Kalyani Priyadarshan looks a tad nervous about doing a solo interview with an FM radio station as post-release promotions of Varane Aavashyamund are on. “Will Anoop (Sathyan) ettan be there? Or Dulquer?” she asks. She is refreshingly frank about her apprehension that she is afraid of saying the wrong thing. Although she is four films old now this is her first Malayalam film, a sort of homecoming. Dressed in yellow, her hair let loose and a tiny bindi on her forehead, she is the proverbial girl next door. As Nikitha in Varanne… she has impressed audiences and her father’s peers alike. Director Priyadarshan is “acha” (father) and her biggest critic while mother, actor Lissy, “amma” is her biggest fan.
Edited excerpts from a free-wheeling chat.
You are here, finally, in Malayalam films.
This is the industry I most wanted to get into and also most afraid of getting into. Afraid that I would let my parents down, that I’d disappoint them. I just wanted them to be proud. And today I am happy because I know acha is very proud of me. After the release he has called me so many times. One of his director friends asked him ‘where have you been hiding her all this while?’ I am so happy that he is happy. To be honest I am more happy that he is happy.
Are you a daddy’s girl or a mama’s girl?
Most definitely a daddy’s girl…but I am close to both my parents. Amma is my biggest fan; achan is my biggest critic, so it is difficult to please my father. I am always trying to make him proud.
What is the best thing that you have heard about the film?
It was from Sathyan (Anthikkad) uncle. He thought I was good in the film. I told him it was because my co-actors gave me so much – I just had to react. And that Anoop ettan also helped me because I struggled initially not knowing the pitch of the character. Sathyan uncle said ‘unless you have it in you no director can bring it out’. Then he said something for which I am on cloud nine, that he felt like writing something he and I could work together on. That was the biggest compliment. Acha had wanted me to be launched in a Sathyan Anthikkad film, but it didn’t happen then.
Your father never evinced an interest in launching you?
He knows me very well and he knew I would be most scared working with him. He was completely right. For Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, in which I do a cameo it was only a couple of day’s shoot. I struggled with the couple of lines I had. He couldn’t figure out how to direct me and I couldn’t figure out how to act with him next to me. My heart was beating so loudly that the whole set could hear it. It was mad and it was drama…he shouted at me because I forgot my lines and I never forget lines. But he had predicted this, at the time I didn’t understand. He had told me ‘for your first five films I don’t think we should work together because it will be too much on you.’ I realise that now.
Telugu, Tamil and now Malayalam…were you waiting for a good script?
Yes, it was mostly waiting. My favourite film is Nadodikaatu, and there is that line ‘ellathinum athinte samayamund dasa’ (there is a time for everything). I was patient and I am glad I waited. Nikky, my character, is the core of this film. I don’t think I would have got such a role if I was impatient. I was waiting for a project that gave me scope, because I wanted acha and amma to be proud. That wouldn’t come from other language films. This is the industry that gave me my parents, they worked 40 years to build their careers and I couldn’t destroy all that with one film.
Not a cakewalk for star kids
- People think we, star kids, get into this for the glitz and glamour. You have only seen that side of it. We have seen the other side, which would be motivation to stay away. The only reason we are here is our passion for films. Our father’s career graphs have seen as many lows as highs; we have seen the ups and downs. My argument is that we are here because we love films. Maybe that first chance is easy afterwards it is all you. There is pressure too.
Your father is an inspiration for so many filmmakers. Growing up, were you aware of your parents’ celebrity?
The best thing my parents did was to make me study in Chennai. I was in a school where most others around me were also from film industry families so none of us realised what our parents were. In fact the first time I truly understood my father’s impact was when we were shooting the film. Every second line spoken was a reference to one of acha’s films. He never went around making a big deal of himself or anything…so we were never exposed to what he is. Anoop ettan was saying, ‘you guys have no idea how big your father is, do you?’ I know him as my father and I love him no matter who he is.
You studied architecture, was cinema part of the plan?
It was always there, the end point of the journey. I didn’t know what I’d do in cinema. I am a shy person who is not very okay with the camera. I never thought I had it in me to be an actor. There is so much more to the job than acting. But my parents gave me confidence. Amma was the first person who told me I would be good at this. Then I told acha, he was very happy.
- Before Kalyani became actor, she assisted art director Sabu Cyril.
- She made her acting début in Telugu, in 2017, with Hello opposite Akhil Akineni and Tamil, in 2019, with Hero opposite Sivakarthikeyan.
- Her other Malayalam films are Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Hridyam and Priyadarshan’s Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham.
Did your parents ever nudge you towards films?
It was the opposite. Anoop ettan, Dulquer and I bonded over the fact that none of our parents wanted us to get into films. Probably because they understood and knew the business. We have all done different things before we got into films.
Acting advice from your mother?
Her main advice is to be confident. Acha’s advice is more precise and to the point mainly because he is my biggest critic.
You have worked in three industries. Are the styles very different?
Absolutely. Malayalam is like family, maybe because my family is deeply rooted in the industry. I love both Telugu and Tamil industries, but I’ve never felt like I am part of family until this film. Possibly because everything is on a smaller scale, it feels like everybody is closer to each other.