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Interview Hindi

When I enter the acting space, everything else dissolves: Newton actress Anjali Patil

In an exclusive interview wtih Cinestaan.com, the actress spoke about her evolution as an actor, her choice of roles, and the difference between working on Newton and a Rajinikanth film.

Shriram Iyengar

As far as differences go, Rajkummar Rao and Rajinikanth occupy two completely different spaces in Indian cinema. Yet, Anjali Patil has managed to intrude both dimensions as an actor. While she plays the cynical progressive tribal woman, Malko in Amit Masurkar's Newton (2017), she is also a part of the upcoming Rajinikanth blockbuster, Kaala. This dichotomy and quirkiness embodies Patil's career.

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Making her debut in Prashant Nair's Delhi In A Day (2011), the actress has made some very interesting choices as an actor. She made an impact with her roles in the Sri Lankan film, With You Without You (2012), and won a Special Mention National Award for her performance in the Telugu film, Naa Bangaru Talli (2013). More recently, the actress was seen in films like Mirzya (2016) and Sameer (2017).

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But 2017 is an important year for the National School of Drama graduate. Patil has three major releases this year in Sameer, Newton, and the big Rajinikanth-starrer, Kaala.

Cinestaan.com caught up with the actress post the release of Sameer to talk about her films, and surprisingly, she revealed that she was working on her own book of poems. She opened up on being a curious child of cinema, her interest in poetry, and the experience of working with Rajinikanth.  

Following are excerpts from the interview:

One of the things that caught my attention in Sameer was your easy ability to deliver dialogues, without much effort. Was that just for the character, or is that your regular approach to acting?

That's a really nice question. I think for me I don't know how I came to that evolution of acting. I am not getting into the analysis of it. But whenever I watch something which would strike me or stay with me, it had that quality. That probably stayed with me.

I always say this to my friends, if something doesn't work in a close-up, it just doesn't work for me. Again, all these are fridge magnets. They work for someone, and not for someone else.

I have been changing a lot. My styles (acting)...they change a lot with the director, the way he wants.

Right now, when I am shooting for Kaala, with Rajini sir, the acting style is very different. Whatever is expected of me is quite different. I need to do something which the director expects, which you might find a little different from say, a Newton. But I need to do it while applying the same things of being effortless.

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It's been quite a year for you, with Newton releasing, Sameer has already hit the screens, and you have been shooting for Kaala. There is also another film with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. How different are these characters, and what led you to them?

Basically, these are different situations, different times for me. I don't know how but I try and stay true with what I feel, my intuitions. If I speak with someone, and I feel that they are really passionate, and when I choose to read the synopsis, if I feel that the character would probably be interesting, I would say okay.

Sometimes it is very much with intuition, sometimes I read the script. With Newton, it happened that I went and met Amit (Masurkar). I had seen Suleimani Keeda. When I read the script, I was sure that my character would not be too 'meaty', because the film belongs to Newton. But there wasn't a question of 'do I want to do this?' because the script was so brilliant. I had to do it.

Sometimes you get a really good character, sometimes you get a good director, and sometimes it is the experience, like Kaala. If someone tells me now that 'we are shooting in Ladakh' I would go there without asking for the money.

That's a good place to shoot at though. As for your theatrical education, you did your Masters in Theatre Design from the National School of Drama. How did the transition to acting happen?

I don't see any of my life as a transition from one to another. It was always an evolution to things. It might also mean coming back to designing and direction.

I started dancing, and storytelling as a little girl. I used to lie a lot. It led to stand-up comedy in classrooms, and saying elaborate lies (laughs). Then I went into dancing and studied Kathak for a while. I tried to study biology to become a doctor, but eventually ended up doing theatre in Pune. So, I did my graduation in acting from Pune University, and went to NSD.

I did my acting for three years in Pune, and experienced what the craft meant. Then, I had some problems with the directors, and stereotyping, when I decided I need to learn what direction is. I felt that the director is treated to be this mysterious person, but I thought it was a very easy job, in a way. You just have to be a good communicator.

