On a laudable film journey

On a laudable film journey

Actor Gayathri Krishna is slowly but surely making a name for herself in the Tamil film industry. The actor, who shot to limelight with her very first film Joker, which not only picked up two National Awards but also went on to set the cash registers ringing at the box office, seems all set to impress the audience yet again with her next film, Merku Thodarchi Malai.

Film buffs and industry experts have already rated the film high for a number of reasons. The film is as honest and truthful as one can get, say industry insiders ,who rate Leninbharati, the film’s director, as one of Tamil cinema’s most committed and promising directors. The film seeks to bring on screen the tough lives that people living in the foothills of the Western Ghats lead. Excerpts from a conversation:

What made you choose this film?

I didn’t know anything about the story. I just knew that I would be doing the lead role. This was my first movie actually. Joker was my second movie, but it released first. I was so excited about this project because the first person to have called me regarding this movie was Vijay Sethupathi-sir. He told me that he was doing a movie for which he wanted me to audition. This film is about the people who travel from the foothills of the Western Ghats to the top of the mountains for their livelihood. I actually did not know that people still lived like this.

The foothills are in Tamil Nadu and the top of the mountains are in Kerala. So, these people travel to the top of the hills, work there and then make their way down back to their homes. The men in those parts not only climb around eight kilometres, but also carry a lot of weight. I play Eshwari, a normal girl who works in a cardamom plantation. She gets married to her relative, and she is also a mother of a 14-year-old. It was only towards the end that I got to know that my character is actually based on Lenin-sir’s mother.

Tell us more about the experience of working on this film.

We shot for 55 days, and I lived with the people there. Eventually, I became one of them. I completely forgot who I was. When I used to go to work, it was a very different experience. I would leave at six in the morning and work till 4 or 4.30 in the evening, and then we would all walk back. I was staying in Kerala but even then, we had to walk around seven kilometres because we had to go deep into the plantation to shoot. It actually felt healthy.

During the initial shoot, we did not have the production to provide food. So, we had to buy food and it was always parottas. I was so bored with that. They used to pack food and give it to me when I had to go to work, and I would give it to my co-workers. They would feel very happy because this was something different for them. 

Did you, at any point, have any regrets about having chosen such a difficult project?

No, I have never felt any regret about choosing this project. Looking at all these people work, I was amazed. Leninbharati-sir is a very dedicated and humble person. I have heard of directors being strict or bossy, but he is different. He is very soft-spoken. Before sitting down to eat, he’ll make sure that every single person around him is properly fed. Even during breaks, he wouldn’t ask or look for a caravan. He’d simply find a tree, lie under it and fall asleep. I have learnt so much from him. I have learnt how to be humble and how to behave with people from him.

But don’t directors have to be tough to get work done?

He is tough. In fact, there was a scene in which my dad’s character in the film dies, and we all have to cry. We were all sitting and laughing as I was very friendly with the people who worked with me in the cardamom plantations. Lenin-sir came to us and said, ‘You are supposed to cry’ and then he said, ‘Action’. All of us looked at each other, and we did not know how to cry. Then, we started making an attempt to cry. All of a sudden, from somewhere behind the camera, Lenin-sir burst out crying. Listening to and seeing him cry, all of us burst out crying. It was spontaneous and touching.

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