Rajisha Vijayan: A Tamil ponnu watching me on screen should feel represented
The actor talks about her latest film Sardar, her acting process, and her choice of roles
Six years into her career, actor Rajisha Vijayan has already carved a niche in films across multiple languages including Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu. After bursting into the scene with a Kerala State award-winning performance in Anuraga Karikkin Vellam (2016), 2019 turned out to be a watershed year for Rajisha. She did three contrasting films on the trot — June (a coming-of-age romcom), Finals (a sports drama), and Stand Up (a hard-hitting drama addressing abuse). On the power of her performances in these films, Rajisha made her foray into Tamil and Telugu. Her latest release Sardar is her third outing in Tamil after Karnan and Jai Bhim. Though all three films offered Rajisha author-backed roles, the actor asserts that it is her performances in Malayalam films that were instrumental in getting her big offers. "My first two Tamil films, Karnan and Jai Bhim, came to me after June. I got the call for Sardar right before Karnan's release. So, it was not a case of one Tamil film leading to another. It was my work in Malayalam cinema that opened doors."
So far, a strange coincidence between Rajisha's roles in Tamil is that they are all set in a time gone by. The actor, however, doesn't let this similarity affect her portrayals. She reveals that her acting process relies on having deep conversations with filmmakers apart from doing a lot of homework. "I also make conscious efforts to not repeat myself. For that, I research a lot—particularly when it's about a language and a setting I'm not familiar with. To avoid repetition, I keep a close eye on the nuances — how these women eat, walk, sleep — and this differs from region to region." As our conversation advances to the dicey topic of representation, Rajisha reveals, "Representation matters. When I'm doing a Tamil film, I always try to ensure that every Tamil woman watching me should feel like I’m playing them. They should feel represented."
In Sardar, Rajisha plays Karthi's wife, Indira, a feisty character unafraid of mincing words. Impressed with the way director PS Mithran has written the female leads of the film, including the characters played by Laila and Raashii Khanna, Rajisha says, "None of these women are eye candies or present because the hero needs a heroine. These women take the story forward." In fact, Rajisha has a particular distaste for playing the eye-candy. "I don’t want to limit myself as an actor and I don't want to be a statue that offers only visual pleasure. I want to make a mark with whatever screen time I get, even if it's for a few minutes."
Apart from the strength of her roles, there are a few more items on Rajisha's checklist that need to be ticked before she signs a film. "First is the novelty in the plot," says the actor, who shares that Sardar is more 'infotainment' than just sheer entertainment. "Despite being a commercial mass entertainer, Sardar deals with strong political themes and talks about an important topic," says Rajisha, who remains in awe about her shooting experiences for Sardar. "In Malayalam, I'm used to seeing films made on a small scale, but this is a mammoth project with so much effort and money involved. It was truly inspiring to see Mithran sir pulling it all off. Then, there was George C Williams sir weaving magic with the camera. Being someone who is keen about what's happening behind the camera, I got to learn a lot from him.”
While on learning, Rajisha believes that Karthi is an excellent teacher who is frank in sharing his opinions and compliments. "Karthi sir and I share a great rapport. As a co-star, he treated me with so much respect whenever I expressed my views. Co-actors influence your performance and half of acting is reacting. This belief got reiterated after acting alongside Karthi sir. Working with someone as invested as him helps you grow as an actor."
Right now, Rajisha's goal is to establish herself as an actor not bound by linguistic barriers. She’s also clear in not caring for stardom. "I don't want to be a star. I only want to be known as an artist. It doesn't mean that I'm not concerned about a film's business aspects. I have a certain satellite market and OTT value in the Malayalam industry. This is crucial when I'm leading a project, which I do a lot in Malayalam. Similarly, I want to establish myself in Tamil and Telugu as well, but without compromising on quality."
Rajisha understands that her scrutiny in picking projects results in her doing fewer films than others, but she remains steadfast in her process. "I've been in the Tamil industry for two years now and done just three films. I don't want to do everything that comes my way. It's only because I'm choosy that I'm offered prominent roles and getting to work alongside proven superstars and proven technicians. I see this as a win."