Just to learn that I took up design and direction in NSD. I was designing lights, sets and costumes for plays and scenes. Then, Delhi in A Day happened. Prashant Nair asked me for an audition for the film, and I was like 'Ok fine.' It was never a conscious decision, I did the film and forgot about it. I only realised (about the film's popularity) when it went to festivals.

So, I don't see it as a transition from one format into another. I am just exploring the mediums in cinema. Now, I am writing poems, working on a book. I don't know if it will become a book, but I am writing. I am also writing for a script for my film.

NSD has emerged as a hub for some serious talent. Yourself, your co-star in Newton, Pankaj Tripathi, Zeeshan Mohammed Ayyub, and of course, Irrfan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. What is the secret?

All these people are immensely talented. What NSD does is it gives you tremendous exposure to the world around. We have this festival where you see hundreds of plays from all over the world. There is exposure to world cinema, techniques, acting styles.

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How important is learning different performing arts? You mentioned learning Kathak, and writing poetry. How does it influence your work as an actor, or vice versa?

I never really saw myself in one bracket of just being an actor, director or designer. The moment you put me in a bracket, I get anxious to break it. It is some kind of a reflex action for me.

When they tried to put me as an actor with long hair in drama school, I wanted to do something else. All these things probably look like supporting things. But when I am doing it, I am 100% focussed on them. When I cook, I cook a simple dish, but I cook it with 100% attention. I am trying to apply that to everything. I don't know, it is very subjective. Of course, as an actor, I will not be able to find 'truthful emotions' if I am just stuck in my world.

Your choice of films reflect this desire to break out, I guess. You have done films in multiple languages. There is Naa Bangaru Talli (2013) in Telugu for which you won a Special Mention at the National Awards, a Sri Lankan film (With You, Without You), Bardo in Marathi, and Kaala in Tamil, apart from the Hindi films. How good are you with languages?

I think I am good. Now, I have an answer for this. Because I am bad with numbers, I have to be good with something else. It is to compensate for something. Or maybe I am good with sounds. I pick up sound really well. I enjoy having one more challenge. You have to emote, but you have to remember lines with their meaning. Then there are so many layers when you work in a different language.

Not just languages. Since Chakravyuh, Sameer and Newton, all these films have very similar underlying themes. Was your choosing these films a conscious choice, or are we reading too much into it?

Maybe, in a way, it has been directed towards me because of the performance, also because one choice led to another. People kind of, tend to see you in a certain role. 'Ok National award special mention, then they try to put you in a very serious, intense role.

It is good in a way because people come to me with great roles and projects which they know will not be picked up by other actors, for many reasons. They come with a kind of trust that 'she seems to be different'.

I take great honour and pleasure in that understanding that directors and writers feel that about me. If it is a really passionate subject, all I can do is lend my creative skills to tell the story.

The practice of stereotyping does happen quite rampantly across Hindi cinema. Recently, Vipin Sharma mentioned how he struggled to get out of 'dad' roles after Taare Zameen Par (2007). How do you get out of this stereotyping?

You reject roles. That's what I did for a long time.

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Doesn't that risk the perception that you are too 'choosy' for a role?

Another label, isn't it? You know, that's why I tend to run away from the city. Our education tends to drive us to labelling things. We try to simplify things. We just want to make things comparative, and tag labels. It is just a bigger scheme of cutting down our individuality. People would call me 'dusky beauty'. I never understood 'What kind of compliment is it? What does that mean? I am beautiful despite being dusky?' That's why I try to break these (stereotypes). So, I stopped working. I went on a trip, and that's what I do.

This entire year, I've been working every month. But I managed to keep my expectation, and do things which will give me the pleasure to explore different aspects of myself.

One different aspect emerges in Newton, which is in itself a very different film. You play a very practical, almost cynical woman who represents the opposite of Newton's over eagerness to change democracy. The line in the trailer 'This jungle will not be built in a day', stands out. Tell us a bit about your role in the film.

The name of the girl is Malko. I chose the name. Me and Amit were not sure about this name. We had options of different tribal names, but the sound of Malko was so good. It means a smile or innocence. It suggests some kind of purity.

