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'#MeToo is like a wave'

By PATCY N
May 07, 2021 10:36 IST
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'The first one has done what it needs to do.'
'I'm sure there's going to be a stronger wave.'
'Anybody who thinks #MeToo has gone and they are off the hook are fooling themselves.'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Parvathy Thiruvothu/Instagram

Parvathy Thiruvothu, who was recently seen in Aarkkariya , seems proud of her latest work.

Directed by debutant director and well-known cinematographer Sanu John Varughese, Aarkkariyam is a story of Ittyavira, a retired school teacher (played by Biju Menon), his daughter Shirley (played by Parvathy) and his son-in-law Roy (played by Sharafudheen).

"This is strange, but the kind of prep that I applied... I have not done this before," Parvarthy says about her character, and tells Patcy N/Rediff.com just how she did it.

What made you sign up for Aarkkariyam?

It didn't occur to me that this was his debut project because of the kind of experience he has in the film industry. He has been working so long on so many projects.

Having worked with him in Take Off, I was confident of the kind of creative personality I would be collaborating with.

As the DOP (Director of Photography) in Take Off, there was such clarity and precision as to what he wanted.

So I felt like it was going to be a healthy collaboration.

But then, of course, I was fascinated by the script. That was the deciding factor.

IMAGE: Parvathy Thiruvothu and Biju Menon in Aarkkariyam.

Your character has spent time in Kerala as well as Mumbai. What behavioral specifics did you bring into your character to accommodate this dual identity?

We have seen characters who carry the baggage of the past into the current scenarios, and how their day-to-day lives are affected by how they are still carrying the trauma.

But with Shirley's character, what I found amazing was that she had made a decision that her past was not going to define her, especially the decision at the end of the film, when she finally opens up to Roy about why she decided to go identify the body. That was to put an end to the suffering that might befall on her daughter.

She was not going to take any more.

She was already defined by the trauma that she kept choosing over and over again.

Even in the loss of her first husband, she didn't want to stay in the trap.

So I felt like this is a woman who really was done with one kind of narrative about her life, and she wanted to take control over it.

You clearly don't share Shirley's theological persuasion, in that she is a staunch believer and you are not. I want to know, at a psychological level, what kind of preparations do such characters call for?

This is strange, but the kind of prep that I applied... I have not done this before.

I don't know if I can articulate well, but I'll try...

The acuteness with which Shirley carries her faith, it's the way I carry my lack of it.

The peace of mind that Shirley gets out of having the faith, that's the level of peace I get by not having the faith. It gives me peace of mind.

I literally just had to juxtapose and apply that there, the kind of confidence I carry with my, what became from agnostic to atheism, I just picked that as a way and I put the other label in that position.

I just had to embody the fact that I am taken care of.

Basically, anybody who has faith or a lack of faith, to a particular extreme, they are pretty much at peace with themselves or with whatever comes their way because this one thing doesn't change at all; this one thing is not a variable, it's a certainty.

So for me, the fact that there isn't a grand design, or there isn't somebody up above deciding everything, or the fact that religion could eventually be problematic, gives me peace because that's my non variable aspect.

IMAGE: Biju Menon, Sharafudheen and Parvathy Thiruvothu in Aarkkariyam.

Do you find your public image as a social crusader (of sorts) conflicting with the image you wish to portray on screen?
Do you find that to be a hurdle you have to cross with every character you play?

I believe up until like 2017-2018, I didn't have a problem with that because I was still getting characters that were in a particularly vast spectrum.

But what happened since Uyare is that the constant portrayal of women who are surviving the traumas inflicted in their lives. Not that I'll ever get tired of doing that, because that's drama, and I do drama well. But I would like to explore further layers of that.

But there is a certain boxing in that eventually happens because what the movie stands for and what I personally say, in public, when they're on the same page, suspension of disbelief just goes out the window.

Like, people will eventually see that 'Oh, that's Parvathy on screen' and that I think, is a very dangerous space.

I wouldn't want it to get there.

So I do want to play different kinds of characters.

The issues is that for a very long time, I'd kept quiet because I didn't want Parvathy and the image of this person to hold that much currency because it's counterproductive to my craft.

I would like for people to let go of any idea of who I am when they go and watch a film.

But because of WCC (Women in Cinema Collective), I cannot do this fight. I have to find new ways to deliver believable performances.

Biju Menon seems to be in the middle of enjoying a renaissance as a performer. What do you think has contributed to this big change?

I think there is a particular arc that I have seen a lot of actors go through.

