Complacency, cockroaches, and curtailed freedom - The fears of Siddharth and Parvathy
Actors Siddharth and Parvathy, while talking about Inmai, their upcoming short from Navarasa that's themed on fear, broach various topics including cancel culture, the short film format, and more
It’s fascinating how “bayam” (fear), one of the nine rasas, can either be the foundation or the aftermath of any of the other eight rasas. Fear is what drives many forward; fear is what holds many back. It is this emotion that actors Siddharth, Parvathy, and director Rathindran Prasad focus on in Inmai, one of nine shorts from the upcoming Netflix anthology, Navarasa. Two seemingly fearless voices from Indian cinema uniting to make a film on fear does have a delightful ring to it. Here are Siddharth and Parvathy discussing their many fears:
Excerpts from the conversation:
Is acting in a new medium and a new format—a short film in an anthology—any different from working in a feature film? Is there a fear of the new?
Siddharth (S): Our work is what happens between the words, “action” and “cut”. There is no major difference in what we do across formats. Films are a director's medium, and we are just instruments. It is their process that changes. For technicians and writers, there’s a change. For actors, not really.
Parvathy (P): What matters for me are the conversations I have with my director, writer, co-actors… Feature films or short films, I’ll have the same number of conversations. Also, fear is an emotion I have not explored before in my career. So, this too was a reason to say yes.
The film was shot during the lockdown with a lot of restrictions. Was there a fear that things might not fall into place as expected?
S: When we finished the script, Parvathy was our first choice. But we weren’t sure if we could bring her to Chennai during the lockdown. Luckily, we got her onboard. Showcasing fear on screen is a lot about how a person reacts to it. Inmai wouldn't be the film it is if not for Parvathy’s excellent performance.
Both of you are known for your strong opinions. While it’s refreshing, do people in cinema see you in the same light? Is there perhaps a fear of being over-scrutinised or judged by your peers?
S: There are so many opinions on how we should behave like actors. But we don't keep them in mind. We have the exposure, sensibility, and responsibility, of being an actor, a creator, and a citizen. We seek to communicate our opinions without fear.
P: We can’t help it. We want to be good citizens and good actors. We are committed to being so, and this isn't something that is forced on us. This is a natural response. We have the challenge of facing a lot of whataboutery too. People also must realise that we too are learning and unlearning every day. Social media has no patience.
S: It is tough being a woman. It is tougher being a woman in this country, and it is even tougher to be a woman in this country working in cinema. Every fight, every question from Parvathy is on the side of justice. She is not afraid. The Women in Cinema Collective inspired me to do a lot more for society. I totally salute Parvathy, Rima Kallingal, Manju Warrier, and everybody involved in this fight for equality.
P: This allyship is rare.
Nothing is forgotten in the digital age. This is also something Inmai deals with. As celebrities under the public scanner, do you fear the Cancel Culture?
S: Nowadays, within seconds of an opinion being placed, it is relayed across the world. More people have access to information, and this results in escalated reactions. We must not blame cancel culture, and instead, try to understand it. We cannot cancel Cancel Culture. How do we survive or understand it? That’s the question. It cannot always be a collective decision. One must weigh each individual case on its merits and decide accordingly.
P: Having been at the receiving end of a particular kind of cancel culture recently, I was pushed into an introspective space. It isn’t that I have cancelled people, but I had judged people before. But the fact is that I understand that I cannot always be perfect about applying my knowledge. This incident put me in my place, and I stand humbled. Cancel culture is human nature.
Siddharth: Let's say there is a famous poet, whose works are entwined with the lives of generations of people. If that poet suddenly turns out to be someone bad, what do we do with his work? Does all the art created by that person become null and void? Are we in a place where we can separate art and artists? Have we reached that space where we can do those things? These are questions that are dependent on each individual. We have to search for answers within us to decide how we respond to such things.
Let’s finish this conversation with a straightforward question. What is your biggest fear?
P: As an actor, I have a fear of complacency. People have really appreciated my work. Co-actors like Siddharth are generous in their praise. Mediocrity is my greatest fear as an actor. As a person, I have many, many fears.
S: I am terrified of cockroaches, especially of the flying variety. Going deeper, over the past 15 years, I have learnt that if I have to be happy, I need to exist without fear. If there is something that I am fearful of, I try to understand my psyche and get over it. In the times we live in, it is important to live life on our own terms.