Maara is my ode to Kalpana chechi: Abhirami
The actor, a striking presence in the Madhavan-Shraddha Srinath-starrer Maara that's now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, talks about the film
With Virumaandi coming out on Amazon Prime Video, the cast and crew of this classic are back in the spotlight again. For Abhirami though, who settled in the US following the Kamal film’s release, her role in Maara has already made her a topic of conversation. Abhirami, who returned to acting a decade after the release of Virumaandi, has since been cautious about her choice of roles. In Maara, she plays the role of a sex worker, one played to great effect by the late actor Kalpana in the original Malayalam film, Charlie.
How did Maara happen?
Charlie is one of my favourite films in recent times, especially the character of Angel Mary played by Kalpana chechi, who did a phenomenal job. When I was approached, I had no hesitation—it is a beautiful character and I felt it would be my way of paying homage to Kalpana chechi. In fact, I had met her the day before she died. We travelled together on a plane and spoke for hours. She gave me a warm hug before we parted ways. I was shocked to learn of her demise. This character feels like a small way of acknowledging her and her work. I hope people don't compare our characters, as I cannot hold a candle to her.
Did you take notes from Charlie to play your character?
Not really. Selvi (her character) has been conceived differently here. For starters, she is a lot younger and hasn't approached a sense of finality to her life like Angel Mary. Dhilip painted quite a clear picture in our conversations—how he expected Selvi to come across was quite clear to me. It was a pleasure to play off Maddy and Guru's performances. The challenge was how this character is drunk in almost 90 per cent of all her scenes. It was important for me to present her conviction without overdoing the drunkenness.
How do you see the industry having changed from your Virumandi days?
When I was working in the early 2000s, we didn't have monitors and were shooting in film. Now, it has all changed, and we can redo our shots based on the output. More people are able to make films today. The storytelling techniques have changed as well, because not all films are made for theatres. The emphasis on larger-than-life characters has reduced as well. More women are coming into the industry and not just in front of the camera.
Our industry has a long history of being accused of not giving chances to homegrown talents. What's your take on it?
It is absolutely correct. Our industry is notorious for being partial towards those with fairer skin. I don't know if it's unfair to Tamil talent, but I think it seems that way because when you chase fairer skin, you usually don’t end up with someone here.
Doing films in your own language makes it easier to perform as an actor. When I initially acted in Telugu or Kannada films, I struggled. The same must have happened with actors like Simran and Jyotika, who had to put in so much effort to learn the language—like I did with Telugu and Kannada. Their performance became better over time once they got comfortable with the language. This fixation with fair skin is not restricted to the film industry; it's a pan-India phenomenon. People sometimes say, “Ava karuppu, aanalum azhagu.” People shouldn't be judged on the basis of their skin colour. When you show darker-skinned women on screen, young girls find relatable idols. It's important to normalise dark skin. I hope the current generation of filmmakers are more conscientious of this and understand the effects of it on our youngsters.
As someone who has worked across all four South languages, do you see any progress in roles being written for women today?
It is better than what it was. Though I am not familiar with what's happening in Telugu and Kannada cinema, I can see that at least in Tamil and Malayalam, it is getting better. There are more female-centric films coming out. In Tamil, Jyotika, Nayanthara, Samantha, and many more are doing such amazing work. Today, it has also become okay for married women to come and work in the industry. This is a fight that has been going on for a long time and not just in the film industry. It is important that women have the same space and voice as men do in all walks of life.
What is next on your plate?
I am currently in talks with a director here in the US for a short story series. We are planning to commence the shoot soon. In India, I haven't taken up more projects because I am not sure when I can safely travel there. I do have plans on making a comeback though, and once I'm there, it would be easy for me to coordinate. For now, my priority is the health of my family. Hopefully, this year, we get the vaccines figured out, and I can return soon.
Hero: Always Kamal Haasan sir. I also like Vijay Sethupathi
Heroine: Sridevi ma'am and Urvashi ma'am
Recent favourite film: Kumbalangi Nights, Thappad, Super Deluxe, Paava Kadhaigal
Most unforgettable role: Virumaandi is always special. Maara too
Dream role: Nothing in specific. The more unique a character, the better