Beyond The Actor

She is one of the few actors who love acting and cinema passionately, has shared screen space with some of the leading stars of Mollywood and yet, doesn’t believe in stardom herself! Acting is her craft and if she can use it to make a difference in someone’s life or make children smile; that, according to her is her biggest achievement! Ritz is in conversation with actor Aparna Gopinath, whose film, ‘safe’ hit screens recently.  Read on as she talks of her role as an investigative officer in the film, her new found respect for the police department, her role as a clown in ‘clowns without borders’ and more.

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson

Photography: Shafi Shakkeer

Venue: Crown Plaza, Kochi

Costume: Seamstress

Tell us about the movie ‘Safe’ and your experience while shooting for the movie.

I was very excited the moment I heard the story and it was real fun doing this movie. It involves a new concept, which I call ‘Community Consciousness’, where we are trying to convey the message that if we come together as a community, our ability to reach out increases.  We have tried to kick start an idea in the theme of ‘SAFE’, the film. The movie has been produced by Dr.Shaji, who has also written the story. It was an exciting team to work with and for the first time, I had a director, Pradeep, who is from Chennai and I could understand his jokes as it was a mix of Tamil and Malayalam (laughs)! It was good fun. It was amazing to wear the uniform and do the role of an investigative officer. It is not a chronologically shot film, so we had to be constantly aware of every sequence and detail, which made it challenging.

How did you prepare for your role as a cop?

My preparation came directly from the writer and director. They were very clear and specific about each character. Whatever doubts I had was met with immediate answers. They had figured out every detail and my job was to deliver that. So more than my homework, I had to try filling into their ‘homework’ shoe, which was an interesting challenge. Wearing the uniform itself is very exciting and I have come to realise that it is not an easy experience to be a cop. I have new found respect for all who work in the police department. There is so much responsibility and yet one has to stay cool and calm while taking important decisions. It is not just about hunting down criminals, they have to think about what they can do to resolve an issue without creating a ruckus or harming other people. It was amazing doing this role. The uniform itself commands respect and I remember, during the shoot, we would automatically salute each other every time we wore the uniform.

Tell us about your stint with drama. You are with ‘Perch’?

Yes, I am with ‘Perch’ and we commemorated a decade of our performance last year with the launch of a project titled ‘Take Flight’. Through this project, Perch awards grants to seven artists or performers from different fields of art and provides a platform for them to showcase their ideas or talents. We have decided to continue this as an annual event and this year, we are hosting ‘Take Flight 2’. Unfortunately, due to the film’s launch, I wasn’t a part of the show this time. Apart from that, I am also a part of ‘Clowns without Borders’, which is an international NGO that works to maintain children’s rights, to deliver laughter to war savaged and under privileged children. I have been working with them long before I joined Cinema. We go to the children in government schools, hospitals, orphanages and do workshops and perform for them. We do clowning, sing, dance, do drama and basically give them a good show – make them laugh, help them pick up from where they left off.  I am to perform in Mumbai at the ‘Laughter Festival of India’ in December this year. Five cities came together and 3 actors were chosen.  We were trained by Doriane Moretus (actor, French clown, director) and her team, Clowns Sans Frontieres. We will be traveling to different cities to perform for the children.

Today’s children are caught up with studies and pressures and their only entertainment is the television. They have no access to live art or live shows or anything that is tangible. Our mission is to make children laugh through theatre and art. As it is an international organisation, we have to raise money by ourselves for the show, which is an added responsibility.

Isn’t that a huge responsibility? How do you stay motivated?

It is a responsibility but that is the motivation! I would like to help children keep their childhood and look towards a future that excites them. If we can do that through art, dance, music and drama, isn’t that the biggest motivation? Yes, it is difficult but we are hoping to gather enough funds to take the production to more children. We have seen the light in them, the smiles on their faces and that is what drives us. It is just 3 or 4 of us, who travel with the props, costumes and settings, put up two shows every day, wrap up and go to the next site. But when we see the children, we feel we can do it for another 100 years! We rigorously train for new ideas, new choreography, to perform to the best of our abilities. It is amazing to be a clown, a beautiful journey that constantly keeps you in check. You have no choice but stay motivated!

Clowning requires a lot of discipline, control, precise reactions and improvisations. How do you prepare for it? 

We are building new skills every day, it is our constant training ground not just for the children but for us as a team and for me as an individual. It is the responsibility of every clown to get the children to smile. Earlier this year, I was part of an international meeting of the clowns in France, as ‘Clowns Sans Frontieres’ celebrated 25 years of bringing together people to join the mission. We were ten different people from 5 different countries and we had to do a workshop with immigrant children, who have seen so much hardship, pain and death that they didn’t even value a laugh. The idea of giving them a smile, laugh, dream, a vision, a visual is what keeps me on my toes.

Cinema is different in so many ways, how do you juggle both?

Once a clown, always a clown. I was a theater actor before being a clown. You just need to focus on your need. I am thankful to people who can teach me, understand and help me with my work. That is the beauty of my field where art, music, dance and drama are all a part of your skill and the director guides you to perform and it is my responsibility to perform. To each character, its own work.

After a break, we saw you as a teacher in Oru Nakshathramulla Aakasham, tell us about the experience. 

I am not doing every role that comes my way. I want to do roles that excite me. This was one role that I wanted to do as I was touching emotions that I had never touched before. It was completely different from the bold images I have portrayed. Lot of people think that the bold image you see on screen is the person you are off screen too, which is very untrue. For this role, I had lots of fun and it was a different kind of work. As a part of the character preparation, I visited Government schools in Kannur and Kasargod to observe the teachers. I was amazed at the way they teach and their conviction. Yes, it was not a vibrant, bold character but it is one of the characters I will cherish forever – Suma Teacher!

With new actors and directors stepping in almost every day, how challenging is it for you as an actor?

I don’t see it as a challenge. I was blessed to have walked into the industry at a time when change was its peak. The audience were ready to accept the change and break away from stereotypes. I think there is space for everybody today, people who have different kinds of talent – from a performance point of view. It is the greatest joy I have had while working in the Kerala film industry.

Your thoughts on the ‘Me too’ movement in Mollywood.

I have heard that people have had issues but from the time I have come, I have not faced ‘Me too’ situations or uncomfortable circumstances so far. I have been in situations where I have not had basic facilities like easily reachable toilets or food and those things should change. The evolution is constant and I think people are safer now than before.

You have always wanted to dub for your character, is that happening in ‘Safe’?

Yes, it is my voice in ‘Safe’ and I am thrilled. I have newfound respect for dubbing artists as I realised that I speak so fast! I can hardly keep up with myself. But it is an amazing process and I am really excited.


Aparna in 3 Words: Glasses, Clown, Drama

If not Theatre and Cinema: Teaching

Dream Role: Every Role that I haven’t done!

Fitness Mantra: Drink lots of water, exercise regularly (to each, her/his own)

My Strength: My Mom and sister

A Proud Possession: My Mom!

Happiness is: Good Food!