'Santosh Sivan didn't allow me to smile'
Genelia D'Souza couldn't have asked for a better debut in Malayalam cinema. She will be seen as a warrior princess in celebrated cinematographer Santosh Sivan's Urumi. The actress shares her excitement and the biggest challenges of this project in an exclusive interview with rediff.com's Radhika Rajamani.
What was your first reaction on getting this role?
I met co-producers Mubina and Santosh Sivan in Mumbai and they explained the film to me. I was extremely busy then, and wondered how I would do it. At first it meant excitement. Then the thought came to me that it was a new industry, too, as I had not acted in a Malayalam film before.
What excited you about the film?Sivan told me it was something I had never seen before. Everyone comes to you saying the same thing, but he has the reputation of making an actor do what she has never done before and presenting her in the best possible way. Ayesha's character is a warrior princess without her kingdom.
Image: Movie trailer of Urumi
'The Kalari sessions were exhausting'
Did you read up for the role, or was your acting based on Sivan's brief?
Santosh Sir had done two years of research on this. He had the pictures and the paintings. Since he sketches, he had everything drawn when I met him. Of course there were little insertions here and there. I would say Ayesha of Arakkal is an unsung hero. The story behind her is so interesting that it helped me gauge what he wanted out of me as an actor.
You learnt horse racing and Kalaripayattu for the film. How exacting was it?
One had heard stories of horses going ballistic, but I took to it instantly. Sivan never allowed me to smile in the entire film and that for me was one of the biggest challenges, as I am constantly smiling. On screen, you have always seen me bubbly. Here, Ayesha talks with her eyes. She enters the film with a motive. I had to understand her past before shooting for the film because we did not show it.
Did you have any horse riding mishaps?
No. My horse was a very friendly one. I am an animal lover. I realised it was like how you treat your pets. The more you talk to them, the more they understand you. I think that's what happened with me and my horse Basha.
Were the Kalari sessions exacting?They were exhausting. When you see others perform Kalari, you think you will pick it up fast but it's an art, a difficult one. On the first day, my whole body ached. I couldn't move the next day; it was very painful, but I practised. We used to shoot from 7 am to 6 pm, and every evening from 7 pm to 10.30 pm, I practised Kalari. I learnt to use the stick, learnt sword fighting, learnt positioning the body, etc. I never fought against girls in the film; it was always guys. So, I needed to have controlled aggression.
Image: A scene from Urumi
'From the minute I entered to shoot till I finished the film, it was a challenge'
How did you overcome the language barrier?
It was difficult initially, but eventually you get the hang of it. Of course, you have to work harder. It was tough, but I pushed myself.
How was it doing the daredevil stunts?
Extremely difficult. I am an adventurous person, so I enjoyed doing all of it. But it was a lot of hard work. I can't deny the fact that I had to practice them.
How did you cultivate the warrior look? Were you asked to put on weight?
No. An Indian frame is a petite frame. Strength means having to put on muscle and girls can never put on muscle. It's a how you are draped, how you use your eyes. Santosh Sir helped me do that. Even Prabhu Deva helped. It was lovely working with Prabhu Deva. I always thought he was aloof, but we got along beautifully. Prabhu Deva has done a brilliant job.
What were the other challenges you faced?
From the minute I entered to shoot till I finished the film, it was a challenge. There was not one bit that I can say wasn't a challenge. It's not something I've done before. Ayesha is a Muslim and I've never played a Muslim character before. I had to have kohl in my eyes, yet make them look raw. I have not shaped my eyebrows in the film. I had to be aggressive, I had to be hurt.
Image: A scene from Urumi
'There's very interesting chemistry between Prithvi and me'
How was it working with Prithvi?
Prithvi is a lovely co-star who knew a lot about the film. There's very interesting chemistry between Prithvi and me; I'm petite and he's a warrior.
How was Santosh Sivan as a director?
He was fantabulous. The way he treats his artistes is a joy to watch. There was no unnecessary waiting. If you are excellent, he'll praise you and motivate you. He was also the producer along with Prithvi. He held the team together. With Santosh there are so many things that I have never seen.
How long did the shoot take?
Because of Santosh, we finished the shoot in 150 days. I don't think anybody else could have done that. We would shoot six scenes in a day. There was no compromise though the set-ups were big and there were hundreds of people, horses and elephants.
Do you feel lucky to have worked in Urumi.
I feel extremely lucky. Urumi is the best thing to have happened to me.
Image: A scene from Urumi