Rima Kallingal on Charting her own course!

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The gorgeous actress opens up about her roles as an artiste, actor and an activist!

At a time when the entire world came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic, a handful of people continued to work, to follow their passion and to look past the obstacles in their path. Their will and hard work paid off and they paved the way for more creative minds to think out of the box and to work differently in the new ‘normal’.  Ritz is in conversation with a star, a passionate artiste who keeps reinventing herself and is fearless in her expressions of art. ‘Santhoshathinte Onaam Rahasyam’ is a film that has put Malayalam Cinema on the world map yet again and we caught up with the lady protagonist herself, Rima Kallingal, who is all fired up to take on new projects as an actor and producer!

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson

Photography: Shafi Shakkeer

Styling: Smiji KT

Costume: By Hand

Hair and Makeup: Subi Ganesh, Sulochana

Location: The Brunton Boatyard, Fort Kochi

Santhoshathinte Onaam Rahasyam has been a brilliant creation amidst the pandemic and it has been showcased at International film festivals, tell us about the whole experience.

Thank you! Yes, I was supposed to be traveling to Moscow for the Moscow International film festival but unfortunately I had to cancel travel plans due to the pandemic. The entire experience of being a part of this film has been very exciting. From an artiste’s perspective, it was very new to me. Although I have performed on stage, doing the entire film in a single shot was a new experience. We had done our homework well. Two weeks prior to the shoot, we did the script reading, memorised dialogues, had discussions with the technical team and had full run rehearsals in the studio. Since it was a single shot movie done entirely in a car, we drove around the city several times to understand how things were to be planned during road blocks or traffic signals, to clear any bottlenecks if any. As an artiste, all the planning and homework we did, put us in a safe space. So when it was finally time to face the camera, we were comfortable in our roles and ready for the journey ahead! That is something that I would like to see more in our work culture. Since it was just the two of us in the car, we didn’t have any covid protocol issue either. The rest of the crew were back at the base camp. I feel it was definitely a master stroke of the genius Don Palathara, especially during the corona time.

During the film, a third person steps into the car, that was done without a break either?

Yes! The film basically revolves around a couple driving to a clinic. The lady protagonist is worried that she is pregnant and the conversation between them is about a series of things that affects them such as pregnancy and how a woman’s body is of prime importance during the period, the changes that will happen to her body and mind. They discuss about life, friends, romance, interpersonal space, relationships and crisis situations in life from a male and female perspective, which am sure the audience can relate to easily. The third person who comes into the frame is representative of the outside world or society who barges into your personal space and questions your choices . This was also a part of the continuous shot, which was timed and planned. 

How has the pandemic affected you personally?

As a social entity, yes, I was worried and anxious to see people lose their lives, the government, health community, police and the lesser privileged struggling to keep everything under control. But personally, it has been a time of self evaluation. I recognised the privileges I enjoy and have learnt to value them. It gave me time to re evaluate myself and look around. There was no pressure of a rat race and I understood that I need to pick my battles. There is always hope and solutions to problems we face. The lockdown has definitely worked for me as a human being, it helped me to pause and think!

Mamangam the school of dance has been a project that has been so close to your heart but you had to let it go…

I made the choice to shut down both my floors and the education wing of Mamangam because for the longest time I was struggling with the business side of it. That in turn affected the creative side of Mamangam. So, I am quite proud of my decision as I felt  I needed to let go of things that were sapping my energy and time. I needed to channel my energies on projects that gave me joy and peace and that is exactly what I am doing now. I have retained the performance wing of Mamangam which gives me time to focus on performances. I recently finished a dance video and am directing another one now. It was a tough decision to let go but a good one.

The whole world of Cinema has undergone a massive shift from the big screen to OTT. What does it mean to artistes?

It has been quite bleak for the industry as a whole, more so for the workforce who depend on their daily wages. It has been a huge blow but we are all in it together and we are trying to figure it out. But on the other side, the OTT and the internet have brought out varied artistic outlets that artistes are embracing  now. It has democratised the art world. This is indeed is a revolution in the movie industry. We released ‘Halal Love Story’ on Amazon Prime amidst the first wave of the pandemic. It was one of the first Malayalam movies to be released on OTT. Keeping aside the commercial aspect and the fact that we wanted to watch the movie on the big screen, we understood that on the very first day, it reaches audiences across the world and for an artiste, it is amazing. It is a completely new feeling. The immediate response from across the world is like a roller coaster ride and we are all getting used to the ‘new’ normal. It has opened doors to different kinds of creative expression as we serve a wider audience. One doesn’t need to stick to formats that worked in theatres. If you look at the new films that are releasing, everyone is using these platforms to talk about various issues and explore new territories. With its plus and minus, it is an interesting time and in the long run, this is the world opening up and we have to go with the flow. We just need to be ready for it.

As a distributor, you chose to release ‘Annum Pennum’ at the theatre and not on OTT. Why?

We made the choice because producers wanted to release the movie and things were beginning to open up after the first wave. Theatres were willing to pick up the film at that point and in a way we felt the OTT platform was also getting saturated with content as it was the only exhibiting platform during the pandemic. At some point we had to take the risk and the initiative to rebuild what we had, which is why we chose theatres. But I think people need more time and now especially with the second wave, we have to be cautious. We hope to exhibit the film on OTT.

