Making Kerala Proud – A Chat With Mamta Mohandas

She is a free spirited Diva with a Never Say Die attitude !

Mollywood adores this Diva who enthrals her audience with her power packed performances and melodious songs! Be it comedy, romance or drama, her movies have kept the cash registers ringing and through the years, she has charmed Kollywood and Tollywood audiences as well with her music and acting prowess. Her fans were devastated when they learnt of her battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but her family and friends stood by her like a rock. With her ‘never say die’ attitude, it didn’t take long for her to stride right back into Mollywood in full vigour! Ritz gets into a candid chat with the gorgeous diva, Mamta Mohandas, who never ceases to amaze her audience!

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson

Photography: Shafi Shakkeer

Styling: Anahita Ahuja

Makeup: Miranda

Venue: Kochi Marriott Hotel   

You have survived the last decade beautifully rising like the phoenix. What kept you going through it all?

Staying emotionally agile. It is interesting to be in a world that eulogizes my positivity. But you should also understand – it is what I choose to show. I have often thought about what it is within me to always show only a strong front. Life is never all struggle or all perfect, itʼs how you choose to handle the road blocks that counts and what Iʼm focused on is at ‘life’ and the endless possibilities that lay ahead of me. This attitude defines me. Carrying this yin and yang within me is just how I have always been, but I became more cognizant and gained better control over it, rather did some self- actualization only in the last half decade.

A calm mind brings great inner strength and as they say chaos is the law of nature. I donʼt thrive well in chaos. So I ensure that I surround myself with the right kind of people, place and lifestyle that is fully conducive to my well-being and healing. People will only see what I show them, they might not really understand where I am coming from. I believe itʼs important to choose your everyday people wisely as well, those who ooze radiance and positivity. Having endured the big test of life in younger formidable years I have defaulted to become a chronic empath, I attract a lot of people who have problems in life and I find myself deeply involved and effected by the imbalances that surround me. And feel the need to fix things and have landed myself in so much emotional trouble, thus repeating history with relapses and remaining in that cycle. I am trying to be smarter about decisions and choices now and I tell myself that itʼs not my place and itʼs not for me. Chaos will continue to exist on the surface. Going deeper below that and finding order changes everything. Learning to organize my mind, become realistic about my desires and where I invest my energy has given me a great opportunity to find fulfilment and joy in life and this innate happiness is my life force.

“I got Cancer, Cancer didnʼt get me!” was one of your very inspiring Instagram posts. What is your advice to people battling the disease?

I noticed that this was the post that got most attention on my Instagram feed. Got me thinking because I have been asked about cancer for over a decade now but thatʼs not what I am about. I am very thankful that cancer didnʼt get the better of me. Well, so many others battling this disease inspire me as well. I am no one to advice but I would like to share a few things I learnt over time.

When I look back today, Cancer itself wasnʼt my hardest battle. It was navigating my life through it from an early age of 24 that was. The effect that it had on my psychological and physiological well-being, getting back up on my twos, feeling the right energies, mustering the strength and trying my best to appear like any other normal mid-20 something girl, dealing with people my age who couldn’t understand what I was going through, that I was just struggling to get back to a normal life – all those were the real challenges. I am grateful for the lessons and endlessly thankful to my parents who stood by me as my pillar allowing me to make mistakes and experience whatever I want in my life without imposing anything on me.

Sometimes when you are tired, itʼs better to surrender to your treatment without fighting against it because your body might be asking you to become one with the changes that it is going through. Focus on making the rest of your life the best of your life. I strongly believe that cancer or any disease is a systemic fault. Either a fault that occurs in your genetics over time caused by the environment you place yourself in or an unfortunate one from birth. First, understand that you are not alone, though it may seem so. In reality, you are not! The world today is not how it used to be even 5-10 years ago. Thereʼs so much information and support available that the stigma is fading. Choose the right resources and Use it. People have also started posting their pictures with bald heads on social media along with their family going bald in support of their fight. All of this makes your fight so much easier. As much as you take advantage of these resources, donʼt forget to carry with you at all times an attitude of gratitude. You are given a chance to fight a battle where you can emerge a victor as opposed to getting an on-the-spot cardiac arrest. Iʼm aware that itʼs easier said than done. Nothing is easy about going through chemotherapy, radiation or a bone marrow transplant. It is painful. It changes your life completely. Iʼm with you on that but the truth is, when you are in survival mode there is no long term plan. Itʼs more about getting through the current rough patch, giving it your best, in full honesty with yourself.

