Interview Hindi

Don’t think language is ever a barrier for me, says Nithya Menen

The actress speaks about her Hindi debut with Mission Mangal (2019), her intuition when it comes to choosing films, and how she eschews competition.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Sonal Pandya

After much deliberation, Nithya Menen has made her Hindi film debut with Mission Mangal (2019). For many, the multi-starrer, which also features actresses like Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu and Kirti Kulhari, would be an odd choice.

But for the award-winning actress of Malli Malli Idi Rani Roju (2015) and Mersal (2018), the kind of film was never the issue. At a media interaction earlier this month, Menen said she had always been choosy about the parts she plays, in any language that she acts in.

“Even in the South, I was very specific on what I wanted to do and it had to match my sensibilities for me to do it. So the fact that it was Hindi didn’t matter. I work in four different languages. I approached Hindi as just another language. If it matched with me, I would choose the same way I would choose a South Indian film,” she explained.

Moreover she was not afraid of being overtaken by her co-stars in Mission Mangal, her Hindi debut. The actress was dressed comfortably in jeans and a maroon Divya Anand wrap-around top for the interview session.

“If you’re familiar with my work in the South, you’ll know that I have never done films in that sense. I have always done a lot of ensemble casts. I have done small roles. I have done guest appearances. I have done all those kinds of things, always. I have never really strategized or planned to be the most important person on the sets,” she said.

Menen felt her intuition when it comes to choosing roles is important. She also thinks what she can bring to a role and a film, in her capacity.

“I always saw myself as an actor. An actor should be smaller than the film. A film should be more important than an actor. I am only a part of the film. I don’t see what will this film give me. I think what I can give to the film,” she stated.

Which is not to say that Menen doesn’t do any commercial films. In hits like Iru Mugan (2016) and Mersal (2018), the actress was drawn to the characters she plays in the films.

“There is also a practical side to being an actor,” she shared. “In those films, I knew what I was doing, but I looked only at my character. In Mersal, it’s a fabulous character and it was so important to the whole film. Same with Iru Mugan, I loved playing a cop. I had never played a RAW agent before, [and] for me, I found that very interesting.

"There is really no strategy for me. I go in the moment. I may do something completely different, there’s never that kind of continuity with what I do,” she went on.

In Mission Mangal, Menen is Varsha Pillai, a scientist and satellite designer and new mother, who brings the work of all the departments together for the Mars orbiter mission. She didn’t know much about her field, but was given visual materials by the filmmaking team to understand more of how the whole mission worked.

Menen said her Hindi debut was never planned; it just happened. She added that with the new trend of content being king it was a good time for her to make a transition and get more recognition.

In fact, when she used to arrive in Mumbai for filming, she discovered that she was being noticed more and more and gaining new fans as audiences here found her movies on streaming platforms and television. She couldn’t hide out in the city any more.

Besides the multi-starrer, Menen will be seen in the second season of Amazon Prime Video’s Breathe with Abhishek Bachchan and Amit Sadh. Over-the-top (OTT) content, she announced, was a good space for her.

“OTT is my space, more than films,” she declared. “It was so purely content-driven. There was no requirement to make it mediocre. With films, it’s such a vast audience, you have to somewhere come to the middle and make a compromise somewhere.

"In OTT, you don’t have to make a compromise, so that space for me makes me calm. I feel very nourished in that space. I was given the space to be as subtle as I wanted, as much silences as I wanted to take, I was given time to just really perform and that is necessary for me as an actor.”

Surprisingly, the actress doesn’t really watch films in her spare time after she is done making them. The last film she went to watch in the theatre was The Lunchbox (2013) with Irrfan Khan, an actor she would like to work with.

Menen also eschewed the issue of competition which is often directed towards artistes. “I don’t think people should be encouraged to compete and form enemies like that," she said. "I think it should be more of, let’s all do more of what we all love to do and excel in our own way. I have never felt a sense of competition, thankfully, but I don’t look so much at what is everybody doing. I think we all have such specific things, so unique to us. If you see us five girls, we are so different from each other, so unique in the qualities that we have. We fit into certain roles, so that’s what you’ll get recognized for.”

Nithya Menen with her Mission Mangal co-stars. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Asked which films from her career she would like to be remade here, Menen put across some familiar and not-so familiar titles.

“Ustad Hotel (2012), for sure, is one of my top favourite films,” she replied. “Ala Modalaindi (2011), which was my first Telugu film, is a very cute film. But I don’t know if that can be remade because it was so much because of the actors and our dynamic. I did a Kannada film called Myna (2013) where I played a girl with no leg. That was a very interesting character, it should have got a lot more attention than it did.”

She hasn’t signed any other Hindi film for now, as she has to complete five films in the South beginning with a Malayalam film called Aaram Thirukalpana. Directed by Ajay Devaloka, the crime thriller also stars Shine Tom Chacko.

Menen is keen on doing another Hindi film though. “I enjoyed the working environment here. to be honest,” she said. Moreover, she said she couldn’t see herself sticking to one film industry over the other in Indian cinema.

“That will make me feel stagnant," she stated. "I would love to do Marathi films and I would love to do Bengali films. I want to learn the language and I want to do it, so I don’t think language is ever a barrier for me. I would do anything as long as you give me good content, I’ll be happy to do it.”