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Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is a dream movie debut for Mumbai-based model Dayana Erappa, who plays one of the leading women. She was 12 when she first watched her first Mani Ratnam film Roja, the 1992 acclaimed romantic thriller.

Erappa is from Coorg in Karnataka and never intended to join cinema. The badminton player and state basketball player says she had always been scared of the stage in school. The transition happened after college when her principal suggested modelling as a career. With veteran fashion show choreographer Prasad Bidappa as her guru, Erappa, who once dreamt of joining the defence forces, found her true calling on the ramp.

She was among the top 10 contestants at the Miss India 2011 pageant and represented India at the Elite Model Look in Shanghai. Subsequently Erappa has been part of projects including the Kingfisher Calendar 2015 and 2017, Lakme Fashion Week and Amazon Fashion Week.

How her dream debut came about

“One year ago I was out shopping with friends when I received a call from [entertainment company] Madras Talkies. An assistant director from the office enquired if I could speak Tamil and Telugu. I said yes to Tamil and he asked me to mail them my pictures. Wondering if it was a prank call, I went online to check on the AD’s name. He did work for Madras Talkies and I sent my pictures over.

A month later there was a second call from the office telling me that their team was coming down to Mumbai for auditions. I met the team headed by writer Shiva Ananth. Few weeks later I was asked to report to Chennai for a meeting with Mr Mani Ratnam. I was given a new script for audition. Obviously I was nervous on my first meeting with Mani sir, but he made me comfortable. I was on board.”

Role play

“I play Chaya — an NRI from Serbia. She is free spirited and fun loving. Prior to the shooting I had an acting workshop with theatre artist Kalairani. Playing Chaya was easy as she is very much like me.”

Starring with Simbu

“Chaya is in love with Simbu’s character. My first shot was an early morning scene at the beach on a chilly cold morning in Serbia with Simbu. It was an emotional scene. Simbu is a talented actor who does other things, such as music, and is a good dancer. He was cordial and helped me work through the role giving me several technical tips which were useful.”

Mani Ratnam’s school

“Mani Ratnam takes care of his actors and works around them. Being a newcomer he guided me completely. He is very calm and tells in detail the backstory of the character. What’s going on in Chaya’s mind? Sometimes he may enact but often lets you deliver. There were lessons learnt — how to be in the zone of the character and how to deliver lines with emotion. There is a rhythm to be followed while emoting.”

Acting versus modelling

“Acting unlike modelling is different — you are playing many emotions and there are different expressions to the character. Besides, it is not just about facing the camera but a lot to understand technically while facing the camera. It is also about being aware of the co-actors around you.”

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Don’t miss it!

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam releases in the UAE on September 27.