So I apply this analogy to everything that I get involved in. In the beginning, there were phases or even years when I felt sorry for what Iʼm undergoing as my cancer was relentless and it attacked me with the same vigor as I was fighting it, which was exhausting. It weakened me and I wouldnʼt show that to the world. Deep inside I was depressed battling my own demons. So most often what people saw wasnʼt what I was actually dealing with. Today I am different. Iʼm renewed. I tend to surface only when my fight is over. Over years I have learnt to remain lucid and this also means either you will find me there 100 percent present or you wonʼt see me at all. You can either choose to make your life all about cancer or you can let go of the things you are holding onto that slow down your healing process, whatever that is.. be it people, emotions or even personal goals in life. Pause and surrender for a moment to the situation you are in and promise yourself that you will be kindest to yourself hereafter. Its always important to practice effective thinking thereby maneuvering yourself towards better health. I find people getting caught up in the fear of the diagnosis itself which is the first thing you should avoid doing.  If we look around, everyoneʼs got one problem or the other to ponder or stress over everyday. But if you pause(seriously stop to take a deep breath), pull yourself back a little and do a reality check, you will find that the tools for your health and happiness lies in your own hands and you neednʼt look outside. I canʼt help but humoring just about everything in life. Today, Iʼm able to see my parents smile wider than they have ever smiled before. This makes me feel successful. They gave me their all, they are just two amazing human beings and I know that they are proud of me. What more can I ask for?

Coming to your Career….Was Cinema always your dream?

Cinema was never my dream. But now, I am living the dream many others wish to be a part of. I am grateful for this one big stumble in my life. While performing you are in a space where you can escape to your own little fantasy of what other realities could be. Isnʼt that a dream in itself?

Of all genres of cinema, which do you enjoy most and which one is the hardest?

Comedy. Hands down. I fall in love with whatʼs hardest to do.

What is your strategy for choosing roles and preparing for them?

I love characters that take me in and require me to be fully immersed in the performance. Almost like Iʼm in a state of trance. I like to feel one with whom Iʼm being and I have worked with a few directors who spent time to focus on giving a clear character sketch. Commercial cinema doesnʼt always give female actors that opportunity. We need more stories to be told and expressed from a female perspective. I have done movies for the love of the character and also been part of movies with former colleagues who express the want to have me in their films in a smaller role. This sometimes gives me joy. I was lucky to work with a director in my very first film who told me .. Mamta all you need to do is involve, behave and react. Iʼm happy to see more movies in this spectrum being made today. I also enjoy fiction, drama and fantasy and everything needs to coexist. Its beautiful when there is a place for everything different to be accepted and appreciated. If not the outcome, atleast the efforts. I also have a few bigger plans of my own which will take some time to come into fruition.

Have you ever felt as if a character has haunted you ?

Yes. That always happens when the role carries a well-defined sketch which requires you to prepare for it and of course when your character is the backbone or protagonist in the film. Lanka Lakshmi from Lanka, Anuradha from Arike, Dhanalakshmi from Rajamouliʼs Yamadonga in Telugu, the old Janet in Celluloid. These were also some much talked about roles that I did. My Boss and Two countries had me playing roles that were passionately aggressive and also comical but I could unplug from them immediately after the scene was done.

What is your biggest fear while facing the camera?

Well, my biggest fear when I get out everyday is how many mobile cameras I need to face that day. Lol. Jokes apart. I canʼt call it fear. I strive to live an amazing life and a part of it is also wanting to do amazing movies. I have developed the fear of ending up doing roles that feel too ordinary because I love roles that demand more from me before the camera. I donʼt want to repeat myself. Iʼm looking for something that pushes my limits now. I find myself turning down films more than ever before now. I want my next movie to be worth the wait.

Any Dream roles?

It would be amazing to be a superhero or play out the life of a world renowned music artist or do the biopic of someone famous in Indian History.

Which industry are you most comfortable with and how different are the others?

Malayalam is certainly the industry that made me feel most welcomed in my toughest times and it was easier on me to keep focus on one industry rather than jaywalking when I had more important real issues to deal with. When people were looking for new opportunities in life, I was looking for a chance at life itself.

However after a long hiatus, Iʼm working on my fourth Tamil film now and excited to share screen with someone whom I have been crazy about while growing up…Prabhu Deva. Much to my shock I havenʼt bagged the kind of role I deserve in Telugu, inspite of that industry being my favorite and having a debut under someone as big as SS Rajamouli. I remember the fun I had working on that film. But it was also very early in my career and even before I fully understood the art of film making. Telugu industry hasnʼt fully seen or explored my talent yet. Unfortunately, there are people who spread rumours that Iʼm unwell and Iʼm unfit to work in Tamil and Telugu which is insane. I hear this all the time. And I have to repeat myself saying Iʼm working full time in Malayalam.

Any chance of stepping into Bollywood or Hollywood?

Thereʼs always a chance. If a door with the right landing opens, I will walk into it.

Your songs have been huge hits. When do we get to hear you next?

I wish to go independent with music. There is a time and place for everything. Music is within me. When the time is right, you will hear me.

Do you think there is a need for women empowerment in Mollywood today?

