in the same space, and you see that everything is getting communicated better. So I think that's an excellent way to make a film. But I don't think everyone must follow the same approach. It works really well for some people. Syamettan does it beautifully.
Is your dad of the opinion that every writer should get more involved in the process?
Well, for him, that was the best approach. He felt his ideas got reflected much better when he was on the set. And he likes the whole atmosphere of filmmaking -- being on set with the director and the crew. It gives a lot of momentum. He enjoyed seeing his scripts come to life up close. Even now, when he has a project, he makes sure that he goes to the set.
Do you have a favourite film written by him?
There are a few. I love watching Kalyana Raman. It's such a feel-good entertainer that always makes everybody laugh. I think that's what we need, especially in a time like this. Most of his films like Kalyana Raman, Chanthupottu, and Thommanum Makkalum are worth revisiting occasionally.
Prithviraj recently told us that we are missing happy films. Do you do as well?
Very much. We need all kinds of films, and our industry has been churning out some great films in all genres lately. But those films with more drama, songs, and humour have reduced in number today. I would say Sara's is something in the middle of all that. It has a balance of everything.
What's Sara's about -- and when did you shoot for it?
Sara's has a message which, hopefully, gets communicated well. In a nutshell, it's about a woman's individuality, her choices, and how you don't have to force a woman to make her decisions when she is capable of doing that on her own. It's very relevant, especially in our culture where people are always telling us what to do. It's a small, humorous, lighthearted story with family dynamics: father-daughter, husband-wife, friends, and so on. We shot it during the short window we got after the first lockdown got lifted, with lots of restrictions and risks involved. Fortunately, we managed to finish without anyone getting sick.
You recently completed Aashiq Abu's Naradan. What can you tell us about it?
It was an exciting project since Aashiq ettan is someone I look up to. It's a media-related story in which I play a lawyer with a strong personality. It was also a challenge, considering the big names involved.
You have also expressed in the past your wish to pursue a post-graduation degree.
Well, I still haven't managed to find the time to do that. I had a couple of acting assignments to finish first. Then the pandemic started, and two years went by just like that. (laughs) I haven't even decided what I want to do for PG. I'm taking some time to figure that out. But that's definitely in the plan, although I'm not sure when.