Rohini: I am still hungry for compelling roles
Actor Rohini speaks about her yearning for characters with well-defined arcs, her love for filmmaking, and more
Actor Rohini Molleti, who began acting as a child artist in 1974 with the Telugu film Harathi, is just a couple of years away from marking the glorious milestone of the golden jubilee. With over a hundred films to her credit, predominantly in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu, Rohini is far from feeling saturated. "I am still hungry for compelling roles. It has only increased after my recently released film, Witness."
The constant hunger to manifest the best version of their craft is what pushes actors like Rohini forward even when the roles that come their way don't always satisfy that urge. "It is like we breathe and eat to live. A character with an assertive arc and one that gives scope for me to perform, becomes important in sustaining us."
In debut director Deepak's Witness, which premiered on SonyLIV, Rohini plays Indrani, a conservancy worker fighting the system to seek justice for her son, a manual scavenger. The actor observes that being part of such cinema is more than just a job. "It is part of my activism. I would like to use cinema to speak about social issues. A few years ago, I staged a theatre play titled Vasanai, which spoke about manual scavenging. So, when I got Witness, I immediately said yes," she says.
Rohini believes that her real-life stand on many social issues allows filmmakers to approach her with such issue-based films, and notes that Witness allowed her to explore her craft to the fullest. "Deepak spent three years researching manual scavenging, and Witness is a product of such labour. The film not only highlights the problem but proposes a step-by-step solution and pushes people to have a discussion. This was an important aspect of Witness, and once People Media Factory banner and actor Shraddha Srinath came on board, I knew the film would have the legs to go far."
As someone who believes in actors playing their age, Rohini notes that there is no dearth for "amma roles", and yet, she strives to bring a change in each of those characters. That way, the amma in Bahubali is not the same as the amma in Guppy (2016), and the amma in Ante Sundaraniki is not the amma in Witness. "When you do a notable role, you tend to get the same kind of role again. I take a conscious effort to reinvent my craft and not get complacent. I go beyond the writing and imagine a backstory for her, incidents that must have shaped her present version. It makes my performance real, relatable, and convincing," explains Rohini, who goes on to credit her involvement in poetry, theatre, literature, and writing for helping her evolve as an artist. "Similarly, it was the late legendary actor Nedumudi Venu who made me understand that I need to think and understand the subtext and background of the character before acting. In fact, some characters, like Indrani, affect me a lot."
Over the years, apart from acting, the actor has also showcased her other talents like writing, directing and dubbing. "I began dubbing with one of Mani Ratnam's films, Geethanjali (1989) and went on to do many more. The craft taught me the value of sound and how to use it to tell captivating stories. On the other hand, working with legendary filmmakers like Balu Mahendra, Padmarajan and Bharathan and my exposure to world cinema, made me realise that I, too, had stories to tell, and that's how my direction dream blossomed," says Rohini, whose directorial debut, Appavin Meesai, starring Cheran and Nithya Menen, is planned for a direct-OTT release.
A pragmatic Rohini does agree that she is now in a "good place" in Tamil cinema, but she did have a prolonged period of years when she was waiting around for promising roles. Although she has a prolific career in Telugu and Malayalam, especially in the latter where she has starred in 16 films in a single year playing vital roles, her presence in Tamil was limited for the longest time. "In Tamil, in all these years, I have done only a handful of prominent roles like Pavunnu Pavunuthan (1991)