I choose to reserve my opinions and also donʼt talk too much. There was a phase of my life when I rebelled and I felt I had the need to change a lot of things. Now I choose wisely where to invest my energy. But when I do talk, I think I always make my voice heard. In a country like India, where male dominance is very much a part of the culture itself, I feel itʼs very important to focus on empowering women through educating them to think independently. There is a strong need for this and India has many strong women who are striving to make this common dream possible. I possess feminist values too but Women empowerment doesnʼt mean showing the opposite sex down. Both men and women equally need to learn to choose what is right over wrong. As much as I stand up for women rights and gender equality, I feel sorry for men who are raised poorly or were guided badly by a parent who couldnʼt stand up for themselves. But that was also a different generation. Todayʼs women hopefully will raise better men.

If you were in Kerala, would you have been a part of WCC in Mollywood?

I never go hard and fast about anything because I think no two opinions are equilateral but if different opinions are welcomed and respected in any organization, greater things can be achieved. Iʼm happy to hear that there are women from all walks in the WCC which is amazing. If I was given an opportunity to actively participate in the activities of the WCC I wouldʼve, if I was in India when the body was formed. I was never part of the politics that erupted between WCC and AMMA at the time.

People filled me in on everything almost 3-4 months after everything happened. I stood up for women rights even before we had a reason to make collective noise. And to be honest, if I hadnʼt stood up for myself in my own personal life, this is not where I wouldʼve been. I have always fundamentally believed in being respectful of women in general or at work environment regardless of hierarchy and have heard of other female staff who have been treated very rudely by other women who claim to be feminists. This is not right. And that is what I stand up for. I hope I made my point clear. In short, women should stand up for other women barring personal egos or agenda. Because more than the differences that divide us, itʼs the similarities that bind us. As women we should hold onto our congenital ability and it is possible to be respectful, collegial and coddling without giving that power away and without falling prey to others fragile ego. Why do we put ourselves in a lesser position and hurt ourselves or get defensive, right?

Biggest learnings from Cinema…

You can learn a lot of life lessons from cinema besides the art of film making itself. You also learn pretty much everything about yourself if you have been in it long enough. Because itʼs an industry that can push every button, challenge you in every way because everything is different and anything can happen at any time. I learned how to tell people if I didnʼt like the film and to listen, when mine sucked too. Your loss is someone elseʼs opportunity and vice versa and that is ok. Because what goes around comes back around. And your circumstance today neednʼt define the final outcome.

Does all the work related travel tire you or does it work in your favour?

It totally works in my favor. How many people have the opportunity to become a citizen of the entire world. I was never fully based in India. NRI by birth, Indian at my root, global in my outlook.

We see pictures of you doing marathons and scuba diving. Have you always had a passion for sports?

I am an adrenaline junkie and be it up above the skies or down under the ocean, I am not scared to take risks. I find myself waiting to feel fear sometimes and even before I know, Iʼm back on the surface. I spend time to achieve small individual goals in my own time. Iʼm happy to have a place like California to escape to where I am free to do the things I Love, keep it private and Iʼm surrounded by equally or more enthusiastic people from whom I draw great inspiration.

What is your Beauty and Fitness Secret?

I keep it simple and workout to stay fit and remain healthy. I never go for an overkill when it comes to fitness because my travel schedules do put me on an overdrive with the 13 hour time zone shift every two weeks. Iʼm a slave to my own routine. I developed good habits and been following a routine since very early in life. I can always fall back on that safely. Itʼs like a reset button. I am mindful of what I eat although I love indulging in my favorites. I drink a lot of water. I donʼt believe in fad diets. Cross- fit with some strength training or just pure cardio does it for me. Recently discovered pilates and Iʼm loving that too.

My advice to Ladies, get a regular hair trim and deep conditioning is a must, keep your nails done and clean both hands and feet and your skin hydrated. It helps you stay young forever and ever. Keep your skin clean and drunk and to teenagers please do not go to bed wearing your make up. Thatʼs like punishing your skin for no reason.

You are a fashion icon people look up to, what is your fashion mantra?

Itʼs not about your body type or shape, itʼs about feeling comfortable in your own skin and carrying a positive body image at all times. Dress comfortably, be yourself and wear your best attitude. I feel most alive in active wear or a hooded sweatshirt. Iʼm a minimalist when it comes to make up.

Rapid fire:

  • Canʼt do without : workout, sleep and hygiene.
  • A Guilty Indulgence: Cheese khunafa & baklava.
  • Mantra in Life: pursue happiness, chase it.
  • Success Is: Staying resilient even in tumultuous conditions and coming back stronger.
  • 3 things in my Bag: passport, wallet, phone.
  • Dream Holiday: Aurora Borealis
  • Proud possession: My reclaimed life
  • A Favourite Dish: Sushi
  • Favourite perfume: Good girl by Carolina Herrera
  • Must have fashion accessory: Baseball hat