After her brilliant turn as a feisty woman in 2019 Malayalam blockbuster ‘Kumbalangi Nights’, actress Anna Ben returns to the big screen with a survival thriller ‘Helen’, out in UAE cinemas on November 28.
Directed by first-time filmmaker Mathukutty Xavier, ‘Helen’ revolves around a young woman who is trapped in a place and unable to get help.
She lives with her doting dad, played by Lal, and is the face of any modern, ambitious woman living in Kerala hoping to migrate to Canada to be a nurse.
Her boyfriend Azhar — played by ‘Helen’ co-producer, scriptwriter and actor Noble Babu Thomas — is the prime suspect when Helen disappears.
“It’s a survival thriller at its core, but there are strong emotions that will connect with the audiences ... These days it’s only good strong content that works in any genre,” said Thomas in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! ahead of its UAE release.
‘Helen’ has received glowing reviews in Kerala and Ben is naturally thrilled at the rapturous reception that she has been receiving from discerning Malayalam movie fans. In her debut film ‘Kumbalangi Nights’, her turn as a fearless young lover who fights for her relationship was embraced.
But this is the first time that she’s spearheading a movie; ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ had Malayalam’s award-winning actors Fahadh Faasil and Soubin Shahir doing the heavy lifting.
“I am just two movies old, but I am overwhelmed by the reactions to my work ... It’s a dream come true,” said Ben in a separate interview.
‘Kumbalangi Nights’, co-starring Faasil as an abusive husband and Shane Nigam as her character’s adorable boyfriend, was a masterclass in good content thanks to its watertight script filled with wit and drama.
We talk to Ben about her spectacular debut, her new film ‘Helen’ and her rising career in Malayalam cinema ...
Q: Tell us about Helen.
A: It’s a survival thriller and revolves around a woman who has to survive against all odds when something nasty happens to her. She lives with her doting father, she dreams of going to Canada for work as a nurse and is working in a fast food joint till then when something goes terribly wrong in her life.
Q: Will Helen address the issue of violence against women, a narrative that’s gaining traction in South Indian films of late?
A: This thriller isn’t gender-specific and can happen to anyone. What happens to me in the movie can happen to a man or a woman. It’s more about someone surviving something dastardly rather than a boy-girl gender issue. But ‘Helen’ does touch upon what happens in our society when something like this plays out in a woman’s life. ‘Helen’ is a journey of a woman caught in a terrible situation and how she gets out of it.
Q: How did you get cast to play the title role in this film?
A: They cast Lal uncle first and he was the one who first suggested my name. He’s our family friend and a very senior actor. We have grown up watching his films. After ‘Kumbalangi Nights’, the director of ‘Helen’ came home and narrated the script.
I immediately fell in love with the script. He wanted someone who is fully committed to the project. There is a lot of risk involved in this role because we shot inside a confined freezer.
The temperature was -3 and -5 degrees and it was really freezing inside. My director didn’t want to use CG [computer graphics] for the scenes set inside the freezer. So what you see is how we shot it.
It was very overwhelming, but I am so happy that people have received the movie so well.
Q: How did you prepare for this role?
A: I had to consult many doctors outside Kerala because nobody here is prone to hypothermia or frost bite. Our climate isn’t cold and so we were unaware about how to go about it. I met a few doctors and spoke to a few from Canada on how to survive the scenes.
There wasn’t any method acting involved because I wasn’t sure. But once I started filming, it got easier connecting to the character. It is my first time that I am venturing into a space like this.
Just like how my character goes through those motions for the first time in her life, I went with it like it was the first time in my life too. I discovered her in that manner.
But I used to keep a diary about my character even before the filming of ‘Helen’ began. I gathered a lot about my character because I used to stick around during the pre-production too.
Many details aren’t mentioned in that movie. But I had questions about how she grew up and her thought process. It’s a method and process which I figured out myself and it worked for me.
Q: Your first film ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ was one of the biggest blockbusters of 2019 … How did the film happen?
A: I got selected after I auditioned for the role. I was just happy to be associated with a film like ‘Kumbalangi Nights’. I did not know the whole story when I got offered the film. All I knew was about my character in the film and her life story.
I had no idea how Shammi [Faasil’s cracking antagonist] would play out and nor did I have any idea what I was getting into. Truth be told, I watched the film with the audience. There was no dubbing involved either. I was just surprised and overwhelmed that I was a part of something so big and wonderful.
Q: Is there a sequel on the cards?
A: I don’t know, but I would really love to be a part of it because I want to work with the team again. I didn’t know its value when I was filming it. But once I finished the movie and got out of the film sets, it was all a dream. I had so much fun and I would love to do another instalment.
Q: You are a newcomer in this Malayalam film industry. Did you ever face sexual misconduct by those in power?
A: I didn’t have to face anything like that. The people that I work with have always been in love with cinema. I was very lucky that I didn’t have any such bad experience. But like I always say, it’s good to be aware of such situations.
Don’t miss it!
‘Helen’ releases in the UAE on November 28.