Are you in the mood to watch a movie shot during the pandemic and that primarily explores how COVID-19 threw lives out of whack?
Indian National Award-winning actress Parvathy explores how an ordinary Christian family from Kerala grapples with their new reality in her latest Malayalam film ‘Aarkariyam’, out in the UAE cinemas on April 15.
Shot after the pandemic struck the globe last year, director Sanu John Varghese’s ‘Aarkariya’ revolves around Shirley (Parvathy) and her husband who eke out a living in Mumbai metropolis, but temporarily shift to their native Kerala to live with her eccentric, ageing widower father (Biju Menon).
“‘Aarkariyam’ deals with something that happened in our recent past and touches upon that uncertain phase,” said Parvathy in an interview with Gulf News over the phone.
This self-made acclaimed actress, who famously called out the casual sexism and toxic misogyny in Malayalam star-led blockbusters said that the pandemic has altered the mindsets irrevocably.
The grim reality of a deadly virus claiming lives around the globe has been a big leveler, pointed out Parvathy.
“This pandemic has put me in this ‘Carpe Diem’ [seize the day] phase where I want to seize the day every day. There’s a lot of sensitivity in me about how privileged I am. I feel so grateful for what I have, but it has also raised questions about how we lead our lives,” said Parvathy.
While she’s thankful for surviving the pandemic without many scratches, COVID-19 has also raised questions about mortality. “The thought of mortality has always fascinated me since my childhood. I base all my life choices, relationships, and decisions to move on in life based on my knowledge that I am not going to be here a long time … COVID just accentuated what I already had in my mind,” she said.
Parvathy is one of Malayalam cinema’s most versatile actresses and boasts a rich roster of hits including the engaging ‘Bangalore Days’, ‘Take-Off’, and ‘Virus’.
She has also acted with late actor Irrfan Khan in the Bollywood romantic comedy ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’. But she isn’t resting on her laurels.
Making unorthodox career choices in film such as ‘Aarkariyam’ in which she plays a devout Christian woman alongside a seasoned actor such as Biju Menon, who plays her eccentric, temperamental father, is just scratching the surface.
“I am very happy with my life and career. But I am also very greedy to explore different genres in cinema … I am yet to flex my muscles in action or comedy. I have a lot more to do,” said Parvathy.
So, is starring in a web show on her list of conquests? Recently, established Malayalam talents such as Fahadh Faasil and Mohanlal have begun releasing their films directly on web platforms now. ‘Joji’, ‘Irul’ and ‘Drishyam 2’ have all directly released on streaming platforms and was met with great success.
“I am a big fan of OTT [over-the-top] myself and I am a big fan of going to the theatres too … As an actor I am greedy. I want to do it all … OTTs is a great space for actors to shape-shift. They allow you to explore,” said Parvathy.
Excerpts from our interview was we speak about ‘Aarkariyam’, her career trajectory in Malayalam films, and how progressive they are getting …
Q: Why should we watch ‘Aarkariyam’?
A: When I first heard the script of Sanu [John Varghese, cinematographer -turned-director], I couldn’t put his film in any specific genre. Every time, I think about how to explain this film to someone who hasn’t watched it, I think of Milan Kundera’s book on the extraordinariness of ordinary lives.
‘Aarkariyam’ is so ordinary and relatable, but sometimes you feel that truth is stranger than fiction and that’s what happens in this film. All our characters in this film will remind you of people you know and make you wonder if you even know the people in your lives truly or do you just think that you know them. ‘Aarkariyam’ means ‘who knows?’ and the title ties in neatly with this thought whether you know someone truly or not.
Q: You have often made bold career choices. Honestly, I never expected you in such a film that also features Biju Menon as your on-screen father.
A: After working with Sanu in ‘Take Off’ in which he was the cinematographer, I knew that I enjoyed our collaboration. He doesn’t talk for the sake of talking. He always brings something new to the table and he’s so no-nonsense. My first thought when I heard this script is not that I want to play the character, but I want to be a part of his story.
