Elli AvrRam: I feel intense love for Tamil cinema
A Swedish-Greek actor by birth, Elli speaks about playing a victimised woman in Selvaraghavan’s latest film, Naane Varuvean
The West sees India as a bright confluence of colours and cultures. More often than not, notions of Indian culture are tightly bound to Bollywood. Swedish-Greek origin actor Elli AvrRam's outlook on Indian culture was no different, with Shah Rukh Khan's Devdas opening gates to Indian cinema. A chance screening of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film on a Swedish TV channel sparked her dream to act in an Indian film. Thus began her journey from the Scandinavian lands to India, Bollywood, and now Tamil cinema!
“I chanced upon a Bollywood song and got introduced to Indian culture. When Devdas came on television, it further motivated me to get here. After I came to India, I got introduced to South cinema,” says Elli, who has made her Tamil debut with the Dhanush-starrer Naane Varuvean.
The portrayal of foreigners has left a lot to be desired in our cinema, but Naane Varuvean gets the casting of Elli AvrRam spot on. She plays Madhuri, the mute wife of Kathir (the evil twin played by Dhanush). While the role itself is limited in screen-time, it is impressive that the film normalises her presence without cashing in on sympathy or pity, or digging into her looks. “It’s the first time I have played a role like this. When Selvaraghavan sir narrated the story, the role felt challenging, and I was excited. Using my eyes to communicate emotions like innocence, care, love, fright, and shock was fascinating,” says Elli, who reveals that the role of Madhuri allowed her to understand her own ability to communicate intensity.
Elli’s love for India isn’t just fuelled by cinematic aspirations but spiritual inclinations as well. “I strongly believe that I was an Indian in my past life. Nothing felt alien when adapting to this culture, and when I came to Chennai along with my mother for a storytelling event, I felt a connection. It didn’t happen with Hindi, but with Tamil, I felt an instant love and attraction,” says Elli.
While Elli has been part of multiple projects across languages since 2013, she credits Selvaraghavan and Dhanush for making her a better actor. “There are filmmakers who expect actors to be loud in performance and expression. However, Selva sir and Dhanush wanted the performance to be internalised. They wanted the conflict to be expressed through my eyes. I loved that!” she adds. While admitting she has no idea about Selvaraghavan and Dhanush being siblings, Elli chooses instead to speak of the creative choices and perspectives that came out of this collaboration in Naane Varuvean. “For one of the scenes I performed, Selva sir asked everyone to clap, and honestly, that was the best validation I have got in my career so far. Selva sir explains a scene, and sometimes, he even performs. It is a pleasure seeing him perform off-screen. When an actor understands what the director wants, there is nothing like it. Dhanush too helped me ground my character, and yet, clearly communicated what the role demands.”
For someone who traversed across continents to pursue her passion, Elli feels that now is a great time for actors to branch out and traverse across films from different languages. Comparing working in Indian films to Hollywood, Elli feels that cinema is a unifying factor that facilitates artists of different races to come together. “The greatness of acting is in the beauty of portraying different fictional characters. Who wouldn't want to live different lives in one lifetime?"