Personally, I have not gone through that steep an arc, but most actors, including Biju Menon, when they started off, there wasn't exactly a choice that they could make because staying relevant and doing good enough projects had to be important.

The kind of competition that especially male actors face, the way they are pitted against each other in the in the scheme of show business...

It must have been that initially, he opted for varied roles, but there was this constant brooding, rejected lover sort of characters that he did at one point, and then he moved on to explore comedy and serious projects.

I guess he has now reached a spot where he can say no, and wait for the right kind that excites him thoroughly. 

Photograph: Kind courtesy Parvathy Thiruvothu/Instagram

How do you choose your roles? What is the first thing that you look for once a film is offered to you?

It's a mix of things.

But I'd say intention is everything. I always see the intention with which the script is written.

There is that earnestness in the writing, and possibility of improvement, of collaboration in a script, that, in a way, kind of encompasses the bunch of things that I told you.

It used to be my character that I have to portray first -- it still is very important -- it needs to definitely convince me. Not that it needs to be ultra-exciting or the lead, but it needs to be a substantial character.

If you remove that character, and nothing happens to the script, then there is no point in the character being there.

Then there's always the closure that you see in the character, how with integrity each character has been written, like what the film is essentially trying to say.

If the film and it's scripting is told in a way that it nourishes the people who are watching it, that is a winner for me.

Do you have any method to prepare for a character?

I guess it was since my film Notebook that I have always kept the backstory prepared.

Either it's given by the writers themselves or the director through the conversations or if I don't get any of that, I create it on my own.

If, at any point, that comes in conflict with what the director or writer wants, then I alter it because for me, the character has to be made as real as any other person. It cannot be the idea of a person.

So I create real instances that must have happened in their life that may have made them the kind of people they are on screen.

But I remember there have been several times when directors have told me not to do any prep and just come because they want a completely clean palette to work on. I've taken that route as well.

I am very nervous to do something like that, but there are times when I've been pleasantly surprised by the void created, as well.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Parvathy Thiruvothu/Instagram

After the filming is over, how long does a character stay with you? Did you have a problem after playing any character like say when you played an acid attack victim in Uyare?

So when, let's say an attack happens to you, when it's happening, you're not yet processing it, right? So I try to stay in that zone of disbelief and coping when something happens. Especially in Uyare, performing such a scene, I would still stay in the zone of being completely in the unknown.

I don't know what has happened to me, or I can't believe this person has done something like this, I don't know the depth of the loss I will have to face now.

I try to travel exactly with the character as it builds up for them, so their disbelief, anger, decision-making and determination are things that I try to detach myself from.

So it only after the film is completely done... I feel all of them have stayed with me.

I think they come in and manifest in different ways, in different times in my personal life.

I'm sure Shirley will have the kind of impact that I wouldn't even be able to plan at this point. She's probably going to have the kind of impact at an opportune time in my life, when I'm going through something.

It has happened to me in the past when I dealt with intense cyber-attack or criticism, unfavourable working situations, that kind of determination that Sameera (Take Off) had.

When I was going through an extremely difficult space medically, I felt like there was an inner channeling of Sarah from Banglore Days that kept happening.

I feel it's the backstory in the prep time that sets me up like that, that I never really completely let go of these women in some ways.

Does every film and every character teach you something? If you have to pick up five things you learnt from a different character or movie, what would they be?

It's enough for me to write a book on. I probably should.

The fact that we are dispensable is something that I've learned from my characters. They're all dispensable. They are all replaceable.

The fact that life moves on if you choose for it to be.

The fact that it's possible for me to be all kinds of selfish because I think we try and put ourselves in the good a lot. But the kind of characters that I have played, I know that we always do gentle manipulation through our life, on a daily basis to get what we want.

This intense, unstoppable urge to keep falling in love, or staying in love, never given up on that, it's painful, but that's another thing that I guess I have always done.

And I get the sense of self worth to uphold it against all the other conditioning in the society.

You have been quite vocal about #MeToo. But do you think the movement has fizzled out?

No. This could be my way of dealing with it because I feel there are times to decide when to be disappointed and when to be enraged.

I feel #MeToo is like a wave. The first one has done what it needs to do.

We are dealing with people who have gone through abuse in a major way, where it has sort of shaken the foundation of a lot of things.

It has changed the wiring of a lot of things.

People are coping, changing, putting up new rules.

I'm sure there's going to be a stronger wave.

This will be recurring, it will go on as long as it is required.

Anybody who thinks #MeToo has gone and they are off the hook are fooling themselves.

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