Aditi Balan: I have spent the last few years understanding the film industry
Aditi Balan, who made a wildly successful debut with Aruvi, speaks about her debut Malayalam film, Cold Case, and the type of roles that excite her
One of the ‘cold cases’ in recent Tamil cinema can be said to be the seeming inactivity of actor Aditi Balan after her dream debut in the 2017 film, Aruvi. Four years after that film, Aditi is yet to feature in her second Tamil feature film, with her only appearance so far being in the Nalan Kumarasamy-directed segment in the anthology, Kutty Story.
She appears now to have an impressive lineup of films, including this week’s release, the Malayalam film, Cold Case, set to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Wednesday. While her previous outing was in the hot favourite genre right now—an anthology—Cold Case is a direct-to-OTT release. Aditi says, "The gap after Aruvi might seem quite long for a lot of people, but for me, it was just a way to understand cinema. I used the time to learn things and figure out what I wanted to do in cinema. But yes, it isn't like I have figured it out completely either."
The trailer of Cold Case shows a cop, a clairvoyant, a child who sees things… Where do you fit among all these characters?
I play the role of an investigative journalist. You must have seen that small kid who ‘sees’ things… she is my daughter in the film. Both Prithviraj and I have parallel tracks of investigation, and our searches converge at a point.
Unlike in Aruvi where you shouldered the whole film, Cold Case has you sharing responsibilities with a superstar like Prithviraj...
After Aruvi, many thought I wouldn’t want to do films that would feature me in smaller, even if important, roles. At the end of the day, it is the script that matters. The impact of a role has nothing to do with its duration. So, when I read Cold Case, I knew Prithviraj had a separate track. But the script came first, and the treatment of how horror and thriller is mixed in this story pulled me into the film.
Did your previous career as a lawyer come in handy while preparing for the role of an investigative journalist?
More than being a lawyer, my personal character traits came of use while working on Cold Case. I am an inquisitive person, and in fact, as a child, I wanted to be a detective. So, this curiosity to know helped me belong in this film.
There is a strong supernatural vibe about Cold Case. Do you believe in such things?
Not really. That’s what made Cold Case a challenge worth taking on. I had to emote for something I strongly don’t believe in. However, this conflict of my personal belief system and my acting choices resulted in a problem. I didn’t know how much “scared” was enough. You see, a horror film has its own meter of how scared a character should be when facing the supernatural. I wasn’t sure if my performance fit the meter of ‘horror film scared,’ so that was quite tough.
As tough as refuting industry gossip that you were rejecting all the scripts that came your way?
(Laughs) That was a barrier, yes, and it made filmmakers wary of approaching me with scripts. The truth is, I didn’t want to do similar roles and get stereotyped early in my career.
Did this absence after your successful debut make you feel a sense of insecurity?
More than that, I felt a lot of pressure. I was rather new to the industry and didn’t quite understand how it functioned. Aruvi propelled me too soon, and I hadn’t expected it. The film became the standard on which I would be judged, and it became a responsibility to figure out what I would do next.
Is that why you seem to be choosing variety now, given that you are working across languages like Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu?
Somewhere deep within me, I feared being repetitive. That is why I am now seeking films across languages. After Cold Case, I am doing the Malayalam film, Padavettu. And then, there is Navarasa in Tamil, and Shaakuntalam in Telugu. Working in films across languages is advantageous to my career, I think, as it helps bring out a new facet of my performance. A small change in dialogue delivery can cause a change in the performance too. I would hate for people to recognise me from my previous films.
Your admirers in Tamil cinema have missed you in the feature film format. Both Kutty Story and your upcoming Navarasa are anthologies...
I too miss it. Kutty Story happened because I wanted to work with Vijay Sethupathi sir and Nalan sir. And when Navarasa came my way, I couldn’t say no. It was a project by Mani Ratnam sir and directed by Vasanth sir. It was a great script, and I got to work with Delhi Ganesh sir. It was a wonderful experience, and I see both shorts as experiential projects. I do want to be part of more feature films, and I’m waiting for something interesting to come my way.
As someone finding her feet in both OTT and theatre releases, how do you see this whole evolution of content and the medium of its exhibition?
I think OTT is great. The kind of content being chosen by many of these platforms is so varied. With web series, there is plenty of freedom to tell different stories with distinct characters. That said, however, genres like horror and thriller do lend to a theatre experience, I think. In fact, Cold Case was not made with the knowledge that it could be an OTT release. But in these challenging times, OTT is all we have. In the future, we will have different films releasing in different formats, and this results in more avenues for actors.
The success of your debut, Aruvi, with so many newcomers at the centre, was an important moment in Tamil cinema, especially when it comes to how roles are written for women...
Actually, even before Aruvi, we had Jyothika ma'am in 36 Vayadhiniley and Andrea in Taramani. These were well-written women characters that stood over and above the usual roles written for women. I’m glad this evolution is happening. We can only go forward from here, and it helps actors like me get good scripts.
Finally… any early fatigue of being approached mainly for roles that are intense and brooding?
Oh, I would love to do a comedy. It is my dream, in fact. In real life, I am quite the funny, jolly person… However, filmmakers seem to be looking at me only for intense, serious roles, as you say. So yes, let me put it out there through this conversation that if someone were looking for an actor to play comedy roles… do consider me.