Acting was by accident, says Malavika Mohanan
Malavika Mohanan plays an older woman a teen falls in love with in her latest release Christy. She talks to us about breaking stereotypes, being a greedy actor, her idea of a relationship and more
By her own admission, it was Master that put the spotlight on her. But Malavika Mohanan is more than just her last film. She is someone who bagged a Majid Majidi film early in her career, playing Tara, a character far distant from who she really is. But that didn’t stop her from playing the role right. Malavika worked hard to get into the skin of the character as Ishaan Khatter’s sister. While actresses would have shied away from playing a sister, she saw it as a big opportunity to break stereotypes. Embracing as many varied roles as possible is her mantra to quench her artistic thirst. That’s why a story like Christy’s where a teen falls in love with an older woman, interested her. And to look her part, she even stopped working out! Interestingly, through our candid conversation, we find out Malavika is but an actress by chance. How’s that for a plot twist?
Excerpts from our interview:
Your film Christy releases today. How was the experience working in this film?
I have always been a big fan of Malayalam movies because I love how realistic the portrayals of the characters are. Christy’s was an amazing team, with talented writers and music directors. The film is helmed by a first-time director, but he had such a strong and clear vision. So the process was very simple and fun in the sense that everybody was very collaborative and approachable. Creatively though, it was so challenging — in all the right ways — and very refreshing as well.
Every film has a takeaway, what was it with Christy?
More than a takeaway, I would say I discovered that I have a very strong liking as an artiste towards subtle stories, subtle human dramas, emotional play — that excites me more than anything that’s very situation based or loaded with action or comedy.
Christy tells the story of a teen falling in love with an older woman. Now, there is this taboo about an older woman having a relationship with a younger man. How do you perceive it?
On one hand, there are taboos which are societal constructs, and on the other hand, there is love which is so indescribable! That’s why there is inter-caste love, inter-religion love because love goes beyond so many labels and categorisation that society puts people in. Similarly, age is just that — a label. Anyone can feel love for anyone, and I don’t think a third person should ever be a judge of that. It was good to be a part of a story where I could play a character who loves despite the age barrier.
In real life, would such a relationship work for you?
I don’t know, you can never tell, right? If I ever meet somebody, and I genuinely naturally, organically feel that connection, then maybe. I think it has a lot to do with the wavelength between two people, emotional maturity and a bunch of other such factors, so if those are there then, age is purely just a number!
From Pattam Pole to Majid Majidi’s Beyond the Clouds, to Petta and Master, which one do you
consider your breakthrough?
It’s tough to point at one film and call that my breakthrough, because I feel I am a culmination of my entire journey. However, I would say that it was Master that put the spotlight on me, got me a lot of attention that led to lots of offers.
You worked with Majid Majidi early in your career, playing Ishaan Khatter’s sister. In the industry where you belong, actors get tagged very easily depending on their last role. Did that ever cross your mind? Also, did you get ‘sister’ roles after that?
Gone are the days when actors thought about ‘oh, I am playing an older one’, or ‘I am the actor’s sister’! I don’t think any of that matters anymore. And it shouldn’t! I think our generation of actors should take on all kinds of roles to break this taboo and stereotypes, especially female actors who get bracketed into — ‘cute girl’, ‘sexy girl’, ‘girl-next-door’, ‘village belle’… I think all that is so passé. So no, it really didn’t matter that I played Ishaan’s sister, and it really didn’t stop me from getting any offers. In fact, I never got an offer to play a sister after Beyond the Clouds! I think the trick of the trade right now is to be as versatile as possible. In fact, all the four films I am doing right now — a Hindi film, a Malayalam, a Tamil and a Telugu film — all four characters are so different from each other which is great because it stops you from getting stereotyped.
Also read: ‘I have always been a rule-breaker,’ says actress Malavika Mohanan
Coming back to your formative years, you were discovered by Mammooty, is it? Did you always
want to be an actor?
My father was shooting for an ad film starring Mammooty in Bombay, and my mom and I were very excited to meet him. Mammooty was looking to cast a girl in a love story opposite his son Dulquer Salmaan, who was only a few films old then. He liked me and recommended me to the director; that’s how I got into the industry. If not for him, I don’t think I would have been here because it was never a plan to get into acting. Acting always feels like such a far-fetched dream. The success rate is so low, even for people who aspire or plan to be an actor that I never really thought of myself like that. It happened accidentally and the journey just took off from there.
