Interview With

Aditi Balan

Over the years, I have interviewed a lot of people but just some conversation feels so comfortable that it almost feels like you are catching up with a long-lost friend. My chat with Aditi was one such instance where her candid & casual answers made the drill of Q&A breezy.

Aadal Paadal from Kutty Story was my obvious pick from all the other films in the anthology. It seems to be the case with the audience too. Congratulations on that. How does it feel to see a theatrical release during a pandemic?

I'm not sure about the pandemic scenario but for me, it's my second release after my debut which was 3 years back. Honestly, we did not expect the film to be a theatrical release. We thought this would only make it to an OTT platform but post a particular screening session the decision to plan a theatrical release was made.

Moreover, I wanted to work in this particular movie for the team that comprised Nalan Kumarsamy & Vijay Sethupathi. I was very anxious before the release. But it's all been good since the release & I heard some really close friends giving me positive feedback.

For artists does the size of the screen (theatre vs OTT) make a difference in their approach?

For me, it doesn't make much of a difference. I'm not sure of others. However, based on the scenario, the reach is altered. During the lockdown OTTs had a better reach while on a normal day, theatre opens up the film to a wider range of audience.

An anthology is a narrative technique that can be very crucial as a particular film's impact can be carried forward to another (your) film. How do you see the format of films that are anthologies?

I like anthologies & especially if it's on an OTT platform, it gives the viewer convenience to watch a film, pause, take a break and then resume to watch the next film. As a viewer, it works well but as a performer, it's a different ball game. One wants more time to deliver an impactful performance. You wish that the backstories of each character are put out & a more definitive climax is shown. Short-form content though interesting restricts us on a few levels. It is not about the screen time but about the time we get to narrate the story.

Talking about the impact of one film bleeding on another, it is inevitable. We always tend to compare and that's how it is. For me, in Paava Kadhaigal the first & the last films worked better. You always tend to pick some out of the lot. I think it might be a challenge for the filmmakers more than for the actors. If like-minded directors come on board for an anthology, even that problem can be resolved.

Let's talk about the impact the lockdown/pandemic had on your approach to work.

For me, Kutty Story is only my second film after Aruvi. I don't know if it's the impact of the pandemic but I have become more open to involving myself in more projects. I have calmed myself down, eased the nervousness and loosened up a bit.

Let's address the elephant in the room. Why the 3-year gap after the debut?

Multiple things stand as a reason for the gap. Some scripts that I liked did not materialize for me while some filmmakers who were keen on casting me brought me scripts that did not interest me. I am a lot about feeling complete & 100% satisfied with the work I sign up for. Something about it should be attractive to me else it doesn't draw me towards it. My work is dictated by the script so it becomes the major decision-making aspect. The thing with taking up something halfhearted is that it will mess with my head after a while which I sure don't want to go through.

But is there a fear of getting stereotyped into an actress for only artsy films & not mainstream films?

It is not about being artsy or mainstream. The actual stereotype is that I got approached for only women-based stories with abuse, violence & revenge as the crux of the script. I feel that the industry in general only looks at such stories when it's a women-centric film. But honestly, there's a lot more to talk about us. It feels like women portrayed in Tamil cinema seem to only go through abuse & nothing else.

A lot of films still have heroines only for the sake of a romance sequence & songs. How do you handle this scenario as an actress?

I don't see myself doing that. Because stories need to be relatable. Mainstream films seem larger than life but I want to be part of life relating tales. In real life, you do not see a character randomly break into a dance sequence. So it doesn't work for me. This doesn't mean that I cannot dance or sing, it is just that I want to perform with an emotional connection with the audience. This is not at all about having just 5 scenes or about the screen time, it's about how solid the character has been designed. It cannot exist without any purpose.

The Malayalam film I am working on with Nivin Pauly in the lead is a good example. The film is about Nivin but even my character has a body & purpose to it.

This approach might challenge your overall exposure in the industry, right?

Yes, I do understand that but I am holding my ground in this matter. I don't want to be pressured by these aspects to do something that I don't believe in.

After a film like Aruvi where the stage was all yours, in Aadal Paadal you had to share your space with an artist like Vijay Sethupathi. How did you approach that?

I was nervous even though he tried to make me comfortable. The first shot was difficult as it took time to break that initial wall of fear & nervousness. But again, for me, a romance scene was something new. Whenever I have a new challenge on my plate, it makes me scared but I overcome the fear eventually. With experience, I feel it is going to be fine.

It was so evident that short-form content is Nalan Kumarsamy's forte and for that same reason Aadal Paadal stood out as the best among the other films. How did the preparation phase go? What was the process like?

As I was going to appear on screen after 3 years, the director put me through Maya, a theatre artist. I had a workshop with her where it helped me warm up & to break repetitive mannerisms. Nalan sir showed me GVM & Anushka's interview as a reference for my character. He wanted me to try to be calm but sharp like Anushka in the interview. These exercises helped me get warmed up to the script & the team.

I don't want to look or be like my previous characters & as an actor that's my biggest fear & challenge.

What does the future hold for actress Aditi Balan?

I have worked on a Malayalam film with Nivin Pauly which is in its last leg of shooting. I also have an investigative thriller that I have worked on with actor Prithvi Raj. I am looking forward to debuting in Malayalam with big actors like Nivin Pauly & Prithviraj.

Your sensibilities push me to ask if we'd see Aditi as a filmmaker.

I wish, but I am not sure if I have it in me to write. But as the days go, I will gain more experience to maybe give that a try. I wanted to assist Mahesh Narayan sir on one of his films but many advised against it as that might overexpose me to films that might impact my work as an actress. The innocence & naive side of me might get washed off.

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