Playing Draupathi in 'Karnan': Rajisha Vijayan intv on Mari Selvaraj film

Playing Draupathi in 'Karnan': Rajisha Vijayan intv on Mari Selvaraj film
Rajisha Vijayan is a people watcher. Ask her about a role she's played and she gives an elaborate answer on body language, minutely describing how even a person's walking style changes depending on their age and geography. "A person walking in the plains will have a different gait from someone walking in the hills; a young girl will walk faster than an older woman, but it's not like she's hurrying," she says, and then pauses, as if wondering if she's making sense. She most certainly is, and it is Rajisha's observation skills that have greatly helped her play a range of characters over a relatively short period of time, from a schoolgirl with braces (June) to a woman caught in a toxic marriage (Love). Rajisha will soon be making her debut in Tamil cinema with Mari Selvaraj's Karnan, a project about which she's very excited. Speaking to TNM, Rajisha opens up about Karnan, how she chooses her roles and why she's proud of belonging to the Malayalam film industry. How did Karnan happen? I have been getting offers from the Tamil film industry ever since I made my debut in Malayalam. But I was waiting to get something meaty because I always believed that if I'm doing a film in another language, it has to expose the artistic side of me. One fine day, I got a call from the production house V Creations, asking for a meeting with Mari Selvaraj. I had watched Pariyerum Perumal and I was a huge fan of Mari Sir though he'd made only one film. He said that he'd watched the trailer of June and that he felt I might suit the character. That's how Karnan happened. What did you think of Pariyerum Perumal? I could make out that the film was done on a medium budget but the kind of storytelling he [Mari Selvaraj] had... even before I worked with him, I knew that he's a great storyteller. His medium goes beyond words. The words are powerful but he also uses visuals. The illusions, the kind of politics he wishes to express through his films. He's somebody who wants to bring a change in society with his craft. There are a lot of people who speak about change and that's good. But there are a few who speak and also act on it. And being a filmmaker, what better way to bring change than make a film? Cinema is such a strong medium to connect people, even make laypersons understand basic concepts. I can speak for hours and hours about how the caste system is bad, how discrimination is destroying lives, and that may reach two or three people. But when I show it on screen and when people watch that, the visual medium has such a strong effect on everybody. Cinema has audio, video, dance, music, poetry... it's a culmination of so many art forms and that makes it a very powerful medium. I liked the fact that he wants to bring a change using this platform. Besides, he made the film so beautifully. It wasn't like he was making a point and was stuck on it. What can you tell us about your role in Karnan? The character's name is Draupathi. I'm paired opposite Dhanush and of course, he plays the role of Karnan. The woman I play is not very educated but she is strong-willed, she loves Karnan to bits. The movie has a beautiful romance but ultimately, it's about a village. It's about people rather than one person. The story is about all of us, not just about me or Dhanush Sir or Lal Sir. Rajisha in Karnan So is there an Arjunan too? (Laughs) I can't really tell you that. Now I'm wondering if I should have told you that my character is named Draupathi! I asked because Mani Ratnam earlier made a film [Thalapathi] revolving around Karnan and Arjunan was one of the important characters as was Draupathi. This will be a very different version from that, I can assure you! (laughs) Are you comfortable with Tamil and have you dubbed for the film yourself? I had no idea about the language. Even though I'm a Malayali, I was brought up mostly in the north because my dad was in the army. So I never learnt Malayalam in school and I learnt it at home from my mom. I have watched a lot of Tamil films with subtitles. I can understand what they're saying but I can't really talk. Once I committed to Karnan, I learnt Tamil on the sets and purely for the film. I can speak a little bit now. But this whole film is set in south Tamil Nadu and they have a very distinct dialect. A few of us haven't dubbed for ourselves because of this. If it had been Chennai Tamil, I think I could have managed. I have dubbed for all my films otherwise until now. You made your debut in 2016 with Anuraga Karikkin Vellam and even won the Kerala State Award. But do you feel you have gotten your due in cinema? I always believe in quality over quantity. I never wanted to do a lot of films or hit a mark of 'so many films in so many years'. I want to do films where people will remember my character. Even if people don't