Tell us about your Bollywood outing in ‘Zindagi In Short – Sunny side upar’.  

A lot of doctors reached out to me saying that the film reminded them of a day in their lives and that meant a lot to me. I still remember meeting the director, Vijayetha Kumar causally at the MAMI film festival and after a quick hello, she mentioned the project. I didn’t expect it to happen but one month later I received the script and I was so excited that I jumped at the opportunity. For once, my role was not of the ‘bold and beautiful’ lady but  it was a very vulnerable, indecisive young doctor who needed a ‘Jatka’ to put things in perspective. The best part of the experience being the fact that it was an all women crew. Though at WCC, we have been demanding  more representation of women in the work space, I got the actual feel of it only when I experienced it myself. When I went to the sets, it was so different and so much better that I must say it was a brilliant experience. We shot the film in just two days and there was no doubt about women being ‘efficient’. It was absolutely cool.  At so many levels, it was a very memorable and satisfying project.

How has Women’s Collective in Cinema or WCC evolved over time since its inception?

Due to the pandemic, there is less noise now, which I think is good. But at the same time, a lot of women reach out to us. We try to give them psychological and legal backing when they need it. It is not easy for women to come out and talk about trauma or abuse. Giving them emotional and psychological help is primarily what we are doing  on a day to day basis. We are aiming for a systemic and structural change and that is what we want to leave behind with our efforts. We don’t want any woman or a member of the LGBTQ community who is new to the system to face the issues we had to face when we started out.

Do you think there has been a change over the years?

There is a definite change. We have people being more open about it. We had Renji Panicker openly admitting that he felt what he had written was sexist. There is  director Sibi Udayan who promised that there will be no sexist or classist jokes in his films. There is definitely a cognitive shift and the awareness that ‘Its not ok’ and that it is not politically correct. I want people to think thrice, to respect women, understand, empathise and take the decision. The whole world needs to rise up to that decision. I also feel that generally women have started speaking up and saying ‘NO’. They have started asking for their basic rights. The Internet and social media have played a huge part in educating, building awareness about women’s rights and empowering women. 

With the pandemic, there is also a rise in internet abuse and trolling. How do you handle that?

There is always a flip side to everything but considering the positive sides, I am willing to work on the negative side. Internet is a public space where etiquette is yet to be formed and the sensitivity will come gradually when people begin to understand that it is an important space for communication. When it comes to abusive comments, I don’t even read them. I am entitled to my opinion and there will be thousands who disagree with me. I am not indulging in it and if anyone uses abusive language, it reflects on their identity. I am very clear about what I am doing. I don’t intend to hurt anyone and my actions are directed at helping a section of women or LGBTQ community who have been systemically sidelined. I stand by them and I know what I am doing is right.

What are the projects in the pipeline?

I just completed a Tamil project with A L Vijay production. Silva is the director and I am sharing screen space with Sumuthirakani. It is an investigative thriller and I am donning the role of a police officer for the first time. I was pretty kicked about it. I think my last Tamil outing was eight years ago, so this has been very exciting. As you already know, Neelavilicham in Malayalam is definitely in the pipeline. There is also a huge production which we will be announcing shortly and I will be a part of the project as well.

Which role do you prefer – being an Actor or a producer?

When an idea of Cinema is born, a team of people band together, execute the idea and then disband. During the execution of the project, there is tremendous pressure, ego battles and a whole lot of stress and issues that need to be looked into. The team goes to extreme ends to ensure that the project is completed to a point of madness. But for the very same project, as an artiste, we need to isolate ourselves, be in stillness, to prepare ourselves for the moment when the outside madness stops and when you begin to perform. But if I have to choose between the madness and the stillness , I would prefer the stillness.  

You have been giving us fitness goals through your social media pages. Tell us about your fitness regime.

Yes I am very conscious about fitness now. I do strength training, Yoga and dancing. I also make it a point to eat healthy. My aim is that even at 60 I should be ready to pack up and go to Iceland.  I want to be mentally and physically fit and I am going to do everything to keep my body healthy. I think the lockdown gave me time to focus on my health and figure it all out.

We know you love traveling, how are you handling the fact that all travel has come to a complete halt now due to the pandemic? 

I have found so many new travel spots in Kerala thanks to the pandemic that has cut my wings of flight. I discovered that the Thattekad bird sanctuary is just one hour away from Kochi. It is a completely new world out there with beautiful greenery and wildlife. Then there are a lot of beautiful beaches nearby like the Kuzhupilly beach. We go cycling during early mornings and recently we also went kayaking to this beautiful Mangrove forest close to Marine Drive. I have been exploring in and around Cochin like never before and it has been very interesting.

So what’s on your bucket list?

I still want to travel the world! Probably because of all the books I have read while growing up, that has been one thing on my mind right through childhood. My career is very important to me but I work to travel. Due to the present situation, as a socially responsible citizen I am staying put but I hope to travel again like earlier once things settle down. Thats definitely tops my bucket list!

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