Malayalam actress Abhirami has been the talk of the town ever since Kamal Haasan signed her for his ambitious new film, Sandiyar.
Abhirami was just 13 when she acted in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Kathapurushan. When she returned as an adult, she failed to match reigning queen Manju Warrier's overwhelming popularity.
Abhirami switched to Tamil, where her first film Vaanavil opposite action star Arjun, was a big hit. Again, though, she was never as popular as the Tamil industry's top three actresses -- Devyani, Jyothika and Simran.
Things are looking up for her since she signed Sandiyar, Abhirami tells Shobha Warrier:
Tell us about Sandiyar. How did this movie happen?
One fine morning, I got a call from Kamal Sir saying he wanted to cast me in his film.
It was a big surprise. Only after I hung up the phone did I realise Kamal Haasan had called me and offered me a role.
Later, there was a photo-session after which he said, 'You are in.' It is a demanding role. I am really excited about the film.
In Sandiyar, you are playing a woman staying in a village. In reality, you are an urban girl. Will it be difficult?
I don't think I will have any difficulty. I acted as a villager in a 100-episode Malayalam serial, Akshaya Patram, by director Sreekumaran Thampy. My character was very poor and had a rural background. Her age ranged from 16 to 45 years. I played the mother of a 24 year old in it. So I am at ease playing rural characters.
I am not tense about my character in Sandiyar. But I am a little bit tense about working with Kamal Sir. I have been a fan of his since I was a small kid. I used to see him on screen and then, there I was, sitting next to him and reading lines with him. It will take a couple of days for the excitement to settle down.
Why do you think he selected you for the role?
I really don't know. I have asked myself this question several times but I have no idea (giggles).
Most Kamal Haasan films include intimate kissing scenes.
It is not war, only love. Many people have done such roles. Why should I make a hue and cry about it? When Kamal Sir is making a movie, he will not make it look vulgar. If you look at his films, you will see those scenes are not repulsive at all.
How did your first film as an adult happen?
I stopped acting after doing a child artiste's role in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Kathapurushan [Vishwanathan, Mini]. Later, after my schooling, I started hosting a show on the Asianet television channel [Pepsi Top Ten]. It was quite popular. It was because of the show that I got the call to act in Patram [Suresh Gopi, Manju Warrier].
You are concentrating more on Tamil films. What is the reason?
I had acted in Jayaraj's Millennium Stars [costarring Jayaram and Biju Menon, it released on January 1, 2000]. The costume designer of the film was a leading designer in Tamil films. He recommended my name to director Manoj Kumar. That was how Tamil films happened.
I started getting more offers in Tamil. I don't know why they say there is a dearth of actresses in Malayalam. I didn't get that many offers from Malayalam films and whatever offers I got were uninteresting.
I have a modern image, which doesn't go well with the Malayalis. In Kerala, people are still very orthodox. Maybe, I don't have a typical Malayali face.
When did acting become your profession?
After the release of Njangal Santhushtaranu [opposite Jayaram], many people told me I did the role well. I realised I could too could act.
There is something about this film industry. It sucks you into it. It may be the fame. It may be the money. Whatever it is, you don't feel like leaving it.
How come you aren't working with younger Tamil heroes like Ajit and Vijay?
I don't know. There was nobody to guide me. I come from a totally non-filmi background. Both my parents are bankers.
Coming back to the films I did, all the roles were good. Though I was cast with senior actors, I earned a name as a good artiste.
Now, I would like to do something more vibrant and in tune with my age. I am getting a few youth-oriented offers, especially in Telugu and Kannada. I just finished a campus film called Charminar in Telugu opposite Venkat. My Kannada film also has a young feel.
Considering you have acted in all South Indian languages, how different was it acting in each language (Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada)?
Acting is subtle in Malayalam and Kannada. It is a little louder in Tamil and Telugu. It all depends on the director.