Nithya Menen seems like a breath of fresh air – from her looks to film choices to what she brings on-screen! This uniqueness is probably what works for her. An ace actor in the south; who finally made her Hindi cinema debut with ‘Mission Managal’ settles down for a chat with us. She talks about her sensibilities, choice of movies and more. Excerpts:

How did you approach ‘Mission Mangal’ when it came to you?
Even in the south, I’ve always been very specific about what I want to do. It had to match my sensibilities for me to do it. The language didn’t matter. I’ve done movies in four other languages. For me, I approached Hindi as just another language. If it matched with me, I would choose it the same way I choose my south films.

Were you never apprehensive of choosing this as your debut Hindi film though?
If I was afraid of not reigning, I would have done a film where I was the only actor but that’s not the case with me ever. I’ve never done films in that sense. I’ve done a lot of films with an ensemble cast. I’ve done small roles, guest appearances. I’ve never really strategised or planned to be the most important person on the set.

How was it playing the satellite designer?
So, I had two computers on my table because I played a satellite designer and everyone was like why does Nithya get two computers and we get only one (laughs). Jokes apart, I saw a lot of videos to just get the overview of the whole thing worked. That kind of basic idea I had but not everything.

What is your criteria to make the kind of choices you have? And how did this film fall into that criteria?
I always saw myself as an actor. An actor should be smaller than a film. A film should be more important than an actor. I’m only a part of the film. I don’t think about what this film will give me; rather I think about what can I give to the film. So, if I can contribute something beautiful to the film, then I do it. Also, I can’t do films which are too catering or commercial which don’t have soul. Then, I’m picking those kind of people who come to me, who genuinely want to tell a story and I recognise it in them. If I feel that the person who’s come to me with the script is real and honest in telling his story, then I do it. I don’t think of my role, I just go ahead and say yes. That intuition in me is very strong and that’s what is working for me. I think about my character for sure; not in terms of the screenspace – but what is her significance in the film? I am not going to do a film in which I’m the heroine but I have nothing to do. On the other hand, even if I get a small role which has some weight and meaning to it – I’ll do it.

You’ve always enjoyed a certain relatability with the audience with most of your characters. Has that been a conscious decision to choose such characters?
It’s both ways. It’s about what you bring in to a character which makes it likeable and it’s also what people have given me to play, the roles that have come my way; including ‘Mission Mangal’. The approach is, they know what I do. They will never approach me with something not substantial. In the south I get those nice roles where they feel that this role is for Nithya Menen. I get those kind of roles and I also give them that. You know, people relate more to humanness, not to a face or beauty (which is there for some time). But the kind of person that you are, it shows on-screen.

It certainly does show through one’s face and eyes!
(Laughs). Mine especially. If I’m bored, you’ll see it in my eyes. I’m like, ‘please try to act’, but I can’t act except on camera.

The romantic films you’ve been a part of, have been so heartwarming and real, as opposed to the romantic films we see in Hindi cinema. Does that also come from your sensibility?
I can sense the kind of project it is. Any project which is based on commercial aspects will automatically lose its soul. So, story should be in the centre, actor-director everything around it. If you put an actor in the centre or money in the centre with everything else around it – it will lose its soul.

How have you managed to get the girl-next-door different and right with each film?
I guess, that’s the basic thing you need to be able to do as an actor. You need to do different things and make it just as believable and authentic.

“I’ve always stuck to my individuality and sensibility I couldn’t do it any other way”

Do you think, today is a good time in Hindi cinema with the kind of cinematic sensibility that you have?
Absolutely. Although, it was never pre-planned but I recognise that it’s a good time for me to be here. Someone like me will get a lot of recognition and due today. More than that, it’s a great time to get the kind of films I want to do. For me, I’m never even satisfied with the films I’ve done or totally did what I’m capable of doing. So, I feel like a lot more is yet to come and I think it’s a good time to be here. With OTT, it’s especially a very good space for me. I did ‘Breathe 2’ for Amazon and I absolutely enjoyed that space. More than films, I felt OTT was my space because it was so content-driven. There was no requirement to make it mediocre or think about the commercial audience. With films, it’s such a vast audience that you need to somewhere come in the middle and make that compromise somewhere. But on web, you don’t have to make that compromise. So, that space for me, makes me calm. I enjoyed myself thoroughly on that. I was given space to be just as subtle as I wanted. As much silences as I wanted to take, I was given time to really just perform. That’s necessary for me as an actor.

As an audience, what is it that you like watching, or who do you like watching?
This may sound bizarre but I’m not much of a movie-watcher. I know a lot of people who watch so many movies. My friends get one day off and they watch movies. I don’t keep up with films like that. I think the last film which I really wanted to watch and went to the theatre to watch, was ‘Lunchbox’. That was my kind of film. I feel so happy when I watch a film like that. So real and wonderfully made film that was. I don’t really watch or follow other people’s work just to see what they’re doing. I don’t need to also. There’s no need to think so much. We just need to do what we’re doing.

Has it been difficult to stick to your own individuality and sensibility; not trying to fit in? Would you continue to do that, even here in Hindi cinema?
I have no choice but to do that. I’ve always stuck to my individuality and sensibility I couldn’t do it any other way. When I was really young and I had this curly hair, it was not fashionable when I was in college, to have curly hair. Everyone would straighten their hair. But never once did I think I wanted to do it. I thought, what’s the other option to manage my hair? My hair used to look like a bird’s nest and all. For me, it was just about how can I manage this hair and make it look okay. So this is how I’ve always been and I couldn’t do it any other way. I can only go with what my soul guides me, I can’t do any other way because that is too strong for me. For sure, it’s difficult, it’s not easy. Infact, I’m sure, it’s not easy also being on the other side – to be able to conform to what’s popular and do everything – that’s such a stress. Of course it’s not easy because people won’t understand your choice of films or when you say no to big films. They feel you’re arrogant but it was never that. For sure, I faced flak but it’s all a part of life you know. At least I’m internally balanced, happy and calm. CinemaInterviewsBollywood Trade Magazine