Braving The Odds : A Candid Chat With Rima Kallingal

The ravishing actress opens up about her career, her passion, WCC and more

If being a ‘feminist’ portrays a woman to be independent, to stand up for her rights, to voice her opinions fearlessly and never settle for anything less – she boldly affirms to be one. An intensely passionate artist, winner of the Miss Kerala runner up title and multiple other awards – from the coveted RITZ Icon awards, the Kerala State Film Award to the South Indian International Movie award, this stunning actress has charmed her audience with her performances. RITZ has a freewheeling chat with the ravishing, Rima Kallingal, who opens up about her career, passion, the Women’s Collective in Cinema and much more.

Interview: RIYA SONNY DATSON
Photography: SHAFI SHAKKEER
Photography Crew: SREERAJ & AJITH VARGHEESE
Make Up: SAMSON LEI
Accessories: SANCHI BY ANN BENJAMIN
Venue: KOCHI MARRIOTT HOTEL

I have very fond memories of it. I was clueless about the industry back then. After the dance reality show, Vodafone ‘Thakadhimi’, I was on my own in Kerala when I got a call saying Shyamprasad wants me to audition for a movie. I didn’t think twice. I went for the audition, where I met Shyam Sir, Vinod Sukumaran (the editor), assistant directors Remya Aravind, Sheethal and of course, little Shivakami (Shyam Sir’s daughter), who was happily running around. Shyam Sir made me feel absolutely comfortable and it didn’t feel like an audition. But the jolt came when he asked me to directly try the climax scene! I was apprehensive because the scene required me to swing between emotions. I had to be angry for one moment and then the next instant, I would be crying and then I would be angry again, grabbing Vinod (who was stepping in for the hero) by the collar and pushing him around. But amazingly everything clicked and I signed then contract the very same day! During the shoot, he gave us so much freedom thathe instilled in me a love for Cinema. He made us understand the art behind film making and am really thankful to him for that.

Quite early in your career, you did some really heavy duty roles all at one go. How did you handle it emotionally?

I did ‘City of God’, ‘Nidra’ and then immediately, ‘22 female Kottayam’ – all of them really heavy duty roles! By then, I was totally drained – mentally, physically, emotionally, even lost weight. During its filming, every day, we would plan on how we would kill Prathap Pothan’s character – it was all about taking revenge. Personally I am a person who would let go of my anger quite easily because I feel it’s a waste of my time and energy. So this seemed very unnatural and a little disturbing.

What’s the trigger to pick up a role?

The role needs to be a game changer! I feel the need to stun my audience with each role. I would want my audience to feel engrossed in the movie, going through a whole gamut of emotions while reacting to different scenes. For, I feel I have to portray intense characters. As an actor I feel Cinema reflects all kinds of emotions and characters. I wouldn’t want to do the regular four songs and four scenes. I want to try different characters, the roles don’t matter, what is important is the bigger story. Even when I tried doing comedy or playing a vamp, I felt it was a beautiful challenge. But not everyone perceived it that way. Gradually, I was getting stereotyped, which was very disappointing. So eventually, you end up being towed into the trodden path – which is what I want to break. With Abhasam, my next movie, I am trying to do just that. It revolves around 30 characters and each of them contributes to the story.

22FK was intense and also won many awards. Did you feel chained to the role?

Yes. Doing a chain of intense characters consecutively was disturbing. I try to be objective and leave each character behind but sometimes it’s difficult. I think 22FK will never leave me because so many people have been strongly moved by it. It keeps getting stronger. Recently, there was an incident similar to what happens in the movie. On a personal level, the movie has changed me permanently – the way the character stood up and fought all the odds has certainly left a strong mark.

Biggest challenge as an actor….

I love being an artist, completely love the process – right from the point I start listening to the character till the time I watch it on screen. I will completely give my 100% for the character, it is not a challenge at all. If there is any good or positivity in me, I owe it all to my art, but it’s not all ‘Glittery’ and ‘Glamorous’ as it seems. It is the other side that is challenging – when I am not acting. I am a very chilled out person but the social side of being a public figure is very demanding. Being a female actor – to survive and have a space where I can contribute, grow as an artist or even have a meaningful career is very challenging. Most of the female roles today are stereotypical which basically requires you to either ‘look good’ or when the storylines were centred on strong women characters but now you can’t even explore your sensuality or sexuality. Nobody really remembers any of the women characters anymore. 99 percent of the workforce in Cinema are men and you can’t really expect a man to understand all the emotions, actions or struggles of a woman. We need more women to step in to the industry, who can tell their stories and control content in Cinema. We need to create awareness that the industry is safe for women and that’s what WCC is trying to do – to make it a safe place for women to walk in. It is a long journey and we have juststarted.