Who are the directors, actors, writers you are waiting to work with?
I really want to work with Zoya Akhtar in Hindi; in Malayalam, it has to be Dileesh Pothan; in Tamil, Pa. Ranjit, with whom I am actually working! Then there are actors I want to work with. I think Ranbir Kapoor is a really amazing actor; Shobana maam, as I grew up watching a lot of Malayalam classics starring her. I am greedy to work with good artistes, because I feel, irrespective of whether you are trained or not trained, you always learn so much when you work with great artistes; it is also stimulating, and cathartic in a way.
Also read: Pa Ranjith-Vikram next's film titled Thangalaan
Would you want to make inroads to Bollywood?
I have worked in a Bollywood film which is going to release soon. I have got a bunch of offers which I didn’t say yes to. Bollywood is not my top priority, interesting scripts are. However, since I speak Hindi as a language, I would definitely like to act in Hindi films.
Among the characters you have played, what has challenged you the most and why?
I think Tara from Beyond the Clouds was a very challenging role to play. The kind of upbringing I have had, the kind of family I come from is so different from that of Tara’s. It was so hard to naturally relate to a character like her. I really had to prepare a lot to get into the skin of the character.
What are the projects/films in the pipeline?
I am working on a Tamil film with Pa. Ranjith and Vikram, which has an amazing script, and is a period drama. Then I am working in a Telugu film which is not officially announced yet. I have also finished a Hindi film Yudhra with Siddhant Chaturvedi, which is up for release soon.
Also read: Teaser of Yudhra starring Siddhant Chaturvedi and Malavika Mohanan promises an action-packed drama
So what is Malavika as a person beyond and off the screen? Bikes, girlfriends, travel?
I like adventure, travelling, exploring different cultures, I like being constantly stimulated. Stagnancy makes me very restless and uninspired. So every chance I get between my shoots, I travel. I really like going on safaris. In recent years, I have actively gotten into wildlife photography because I used to take so many safari trips that I decided it would be fun if I started documenting them too. Since the last four-five months though, work has kept me busy and I have not got any time to travel.
How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?
I had Christy’s audio launch on Valentine’s Day in Trivandrum, so that’s what I was busy with — promotions! Unfortunately, I had no personal plans at all.
Relationships today are bombarded with dating trends — situationships, ghosting, benching, etc — do you relate to any of these? What does a relationship mean to you?
I have heard stories from my grandmother about how husbands would just walk out of marriages and never come back. Things like ghosting and all always existed. It’s just that the new generation has terms for them. I am a very ‘serious relationship’ kind of a person. For me, it’s all or nothing. I mean, I don’t judge people if they want to hook up. You do you, is my funda. But personally, I am into more meaningful commitments.
What does love mean to you? Would you Bumble, Tinder? Ever done that?
I can’t Bumble, Tinder and all of that! Thankfully, I have never had to; hopefully, I will never have to. Love is so much more than just feeling butterflies for the other person. Sure it is that, but it is also building trust, prioritising each other, communicating openly no matter how hard communication can seem; respecting each other’s choices, and equality. Without these, love can exist, but can’t sustain.
What’s your fitness regime? Are you a fitness freak?
I wouldn’t call myself a fitness freak, but through my schooling years, I was majorly into athletics. I really liked sports and sprint running. As an actor now, I think it really depends on the role. For instance, when I was doing Christy, I completely stopped working out because I couldn’t look too toned. I needed to have a more real body for a character like that. My muscles couldn’t look too tight, my triceps couldn’t be showing. As soon as Christy got over, I started working out for Pa. Ranjith’s film that required me to be very fit. Currently, I am on a very strict diet regime — strict workouts and stunt classes. So, right now, I am 200 per cent a fitness freak.
Quick 5 with Malavika
One thing you would like to tell your ex.
Hope you are happy.
You can’t do without...
My air pods.
A habit of yours you secretly hate.
A belief you find difficult to explain.
The kind of energy we have as a human being translates on screen.
You won’t make this mistake next time you fall in love.
I will only want someone who prioritises personal life as much as I do.