As far as consequences go, it was savage for South Indian actress Amala Paul.
No sooner had the trailer of her Tamil thriller ‘Aadai’ released, than she was allegedly thrown out of a film starring Vijay Sethupathi after being labelled ‘production-unfriendly’. She was also swatting a barrage of vitriolic, spiteful comments questioning her morality and career choices.
“They were trying to rip me apart for being an actor and doing a film… I couldn’t believe the hatred and the slut-shaming that came my way. There was a lot of personal attack against me,” said Paul in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
But what helped her stay afloat was her unstinting faith in the audiences.
“Deep down, I knew whatever misgivings they had before the movie would change once they watch it,” said Paul.
‘Aadai’ (meaning dress), which released in South India last week and will be out in the UAE cinemas on July 25, opened to mixed reviews with Paul being unanimously hailed for her performance as the free-spirited Kamini, who finds herself in a compromising position after an office party that goes horribly wrong.
[After the release of the film] But all of it changed overnight as it turned into love and appreciation.”
Directed by Rathna Kumar, adjectives such as “cocky-yet-vulnerable” and “unapologetic” roll off Paul as she describes her life-altering role.
“In movies, we mostly see girls with maximum two shades: either she’s cute, girl-next-door who’s occasionally bold or she’s a ‘billi’ [catty], an angry vamp. These are the stereotypes. But when Kamini’s role came to me, I realised she had several shades of grey. She was human and wasn’t trying to be perfect or trying to please everyone. Everything about ‘Aadai’ was original.”
‘Aadai’ gave me the strength and confidence to turn into a producer with Cadaver, where I play a forensic pathologist.
Perhaps, it’s the first time an A-lister like Paul, 27, has chosen to go risque for a film with posters that show a barely-clad, bruised, bleeding woman crying for help. A harrowing incident in Kamini’s life defines her existence.
“Kamini may earn for her family since her father is no more. Or, she may ride a bike. It isn’t a symbol of feminism, but the bike represents freedom of movement for her. She’s extremely confident and that may intimidating and rude to many. But that’s what sets Kamini apart. You can see her evolution and transition.”
Paul, who has acted in Malayalam blockbusters including ‘Oru Indian Pranayakatha’, was going through an existentialist crisis of sorts when ‘Aadai’ came her way.
In a self-imposed sabbatical, she had made up her mind that she would only do films that were high on quality and not focus on ‘quantity’. Her recent films hadn’t done well at the box office and naturally her confidence as an artist had taken a beating.
“Honestly, after 'Mynaa' it took me around eight years to give a strong, impactful performance. ‘Aadai’ was that film that made me want to give my 100 per cent. I had no clue if I would be bashed or appreciated, but I still went ahead and gave it my all. If you get constantly appreciated in every film, your confidence tends to grow. But that leap never happened for me. The last time I got truly appreciated was in Mynaa,” said Paul.
Her Tamil blockbuster ‘Mynaa’ (2013), a doomed romance that saw her play the title role, won her several awards and she is often referred to as ‘Mynaa Amala Paul’, a testament to the enduring popularity of that film.
She was breathing and living Kamini for the last two years of her life. Fear can be a powerful catalyst, believes the actress.
“The fear is what got the best out of me. That gut-wrenching fear made me more responsible. There was not one shot in ‘Aadai’ that I did mindlessly. I didn’t take anything for granted. In a way, I was in love with Kamini and her world.”
She famously took a salary cut to make this film happen. Such roles are rare for an actress.
“In movies and roles that come your way, you don’t really get that freedom. You have to dress and act a certain way so that people like you. We just blindly followed what heroines did in the past. Or maybe, we were just conditioned to act in a certain way for people to like us. But we made our own set of rules in ‘Aadai’,” said Paul.
While Kamini, her character in ‘Aadai’, is unlikely to win a popularity contest due to her brash and abrasive personality, Paul credits her director Rathna Kumar allowing her to go in the grey, unhinged space.
“I felt as if I am with my friends where nobody was judging me and that was so liberating,” she said.
Paul had to literally scrub away Kamini from her existence. She changed her perfume and body creams, that she wore during ‘Aadai’s’ film, to help her exorcise that rewarding role from her system. Right now, Paul claims she is in the happiest phase of her life.
“For me, cinema and my life aren’t different. If I am disturbed in my life, then the choices that I make in films are equally disturbing and wrong. My phase as a person is reflected in the choices that I make in my career … But working in ‘Aadai’ was an empowering feeling.”
The venom directed at her after the trailer launch transformed into love and respect once the film hit the theatres down South.
“‘Aadai’ gave me the strength and confidence to turn into a producer with Cadaver where I play a forensic pathologist. The challenges we faced with this film helped me grow as a person.”
Paul, who is now working on a Malayalam film with Indian National Award-winning director Blessy starring Prithviraj, believes that choices that you make will ultimately shape your life.
“When I do a film, seven or eight months of my life are spent with the same group of people. I want every film to help me grow. Otherwise, I will end up unhappy and tortured … ‘Aadai’ pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the strength to open more doors.”
“‘Aadai’ has opened up so many discussions and debate about feminism and consent,” Paul on her latest film.