Nithya Menen
Nithya Menen Image Credit: Supplied

Indian actress Nithya Menen is a bona fide star in the Malayalam and Tamil film industry and has always been keen on pushing boundaries when it comes to her craft.

On July 10, the ‘OK Kanmani’ talent will plunge into the streaming world with the thriller web series ‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’, releasing on Amazon Prime Video.

“But I don’t think anybody planned it … If you are an actor, you should act in any medium — be it theatre, films or wherever work takes you… I have been open to everything,” she said.

Ironically, Menen may claim to have a democratic mind on most matters, but her team wasn’t open to a freewheeling interview. Instructions to stay away from sticky questions on nepotism, Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the outsider-insider debate and body shaming were slid in by her PR team minutes before the Zoom call.

But Menen managed to still keep us engaged in this sanitised interview. She plays Abha Sabarwal, a troubled mother whose daughter gets kidnapped, and the series chronicles a couple’s quest to reclaim their child.

The psychological series, directed by Mayank Sharma, also features Abhishek Bachchan as her husband, and Amit Sadh and Saiyami Kher in pivotal roles.

Abhishek Bachchan in Breathe
Abhishek Bachchan in Breathe Image Credit: YouTube trailer screengrab

For those unfamiliar with Menen’s sturdy body of work, she made a splash in Bollywood last year with Akshay Kumar’s stirring space mission drama ‘Mission Mangal’ as one of the scientists along with Vidya Balan.

But fame and adulation truly courted her first in Malayalam films. She’s the go-to actress in Kerala for feisty and adorable girl-next-door roles. Her roles in blockbusters such as ‘Bangalore Days’, ‘Urmi’ and ‘Ustad Hotel’ made her an actress to reckon with. Excerpts from our interview with Menen as we talk reviews, her digital debut and more …

What made you choose ‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’ as your web series debut and was it challenging to play the role of a troubled mother whose daughter gets kidnapped?

Nithya Menen in Breathe
Nithya Menen in Breathe Image Credit: Amazon Prime

It’s a challenging role. This is exactly the kind of stuff that actors like us are craving for. The situation that you see in this series is unusual and is not something that happens all the time in our lives. It’s not something that you can draw from any personal experiences.

For instance, you are a mother yourself and you don’t know how you would react unless it happened to you. The series and the situation is so unusual. It’s hypothetical and I had to pretty much imagine the situation and try to make it authentic and real. And that process was definitely an intense one.

Was it difficult to distance yourself from the role and did you have a tendency to take work home?

If you take work back with you home, then you won’t survive. It’s imperative to your basic well-being that you are able to leave your work behind. I am not a method actor, I am a spontaneous actor. The minute you go cut, I am back to being who I am. I can show my emotions intensely when I am at it, but it is not because I am getting tangled with my character. I know that I am doing a job and after that I have to cut off. My world is very different from the people that I play. I have to go back at that.

I know you from South Indian blockbusters like 'OK Kanmani', ‘Bangalore Days’ and ‘Ustad Hotel’ where you play roles for young women … But do web series give you more freedom to play versatile roles as an actor?

Nithya Menen with Dulquer Salmaan in 'OK Kanmani'
Nithya Menen with Dulquer Salmaan in 'OK Kanmani' Image Credit: Supplied

Absolutely. I feel very hopeful for myself now. I have always felt that I am an actress who’s kind of niche. I don’t exactly fit into a broader commercial space. For someone like me, it is very important to have a more diverse area to work in. I want a space which is not too narrow and streamlined.

What did you observe about Abhishek Bachchan?

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Abhishek Bachchan in Breathe Image Credit: Amazon Prime

I remember when we started off, our director Mayank Sharma commented that our pairing is so unusual. But he kept telling me that we were going to look fabulous together. He had that intuition as a filmmaker and that’s important. We are so different somehow, but we work well on-screen. And I remember telling Mayank how right he was. ‘Something looks so right about us as a couple and we work. Mayank, you are so right,’ I told him. When you see us together, we make sense as a husband and wife and that really worked for the whole series, our characters.

When a child is kidnapped, the parents tend to turn against each other … Does the series deal with the breakdown of a relationship, especially since you both are dealing with a trauma?

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What you see in the trailer is pretty much a tiny sliver of what is to come. I won’t be able to reveal much, but I assure you that it is going to blow your mind. You know that I wouldn’t do something that is just one dimensional. My character has a lot more heft. It explores all kinds of emotions that are edgy and my character will surprise you in so many ways. It is not a straightforward narrative. It is not just a simple thriller. It is highly emotionally driven. What drives the entire series is the emotions that we portray.

Did you audition for your role?

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Nithya Menen Image Credit: Supplied

I have never auditioned in my life, not even for my first film. Mayank saw me in ‘OK Kanmani’ and he pretty much decided that I should play Abha. He said he didn’t have a choice here. He always told me that I was always meant to play Abha. There wasn’t even a second action … Regarding my Hindi accent, I can speak the language pretty well. I speak most languages in its authentic accent itself. Although we don’t converse in Hindi too much in my daily life, it just took me a couple of days to get into the flow.

You are a popular star down South, so did you enjoy the anonymity while filming ‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’ in North India or did they recognise you from ‘Mission Mangal’?

Mission Mangal Team-1565763825438
Nithya Menen, far left, with the team of 'Misssion Mangal' Image Credit: Supplied

I don’t think I needed ‘Mission Mangal’ for people to recognise who I am. When I began shooting for that film, I remember thinking I could chill out at the airport and relax around Bombay. But even at the airport, many came up and recognised me. At first, I thought there were South Indians or Tamilians living in the city, but they told me that they are just used to watch a lot of dubbed films on their television like ‘Ustad Hotel’ and ‘Bangalore Days’.

Do you read reviews and how do you handle the negative feedback?

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Nithya Menen in Breathe Image Credit: Amazon Prime

If something is good then people will like it and tell you … But if it’s not good, you shouldn’t take it personally. Many a times when I am reading reviews, I find myself agreeing with them even if it’s a negative one. It’s often the truth. Just because I am in it doesn’t mean it has to be great. My only issue is that some reviews focus on just finding faults. Remember that if you don’t like something, there may be somebody else who truly enjoys it. Your state of mind often dictates how you perceive content.

Don’t miss it!

Amit Sadh in Breathe
Amit Sadh in Breathe Image Credit: Amazon Prime

‘Breathe: Into The Shadows’ will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on July 10.