Indian actress Malavika Mohanan, who makes her Hindi film debut with Iranian auteur Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds, went into a complete shell as she began filming this grim tale of revenge and redemption.
She plays an angst-ridden Tara living in the fringes of society who goes to prison for almost killing her sexual predator.
“I needed to be in a certain dark space… My cousins from Kerala had come to visit us, but I didn’t speak much to them… Apart from that I had to lose eight kilos in a short time… So we ate the bare minimum and I slept for minimum hours to get that haggard, emaciated look,” said Mohanan in an interview over the phone.
She didn’t wash her hair for several days to be in her character.
It was simple math for this actress, who has acted with talents such as Dulquer Salmaan in the romance Pattampole and Mammootty in The Great Father.
Being deprived of carbohydrates and sleep pushed her to the edge.
“Your body is just not used to being denied carbohydrates and sugar… So when you are eating egg whites and fruits, it’s crying out for those things… A lot of angst is build inside you and all that physical angst really helped my performance.”
But the key here was not to go overboard or be annoyingly shrill, claims the actress.
“As an actor, it’s often easy to do loud scenes. But the real challenge lies in being subtle. It’s easy to go overboard, but to communicate emotions and feelings with your eyes or that glint in your eyes or with a smile is the real challenge… I could emote angst by yelling out my frustrations, but there were a lot of emotions in each scene that I had to do… But it was rewarding to do it well,” said Mohanan.
Tara, who lives in Dhobi Ghat [ Mumbai’s laundry district], irons clothes for a living and the film is a portrait of her turbulent relationship with her sibling (Ishaan Khatter) and how her life careens out of her own control.
“When you play a character who lives in the Dhobi Ghat area, you need to look like someone who is familiar and seamless while going about their tasks… I learnt how to iron different kind of clothes and spent a lot of time there.”
But Mohanan basked in the preparation process because it’s not often that you get to work with an award-winning, celebrated director such as Majid Majidi.
So what was his brief to her?
“His style of direction is very versatile. Sometimes, he tells you exactly what to do. But sometimes he just wants you to respond to situations. So basically, we were all over the place and he kept us on our toes. He is one of the directors who understands your psychology well and what mind space you are occupying at that time,” said the actress.
Mohanan was one of the last few actors to be finalised. Actors such as Deepika Padukone were reportedly in the running, but the role went to Mohanan who did not have to audition for the role.
“I did a couple of look tests. Majidi sir just wanted to see the character in person,” said Mohanan, who believes that the lines between festival-friendly cinema and commercial films are blurring. Nowadays, it only matters if it’s a good film or a bad film believes the actress.
“It’s a great time to be an actress today… There are lot of artists and some great works happening. Just look at Beyond The Clouds, a film essentially about the journey of life, hope and dream. At the core, we all cling to hope and it’s the little joys that keep you going.”
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Beyond The Clouds releases in the UAE on April 19.