The Oruthee actor, who returned with a strong, script-backed character in the VK Prakash film, on adapting to new changes and her working process
In VK Prakash’s Oruthee, we see a revamped, more sophisticated Navya Nair whose performance doesn’t bear the hangover of the 2000s. The actor, who started her career in 2001, has come back stronger than ever. A decade away from the limelight has done nothing to dim her sheen. Through her portrayal of Radhamani — a character inspired by a woman from real life — we see an actor emboldened by motherhood and an up-gradation process catalyzed by the consumption of films from the last decade. She doesn’t feel that acting is a skill that needs constant sharpening because “all of us are already acting in our daily lives.”
She hadn’t planned for her return to happen at a particular time. “It was all about finding a good script to make a comeback with,” she says. And Oruthee is one such script to which Navya has done full justice, evident to anyone who has seen the film. Navya has been aggressively promoting Oruthee because we live in a time when audiences still feel reluctant to seek out a woman-centric film. She tells me she hasn’t experienced this level of stress before, not even during the time of her debut. “When I started acting, there wasn’t this much pressure because I had the advantage of being a newcomer who didn’t know how the industry worked.”
Like any passionate artist compelled to take a hiatus while at their peak, Navya, too, felt the absence of limelight challenging, but another area of interest filled that void temporarily: dance. She also occupied herself with filmmaking ambitions and scripting. But best-laid plans and all that.
Navya has been re-adapting well to the new changes in the industry. She finds the affinity of the current ‘new wave’ Malayalam filmmakers towards more naturalistic filmmaking styles and performances encouraging. “There is plenty of scope for an actor to improvise — lots of freedom and opportunities to stand out today. We can do whatever we want to make a performance come out well,” she observes.
Navya utilized her natural inclination for quick improvisation to the maximum in Oruthee, which is replete with naturalistic performances, most notably from her and co-star Vinayakan. The former drew from real-life occurrences to avoid monotony in scenes, like a table drawer falling on her feet while moving around a room desperately looking for a bill or telling the boy playing her son to brush his teeth the way his mother does. Having a script that splendidly fleshed out the character meant Navya didn’t have to study her real-life inspiration. “I met Sowmya (Babu) only during the promotions of Oruthee. Besides, she happens to be from Kollam, and Radhamani is a Vypin native, so there are differences in personality and slang,” she explains, adding that the script had mentioned even the tiniest nuances. “Now, it’s different with something like Drishya (Kannada remake of Drishyam), where you already have a reference point, but that wasn’t the case here. And having a filmmaker like VKP, with whom I can share any suggestion, was hugely helpful.”
Navya’s dance background came in handy in one of the film’s high points that finds Radhamani participating in a Thiruvathira performance while struggling to delay an anxiety-induced breakdown. Navya knew that making Radhamani — an ordinary housewife with no time for rehearsals — look like a trained dancer would seem unnatural. “If you have noticed, I deliberately did a few things wrong to make it look like how a distressed person would behave in that situation. That’s the approach I also adopted for the dialogues.”
But it’s the silent moments where Navya had to convey Radhamani’s state of mind without dialogues that she found the most challenging. “Nobody except me knew how tough they were,” she chuckles. “As you already know, Oruthee has many instances where the emotions do all the talking. But since the audience is following this woman all the time, they can gauge her true feelings.”
The film’s most intense sequence arrives post-interval when Radhamani and her son become forced to pursue a chain snatcher on her scooter during the day. When the latter’s motorcycle breaks down, Radhamani and her son chase him on foot on land and water. “In reality, Sowmya chased the man at night after 8 pm and reached home the next morning at 3 am. It’s unbelievable! But that’s how some people lead their lives. They prefer to risk their lives for their possessions because their survival depends on those,” says Navya, who found the water chase, in particular, gruelling. “I was on my periods when we shot that. It was so difficult to pull off, and we weren’t in a position to shoot that on some other day. So I went ahead and did it. It was quite risky, considering the whole water bank was full of mud. I was also concerned for the safety of the boy. All the crew members were far away, and we couldn’t rely on visual effects either. It was all done for real.”
Another challenge for Navya was the absence of sync sound. (VKP had previously shot the Nithya Menen-starrer Praana in sync sound.) Navya wonders why the filmmaker didn’t use it in Oruthee. “During dubbing, VKP asked me to recreate all the little sounds I produced during filming to give that sync sound feel. I told him, ‘You should’ve gone with actual sync sound then,'” she laughs.
When asked how she looks at her journey so far, Navya tells me she’d prefer it if people steered clear of comparisons. “Comparing who you are now to who you were back then is unfair. Take films, for example. The superhits of the 2000s became so because that kind of cinema was in demand then. As for people, when someone enters your life, they either teach you something or stay with you forever. Even our opinions change, too. We may have said and done certain things back then because our psychology was a certain way back then. It doesn’t mean we would be thinking the same way now. We are all constantly evolving.