What drives you?

I want my work and art to inspire people, to touch someone somewhere. I want to leave a strong footprint through my art.

Rima – the warrior princess or fairy tale princess?

I think a fairy tale princess is only in ‘Fairy tales’, you need to be a warrior to survive! I have always been a fighter. I would never settle for what is given to me. I would do what it takes to go out and take what I think I deserve and is fair. Nothing is going to stop me in that journey. I have always wanted to take my own decisions and cut out my own path. In my family, I was the first person to take up journalism, then I chose dance and finally, I took up Cinema (by then everyone gave up on me)! After my first movie, I was literally ‘branded’ for the portraying grey shades in the movie – like an intimate love scene and drinking. But I persisted. I broke off an engagement and thought that I would never get married. But I did get married to the man I loved completely. It was a huge challenge to get married to him the way I wanted to – without a big party or any gold jewellery, at the registrar’s office! But eventually, it all happened the way we wanted it to.

Post Marriage, how has life changed?

It was a huge change. People expected me to hole up at home and be the perfect housewife. I chose to continue my work post marriage but amazingly, my offers literally dried up. I always thought that actresses were to blame for leaving their career post marriage but no, they were forced to leave for they had no choice. I don’t know what the dynamics are but I think we live in a society where people believe that after marriage, women belong at home. Post marriage, things never change for men but women have to spend atleast 2-3 years to get back on track. Inspite of having so many privileges and having a platform to express my opinions, it was a challenge for me. If this is my situation, I can’t imagine the plight of women who have no economic stability to fall back on.

What were the biggest hurdles for the Women’s Collective In Cinema?

I think it has been difficult for people to accept that women are demanding their rights now. But we had to take a stand when our friend got attacked, there was no other way out. We wanted to reassure her and every woman out there, that standing up and fighting back is the right thing to do. She is a true hero! We are so conditioned to think that if a girl is molested, her life is over. But that is completely wrong! Yes, we are all paying a price for it. We get open threats that ‘we won’t let you survive in the industry’. We are being socially abused, especially by groups in the social media but we just don’t care! Being the literate state that we are, I think the larger issue of social abuse has to be addressed. There are real issues of misogyny, patriarchy and the casting couch in the industry and it’s high time that women start speaking about it. Cinema is a very influential medium and I think we need to be sensitive while making content or portraying characters. Women have to realise that we have to be treated equally as human beings – forget the gender!

Tell us about ‘Mamangam’, your dance school in Kochi.

I trained in classical dance under Kalamandalam Ranganayiki teacher from a very young age. But it was in Christ College, Bengaluru that I got introduced to contemporary dance by Mayuri Upadhya, who had come to choreograph a dance performance. I joined her company soon after graduation and worked with them for four years. I got to travel, train under brilliant people and learn all aspects of dance – the experience completely set the ball rolling. It opened up a whole new world of dance for me and that was very liberating. The whole idea at Mamangam is to bring different disciplines like classical, hip hop, kalari, belly dance and contemporary under one roof – to provide a platform where people from different dance cultures could come and share their art and grow together.

How do you rejuvenate and unwind?

I have a wonderful partner and we completely cut off and travel to rejuvenate whenever we can. I would love to visit the places where the web series, ‘Game of Thrones’ was shot – Malta, Scotland, Alaska!

What’s in store for 2018?
My next movie, Abhasam is set for release. I also have my hands full with Mamangam as we are planning a full length dance production this year apart from a national level dance festival.

Rapid Fire:

  • Best friend: Aashiq Abu
  • First Crush: Kiran (when I was in Std 3!)
  • Best Compliment: When I am called Self-made
  • Designers I Love: Manish Arora, Sabyasachi, Pero
  • Best Workout: Pilates
  • Weakness: My sensitivity
  • Strength: My sensitivity
  • Dream Holiday: Backpack around the world
  • Idol: I take cues from everyone I meet
  • Life Is: Unfair to so many people!
  • New Year Resolution: To focus on the fair side of life!