know my real name, I'm happy if people recognise me by my character. Rajisha in Finals I committed to June right after Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, but it took so long to materialise. I've said this in other interviews too... we had to go to 16 producers for the film because people didn't think a woman-centric film had scope. So it took time to get that budget, and then the Kerala floods came. For multiple reasons, the film got released later on. I committed to Finals also a few years before it came out. It takes time, from script narration to the film to materialise. But sometimes, it's quick, like Kho Kho, I committed to it and we started shooting in two weeks! Even Love was quite spontaneous. I wait for scripts that have characters I can connect with, no matter how long it takes. When you read a script, what do you look for? The script is the backbone of a film. I always say that the backbone has to be there and you can improvise with the dialogues, the way we shoot etc., later. But the blueprint has to work for me. Second is, I don't care how much screen space I have — what I do is, I subtract my character from the film and see if it still works, and that will tell me the importance of my character. Third is, I try to do roles that are different from what I have done. I don't want to do an Eli or Alice or June again and again. If it's a character like Eli, I feel like someone else should do it this time because we can see a different version of it. I do roles that challenge me. What is life without challenges? I want characters where I can learn something or where I look different. My work is a very big part of my life and I don't want it to be monotonous. Rajisha in Love You've been able to play various ages on screen convincingly. How do you do that? People forget that a lot of things come from body language. No matter how much makeup I put -- and I'm not underestimating the makeup and costume department -- if I don't have the body language of that particular age, it will show up. As actors, we play a murderer, a sportsperson, a fish seller... it can be anything. It all comes down to observing people who do that. If I'm playing a schoolgirl, wearing a uniform is not enough. In June, the way I walk as a schoolgirl is very different from the way I walk in Bombay or when I'm getting married. Even the number of steps you take while walking is influenced by your age. I feel it's these small details that make a difference. Rajisha in June So when playing a character, how much of it comes from your observations and how much from the director's inputs? Of course the director matters a lot, but I feel this is my homework. At least 70% of it I have to do because I can't always depend on the director to tell me everything. He or she may tell me this is not right or that is not right or suggest that I do something differently; but the initial homework, I have to do. A director has to manage so many artists and departments. I can't expect him or her to always look at me. The director will give their inputs from 'Action' to 'Cut'. A good artist is someone who will be ready and show the director what they can do. For Karnan, I went 10 days before the shooting began. We shot in Tirunelveli. I had no idea about the people, the culture, the way they look. We used to put on costumes and just stay in that place, roaming around. And you won't believe the kind of effect it has on you. It's not just about getting tanned or wearing that dress. From the way a woman in an arid place will walk to how she speaks, everything is important. You can change the dialect in the dubbing but while acting, if I don't speak in the same metre, it can't be adjusted in the dubbing. You were signed for 800, the Muthiah Muralidaran biopic. But Vijay Sethupathi was forced to leave the film after controversies. Is it still happening? I'm currently not in touch with the makers of the film. As far as I know, there are no developments. I shouldn't really be commenting on it more as I don't know. Among your contemporaries, which woman actor do you admire? There are so many! I'm so proud that I come from an industry where there are so many women actors who are so talented; their wavelengths are very different and they can pull off anything. They also look very different. I'm really proud that there is true representation of the people through actors. As in, the audience will be able to connect with their looks. You'll find all skin tones and figures. At the end of the day, I feel that's what makes the characters connect to you. For example, Bommi [Soorarai Pottru], I'm able to connect to her because she looks so natural and real. Aparna Balamurali has done a fantastic job in it. There are actors like Parvathy, Nimisha... there are so many who are doing such a great job and are so talented! Watch: 'Pandarathi Puranam' song from Karnan

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