Parvathy has just made a lingering impact with her Bollywood debut in Qarib Qarib Singlle where the 29-year old Malayalam actress plays a 35-year old widow on a zany travel mission with a man as contrary to her personality as humanly possible. In an interview with Subhash K Jha, Parvathy discusses the various stereotypes that she intends to break in our cinema.
Congrats Parvathy, that is quite an impact you have made with your Hindi debut. What took you so long?
Thank you. But I don’t see Qarib Qarib Singlle as my Hindi debut. I see it as another stopover in the journey of my career which I might add, started 9 years ago. Since then I’ve done the work I believe in, and the language has not been the defining factor for my choices. If tomorrow I am offered a role in Sanskrit or Swahili I’d gladly do them provided I like my character. For the record, I was offered a role by Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s production house for a Hindi film. That didn’t work out. But I got to know Gazal Dhaliwal who was to write that film. She wrote Qarib Qarib Singlle.
Interestingly you played another strong assertive woman this year in the beautiful Malyalam film Take Off. Are you disinclined to play women who are not strong?
Not at all. In fact the challenge of playing of role is neither in the character being strong or weak. But women whose inner world I am not familiar with. Sometimes it’s even difficult to understand how a woman behaves in a given situation. I remember when I did Notebook (Malayalam, 2008)—I was only 18 then and emotionally far less empowered than I am today–I told my director Rosshan Andrews that I would never behave the way my character Pooja Krishnan does in the situation she was put in. My director told me something that has served me well as an actor, ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t behave the same way if put in the same situation? How are you sure?’
That experience taught you to never judge your characters?
Yes, exactly. You may ask how can Jaya, my character in Qarib Qarib Singlle take off on a journey with a stranger. But for me it is important to explore the unfathomable. I’d rather go into unfamiliar situations in characters’ lives to see how and why they got there. Unless you penetrate the darkness how can there be light? But coming back to your point about playing strong women, the woman in Take Off was a challenge because she was put in an extremely trying circumstance.
Yes, the film was based on the kidnappings of nurses in Iraq?
Yes and I played a very grim surly nurse Sameera. She is not someone relatable or even likeable. In fact we all wondered will this character work, since she doesn’t even smile and she even uses her feelings towards a man to get her way out of the crisis.
Your character in Take Off reminded me on Jessica Chastain in The Zoo Keeper’s Wife?
Yes, both being put into war zones from where they need to desperately escape. It is important to explore characters in crisis for us to understand why the world has become the way it has.
You are 29 and yet you make your Hindi debut as a 35-year old woman. Surely you were advised against it?
Oh yes. I was also advised to market myself and to ensure optimum visibility. But sorry, I am not buying that. Or selling. As an actor I only want to focus on what I am here for, acting. I know a star’s name sells any and everything from soaps to appliances. And those who are doing it are probably doing what is best for them. But that’s not the life I’ve chosen for myself. I am here to act. And it doesn’t matter whether I’ve play some 29 or 35. I need to be as convincing as an 18 year old as we well as an 80-year old.
So you have no problems playing older than your age?
None whatsoever. And I’ve absolutely no problems with actresses who want to constantly play younger than their age. What I do have a problem with is, being a part of blockbusters that propagate outdated patriarchal values. Those are dangerous and damaging to our cause.
In an industry dominated by air headedness, you come across as extremely lucid. Would you have a problem playing a dumb woman?
Firstly, why is a woman dumb? Because she is not aware of the world around her, and buries her head in her phone all day long? But who made her the way she is? I don’t think actresses are airheaded as a rule. A lot of them are very intelligent. But have to constantly play down their intelligence because that’s what this patriarchal film industry wants them to do. I am sure Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Alia Bhatt are very intelligent actresses. But it’s the nature of the entertainment industry to play down a woman’s intelligence. When I was in Mumbai promoting my film I was asked priceless questions like, ‘Which of the Khans would you like to work with?’
Which of the Khans would like to work with you after Qarib Qarib Singlle?
Ha ha. I’ve already worked with one (Irrfan). But seriously, should that even be a question?
No, but I still want to know would you take off on a holiday with an obnoxious stranger like your character Jaya in Qarrib Qarrib Single?
Well, I travel a lot. And I travel alone. I like to discover new places outside and within myself. In fact after I finished shooting earlier this year, I just took on a long holiday abroad from May to July traveling wandering backpacking and hitchhiking. I made friends during the trip. I even took a road trip to Iceland with a female friend I made.
Are you in touch with her now?
No. I don’t believe in clinging on to relationships. While travelling you make friends. You share wonderful times with them. Then why prolong the kinship and risk spoiling it by exchanging numbers and promising to keep in touch? Move on. Life has so much to offer. Treat every human encounter as an opportunity to enrich your life.
You sound like you don’t believe in permanent relationships? Are you single?
I am in love with love constantly. But I don’t believe in carrying the baggage of relationships on my head constantly.
So much is being said and written about sexual harassment after Weinstein. But before him your Malayalam film industry has superstar Dileep to deal with?
I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt until proven guilty by the courts. As an active member of the WCC (Women in Cinema Collective) we are constantly addressing issues related to women’s space at the work place. I am glad we are finally addressing an issue that has troubled women forever.
But why were all these women keeping quiet all these years?
When you ask that, you do them a disservice for bravely coming out, finally. I’ve been victim of this (harassment) many times over. And I can tell you it’s not easy to be a woman working in a patriarchal industry. You are constantly reminded of your gender and how you need to use your gender to make something of your career. Then we have our cinema which for decades has shown stalking and heckling to be permissible behaviour. Which is why when an Alia Bhatt comes out of her comfort zone and does a Highway or an Udta Punjab it makes a helluva difference to the (predatory) male gaze.