Nikhila Vimal plays the lead in ‘The Priest’ alongside Mammootty and Manju Warrier
Clad in a simple nun’s habit and a gentle smile, she looked serene and angelic as young St. Alphonsa. She was all of 13 when she first faced the arc lights, blissfully unaware of the great limelight that lay ahead of her. Soon she got an opportunity to work with Mollywood’s dream Director Sathyan Anthikad and there has been no looking back since then. She has carved her own niche in South Indian cinema working with icons like Dilip, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Fahadh Fazil, Dulquer Salman, Karthi and Jyothika. As the gorgeous Nikhila Vimal waits for the release of her much awaited film, ‘The Priest’ which has her in a lead role alongside Mammooty and Manju Warrier, Ritz catches up with her for an exclusive chat!
Interview: Riya Sonny Datson
Photography: Shafi Shakkeer
Styling: Smiji KT
MUA: Samson Lei
Costume: Label M
Jewelry: CJ Artisan Boutique
Location: Kochi Marriott
You debuted with one of the top directors in the country, Sathyan Anthikad. What was the experience like?
I was so young that I don’t think I understood the seriousness of what I was doing. Acting in Cinema was never even a thought as I was never an avid movie fan. A family friend mentioned about the role and I was asked to meet Sathyan uncle. He was so pleasant and calm that there was absolutely no stress. We started shoot soon after. I remember I wasn’t overly excited about getting a chance to act with senior stars. The entire team was very relaxed and down to earth and eventually, we felt more like family. So I felt comfortable throughout the entire process. I just did what I was told and didn’t think beyond that.
What changed your perception of Cinema?
I had done three Tamil movies before taking up the role in Mollywood flick Love 24/7. So, I was familiar with the entire shooting process by then. Being a trained dancer and a performer from a young age, I never feared the camera but yes, I was conscious. In fact, I still am. Love 24/7 was directed by Sreebala K Menon, who is family to me so there were no apprehensions. But it was during the shoot of the Tamil film, ‘Vetrivel’ that I started to perceive Cinema seriously. I had to take up acting workshops and they gave me tips on how to improve my performance. It was a completely different experience that changed my perception of Cinema.
What is the trigger for your choice of roles?
Like every actor, an interesting script is definitely something that I look out for. The team I am working with is equally important. I am drawn towards the technical aspects of Cinema which is why I look forward to an opportunity to work with good technicians. More than the screen time, the scope for performance is what excites me. I am very happy with the films I have done so far. I feel very blessed to have worked with some of the top stars, directors and technicians in such a short span of time.
Any special preparation for your roles?
The roles I have portrayed so far have not been extremely challenging or ones that demand too much preparation. Yes, I do attend workshops and actively participate in discussions but I prefer to go by the director’s instincts. I completely go by his/her idea of a character.
Of all the characters you have portrayed, which is the one character that you could relate to the most?
My character in ‘Aravindante Athithikal’ is very special to me because I could relate to it the most. I learnt dance from a young age, my mother is a dance teacher and we have a dance school. All these elements seemed to fit into the story as well and I think it helped me to perform convincingly. Even after two years of its release, people still reach out to me recalling the character in the film.
Are you easily affected by stress at work?
There is not much stress pertaining to performance but generally, when it comes to Cinema, issues crop up every single day – it could be related to production, artists or due to several other reasons. Even if it doesn’t affect you directly, it is easy to get carried away but now, I have learnt to stay focussed. Of course, when you are shooting for a film for more than a month, it can get tiring but because I love cinema, I totally enjoy my work.
One thing you love about Cinema…
The fact that I get an opportunity to perform! I also love the technical aspects of Cinema and the entire process of film making.
Would we be seeing you donning the role of a Director then?
I am not sure about that but I would love to assist in direction.
Tell us about your experience working in ‘Thambi’.
I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a great team of artists and technicians. The entire process was very interesting and a huge learning experience. I had an amazing experience.
You have acted with young stars like Dulquar Salman, Fahadh Fazil and Karthi. Have you experienced fan moments?
Yes, I do have my fan moments but I try very hard to not show it. When I am facing the camera, we are all characters trying to achieve a common goal. Unless we have that professionalism, we will not be able to deliver a good performance (atleast I can’t). I always watch my seniors intently when they perform or interact on the set and am amazed by their professionalism.
What are your interests outside of Cinema?
I love watching web series and movies. I enjoy cooking and reading too.
A lot actors are forced to leave their profession once they tie the knot. What are your thoughts on the same?
When I entered the industry, I was told that heroines, especially down South, have a shelf life of a maximum five years. We have two choices, either to do maximum number of films during this period or take the risk of going slow by choosing only good films. I prefer to do the latter as I would like to work with good teams. Today, stars like Trisha and Nayantara have proved that the concept of ‘shelf life’ is slowly fading away. If you work hard and are determined to perform, there is space for everyone. As actors, some prefer to stay away from public life and that could be the reason why some of them choose to leave the industry after marriage. But even when actors choose to comeback, I feel people are accepting them now. Personally, I see Cinema as my profession. Once the shoot is over, I am back to being myself. I continue to travel by public transport and I haven’t had too any issues with fans either. I want to continue acting for as long as possible irrespective of my marital status.
With so many new comers entering the industry, do you ever feel the pressure?
Yes, whether people admit it or not, there is always a struggle. Until the next project starts, there is always a string of questions from people around us. Even if you choose to take a break, after a point, sometimes the stress does get to you. But with experience, I have learnt to strike a balance and focus on other things that interests me when I am not shooting.
What is on your Bucket list?
Amidst all my ups and downs in Cinema, I have always been choosy about doing good films. Irrespective of which stage of life I am in, I want to continue acting and do a variety of roles for a long time to come.
Best take away from Cinema?
The experience, maturity and the wisdom to make the right choices when it comes to Cinema. It has also made me grounded.
Most Memorable Experience in Cinema?
Each and every project has been a memorable experience. I have learnt something from every film, be it the mistakes I have made, the lessons I have learnt from senior actors or the bonds I have made with each team. Every project has been very special to me.
I am working on Sibi Malayil’s project titled ‘Koththu’ opposite Asif Ali and also another project called ‘Madhuram’, directed by Ahammed Khabeer and produced by Joju George and Sijo Vadakkan.
Nikhila Vimal in three words: Fun loving, Passionate and Practical
- Dream Holiday: Bali
- An actor I look upto: Kamal Hassan
- I can’t do without: Cinema
- I admire: My mother
- I can’t stand: Unpunctuality
- People don’t know that: I fiercely value my privacy
- Dulquer Salman: Simple and cool
- Fahadh Fazil: Perfectionist
- Asif Ali: Passionate
- Dilip: Fun
- Sathyan Anthikad: Family and Mentor
- Vineeth Sreenivasan: Multi talented