Malko is this new generation, educated girl from the tribal community. She is a primary school teacher. She is in a way the bridge, who has seen it all, how things change. She is witness to how forests were destroyed, forces who were put in for the protection of people who end up as oppressors, and how people were evicted from their homes. She has been through everything. After all these experiences, there is a certain stillness and maturity she imbibes. She signifies that balance against Newton, who comes in and wants to change everything, and the reality. She can see his good will, but knows that you won't be able to change it like this.

In many ways, with the situation around, it seems like the right film to come at the right time.

Yes, yes. For me, in the film, she doesn't say much. She is there, and arrives at key moments as a reminder. For me, it was important that I do not overdo it. Whatever I do, I have to keep it precise.

It must have been different for Kaala, with the presence of Rajinikanth. As a fan, I have to ask how is it working with Rajinikanth?

Whenever I speak about Kaala, I never get tired of speaking about Rajinikanth. I would get tired of talking about myself, my character, my film. But whenever people talk about him, I never get tired. Because he is this source of energy somehow. Whenever he is around, there is celebration in the air. When he leaves the set, even when I don't know, I would ask 'has he left, because it feels like it?'

He is that enigma. He has that magical capacity in him, and as a human being, he is the nicest person I have met in these years of my acting career. He is really so nice and humble to make you believe in goodness and warmth. I used to think that whenever I show I am vulnerable, they would probably take it as a weakness. But when I see him, I just feel okay.

Have you seen any of his films?

Unfortunately, not the older films when he was really young. I have seen Sivaji The Boss. I really want to see the films he did with K Balachander.

So, how has the experience been on Kaala? How did you get offered the film?

The Sri Lankan film, With You, Without You, was banned after some shows in Chennai. Some people were able to catch the film, a few of them were connected with this film. I got a call from Pa Ranjith's assistant, who said: 'They are interested in offering you the role. Would you be interested?' That's how it happened. I went and spoke with him. I understood what he is trying to achieve with Rajinikanth, a superstar.

Also, Ranjith comes from a very strong political background and ideologies. I was just trying to understand what it will be, and what I will be doing in the film.

All the cards were on the table. It was a Rajinikanth film, so I understand that this is not the film where I will be proving my acting mettle. For me it's important to be with Rajinikanth, and see him working as an experience.

Also, Ranjith is trying to do something with this film.

His (Ranjith's) last film, Kabali, had an interesting angle of Tamil migrants in Malaysia.

Yes, and Kaala is about their struggle in Dharavi. It comes with a lot of angles and power struggles.

Newton has just been released. Kaala has been shot for, I believe. So what other projects are you working on?

Well, there is Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's film, Mere Pyaare Prime Minister, which will release next year. It is the story of a little boy who is trying to build a toilet for his mother. We are done with the film, and it is in post production.

There is another film, Nimmo, which is by Colour Yellow Productions. It is the debut film of Rahul Shankalya, who was the associate for Raanjhanaa (2013) and Tanu Weds Manu (2011). It is a beautiful love story of a young boy who falls in love with an older girl. We shot the film in Jabalpur, and will be released next year.

There will be three or four releases next year, I guess.

And including your book of poems, if they come out?

(Laughs) I am not so sure about that. I am pushing myself, but when it comes to commitment to work, I am so bad.

I will also be gone later to London, to start another film. It is a Marathi film. I was just sold on the one line that the character is a bungee jumping instructor. So, I was like 'I am on. Bungee jumping instructor! I want to do that'.

There are some more Tamil films coming in. I just need to find a balance between how many I want to do.

Talking about balance, how do you maintain the tonality of acting when you switch from a film like Newton to Kaala?

With Kaala, I learnt the budget, the production, the culture is different. Of course, you learn with every project.

But when it comes to acting, it is a pinpoint. Between the time when the camera turns on, and the director says 'cut'. That space is mine, and has been mine. When I enter that space of acting, everything else just dissolves. Somehow, naturally, I can do that.

I don't see a lot of difference when it comes to acting, but the environment, and the walk from the vanity to the set is very different.

If you ask me how I am, I am a very private person. So, I do the same thing whether I am shooting for Newton or Kaala. I am a curious little kid, so I will go behind the lightman, or check the camera. I am just exploring, and cannot abide by the rules of how an actress should be on the set.

Breaking rules is always the best as an artist. So you know there is one individual mind working.