Having said that, my character in this film is exciting. I play someone who truly believes in God. She believes that God will never put you in a situation that you cannot get out of. Her unwavering faith makes her a cool-headed person. She believes God has the power to get you out of any situation that he put you in. She’s somebody who believes that she’s going to lead a happy life, even though she has survived many things in the past. Her troubled past doesn’t define her present. She doesn’t live under that shadow. These are the two elements that attracted me to this film.
In real life, I am a borderline atheist. I am still figuring out my spirituality and I love being in that mystical space. The confusion helps me bring about some drama in my life. There’s an element of extreme lack of faith in me which is mirrored in the extreme presence of faith in my character in ‘Aarkariyam’. I believe there’s no such thing as an outside force controlling or designing our lives. I am cool in that sense, but my character is equally cool.... Our extreme nature and our confidence in our belief system made us similar, although we think differently. I wanted to embody that in Shirley. She came alive on the sets, more than on the paper. She was built on set after my numerous conversations with Sanu and Sandeepa [producer of ‘Aarkariyam’ and Sanu’s wife].
Q: So, you were essentially faking it...
A: I wasn’t faking it and that’s the weirdest part. When I perform, I truly believe in my characters. Playing Shirley was like a mini-vacation from myself. I suspended my disbelief while portraying her … I always respect the characters that I play and I don’t judge them. And, because I don’t judge them, I am not faking it. I am just imitating them. There’s a diference.
Q: Malayalam cinema is going through this fantastic phase where unusual, ordinary-but-extraordinary stories are being told. Your thoughts?
A: We are on the way to making some solid changes, especially post COVID-19. The movies that were made during the pandemic show how resilient our Malayalam cinema is and our adaptability. It brought to the front our talented directors, writers, and those visionaries. It’s broken all structures to survive and be saleable. I have witnessed how Malayalam cinema has constantly become this source of admiration for so many people around India and from other film industries. But we need to stand the test of time. Our recent films like ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’, ‘Joji’ and even ‘Aarkariyam’ is a testament to our resilience. There was a time when movies of director KG George’s ‘Aadminte Vaariyellu’ (1983) had released. We didn’t know what its box-office results were then, but over time it’s become a cult classic for every filmmaker in Malayalam cinema to measure the progressiveness of Malayalam films. The kind of films that are being made post-COVID-19 would become that stamp of our times we live in. ‘Aarkariyam’ and ‘Joji’ are films that were made during COVID-19. Both these films explore the how masked-ness of our lives now seeps into our storytelling.
Q: Was it bizarre filming during the pandemic?
A: It was very bizarre. During the take of a scene, you remove your mask, feeling exposed and risking your health to a greater degree. For ‘Aarkariyam’, we created a bio-bubble and I couldn’t see my technicians or members of the set for the first time in my career. You can never see their faces as they are constantly masked. As an actor, who is often not masked in front of the camera, you feel a certain sense of vulnerability which was not fun. We got through it somehow and we felt OK. For actors, it was a lonely experience.
Q: Did your process suffer?
A: No. On the set, the process remained pretty much the same but as actors, we had to be more attuned to finding visual cues and be open to read their energy. Now, we can’t read their faces anymore. I have learned to read their eyes and you need to have more presence of mind now. Things that you took for granted are not there anymore. The introvert in me is very happy that I don’t have to go for promotions outside for a film. I love sitting at home and working on my craft. I love my own company.
Q: Malayalam cinema is usually not escapist and is rooted in reality. So, is that why it’s so web friendly?
A: Definitely. The art department in a Malayalam film, who is in charge of setting up space visually in a film in terms of the land, the structure, and the landscape, everything seems relatable for a lot of people. In ‘Aarkariyam’, though the story is partly set in a metropolis like Bombay where you see a couple grappling with COVID-19, it’s bizarrely relatable for all. We can’t ever forget 2020 March when lockdown had just begun. We were worried about food, groceries, and migrant labourers. There was a sudden questioning of humanity itself.
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‘Aarkariyam’ is out in UAE cinemas on April 15