Actor Muthumani Somasundaran has been a regular face in some of the blockbuster movies over the past few years. Making her debut with Sathyan Anthikkad’s Rasathanthram in 2006, Muthumani has gone on to work with ace directors including Ranjith. She is best known for her character roles.
An alumnus of National University of Advanced Legal Studies, she is also an advocate and aspires to continue as one simultaneously with her acting career. She also has experience in working with a corporate that persuaded her to set up Prerana, an initiative, which provides need-based training for students, teachers and corporates. She uses her theatre experience combined with the knowledge she gained while working in a corporate to train students to help identify and maximise their skills.
In a conversation with Vidya Nair, Muthumani speaks about her decade-long ride in the Malayalam film industry to The Kochi Post.
Could you tell us something about your initial years in acting and how you developed an interest towards it?
Since my school days itself I had a good exposure towards different art forms, be it dance, music or any other creative activities. It was mainly because despite being school teachers, my parents were greatly inclined towards art forms. This is the reason why I was active in theatre from a young age. I also learned dance. Meanwhile, when I was in class 8, my school had decided to take part in the State-level drama competition that year. This was the first time anything of this sort was being done from our school, because being a convent school we were not much into drama performances.
However, that year we bagged the third prize. I also participated in drama competitions for the next few years and we achieved the first position in the third year. After getting out of school, my interest towards theatre and acting was extreme and I got associated with various theatre groups and performed with them. I would say that this exposure has sown the seeds of acting in me and I firmly believe that theatre can obviously help bring a certain amount of discipline. For me, theatre has always been a learning platform and not just an acting platform.
In one of your interviews you had said that dance requires a great amount of discipline and that improvisations can only be brought in after one excels in it. However, drama gives more freedom. How would you describe this freedom?
Drama of course provides the actor a higher amount of freedom since its initial stages itself, when compared to dance. But it is the actor’s discretion on how to use this freedom. A drama is also set in a framework and just because you have an opportunity to experiment with the character you are playing, it never implies that you can go overboard and do whatever you feel is correct. Freedom should not be misused, be that in any art form or in day-to-day life.
Would you like to experiment more with theatre and do something for promoting this art?
Drama is one thing that charges me up like anything. I believe that a play is not a thing that just happens once an actor is on stage. It is a creative process and learning about a particular play does not happen at the moment one is going to perform. It happens right from the day a character is formed. If sincerely pursued, theatre has an ability to influence the growth of the actor. People who just see drama as a mode of entertainment will never understand the depth of the dedication required. The impact of drama is much above that and if I could do anything from my side to promote this art form and make people aware of its importance, I will definitely give it a try. Even though I am too amateur and inexperienced to do anything, I would really like to do something productive and useful in this regard in the future.
How did you enter into movies?
A theatre group in Ernakulam called Lokadharmi in association with the National School of Drama had organised a theatre production, which I was also part of. Director Sathyan Anthikkad saw an interview of mine regarding the same and gave me an offer to be a part of his next movie Rasathanthram, which is my first movie. That is how my journey in the Malayalam film industry began. Since then there has been no looking behind. By the Almighty’s grace, I have been able to be a part of some awesome movies and the best teams in the industry. My very first movie had a brilliant set of actors including Bharat Gopi, Mohanlal, KPAC Lalitha, Innocent, Oduvil Unnikrishnan, and a fantastic director. I can proudly say that the movie got me enrolled in best school for acting.
How different is acting in a movie when compared to performing in a play? Have movies been simpler for you to act in?
Definitely not, because there is a lot of difference between acting in a movie and in a drama. Acting is never an easy task and both these require different forms of approach where hard work and effort is required. Cinema has retakes, but we cannot neglect the fact that there is no other performing art form that requires an actor to be spontaneous to a level as cinema requires. As soon as we receive the scene and the dialogues, one has to switch characters and moods according to the requirement of that scene. We might be in a pleasant mood but will have to shoot for a sad sequence, which is really tough. But talking about drama, a character and dialogues are set and one gets ample time to rehearse before that final performance. Cinema requires spontaneity and flexibility that undoubtedly improves the actor’s skill and drama provides an opportunity to sharpen the existing skill.
Which do you think has refined the actor in you, theatre or movies?
Acting is what I am passionate about and love doing. And both these platforms have provided me the opportunity to do what I can do best. Both drama and movies have helped refine the actor in me.
Could you share your experience of working in your first movie with such great actors and team?
Rasathanthram was the best thing that happened to me. I had many inhibitions regarding acting and how to perform with these ace actors. But they understood that and supported me to a great extent. Mohanlal as an actor and a person is absolutely fantastic and provided me with tips on how to approach a scene and perform it.
Comparing the movies that you have done till date, your character in ‘Kadal Kadannu Oru Maathukuty’ was completely different. It was of course surprising for the audience who have only seen you in matured roles. Could you tell us something about working on that character?
My character in the movie was completely different from what I am in real life and the type of characters I had earlier done. The character is that of a bossy wife who is overconfident and dominates her husband as he is unemployed and she is the one who runs the house. I would like to thank Ranjith, the director of the movie for the trust he had in me that I would be able to carry off the character well and it was through his support that I was able to pull it off properly. It was a good learning experience for me working with Mammootty as well because even he was very supportive and guided me throughout to perform the role.
You started with a Sathyan Anthikkad movie and went on to do other movies with him as well. You have also worked with director Ranjith. Do you think that your theatre background has helped you achieve such strong roles?
Maybe or maybe my urge to do quality acting is bringing me good offers. And I am glad that these offers have come my way. I am a Gemini and one of our biggest character traits is to take things as and how they come up, so I do not have any strategy while working other than that I want to become a part of good cinema and have good characters to my credit. I am a director’s actor and I like to perform the character as the director wants me to do, rather than doing what I feel like. Also, I take up roles that appeal to me and the chances to perform should be more rather than the length of the role.
How would you differentiate Muthumani as a person and an actor?
A character is what is seen on screen. But an actor is an extension of the person. As an actor, I perform what I am asked to and I don’t think any of the characters I have performed have any resemblance to my personal character. However, the role in How Old Are You is somewhat similar to Muthumani in real life. I stand for my friends and loved ones.
What are your views on ‘New Generation Movies’?
I don’t think people in the industry use this term because cinema has also evolved and new directors are coming in the industry who are extremely talented and know the job they are doing. Every generation has different kinds of movies that the public wants from directors. You can’t make movies that were made in the 90s and expect it to be blockbusters. So this term is illogical and it is more important that good movies are made.
You are also an advocate and pursuing LLM. Are you able to manage both acting and studies?
I was very clear when I decided to study law and I got offers for acting in movies while I was studying. I am also active in theatre, so I have never felt that I should keep my studies on the second priority list and acting as first and that is the reason why I am doing masters as well. I am able to strike a balance between the two and would like to continue the same.
As an advocate what would you like to say about the recent issues between media and advocates?
I would like to say that it is the responsibility of every person to understand the situation and act accordingly. It is not that the truth is not visible; it is just that we don’t want to see it. Swallowing any information as and how we receive is not a good a practice as there are many options nowadays to get the correct information on a topic. We just need to use our common sense.
So are you here to stay?
My plans are so and pray and wish I keep getting the kind of roles I have been receiving. I can never give up acting and it will be an essential part of my life. Be it theatre or movies.
What are your upcoming projects?
Kochavva Paulo Ayyapa Coelho with Kunchacko Boban is the one that has already been released and my upcoming movie is Jomonte Suviseshangal, which is directed by Sathyan Anthikkad with Dulquer Salman in the lead role. It is due to release in December.
Main photograph courtesy Facebook.