Poornima Indrajith is a revelation in Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham. The actor effortlessly, and convincingly, traverses the journey from a young, hopeful mother of three in her thirties to an ageing woman who is losing everything she holds dear. Her understated performance is consistent, her eyes and body become tools to convey a kaleidoscope of emotions and experiences far removed from what a woman of today would know.
In a pre-release interview to MetroPlus, Poornima speaks of the “weight of the wait on the self” — a reference to the delayed release of Rajeev’s opus, spanning the two decades from the 1930s-50s, which pans in on a pivotal chapter in the history of the Cochin harbour.
Poornima essays the role of a woman who moves to Mattancherry with her family looking for a better life. What awaits her instead is a life of trials and tribulations as she loses her husband and struggles to make ends meet to raise her children. “Life was very difficult for a woman, especially one trying to make ends meet. The emotional, physical, and psychological conflicts and their toll is very heavy,” she says.
“I was telling Indran [actor Indrajith, her husband] that at the end of it … today all that matters is the outcome. Whether it is a hit or a miss … be it in terms of work, cinema, or anything else. For an actor, the accomplishment is their work/craft being seen on the big screen. The theatrical experience is a big deal. The fact that the film is being released in theatres despite the challenges is a matter of pride and I am grateful for it,” she says. Considering the appreciation the film has been met with, evidently, the wait has been worth it.
The three-year wait, punctuated by the pandemic, had not been easy for the team’s passion project. Thuramukham was due for release in June 2022.
Based on the life of harbour workers in Mattancherry who were allotted work based on the chaapa (token) system and the protest against it, Thuramukham stars, besides Nivin Pauly, actors Nimisha Sajayan, Darshana Rajendran, Indrajith, Joju George and Arjun Ashokan among others. It is based on the eponymous play by KM Chidambaram, whose son Gopan Chidambaram scripted the film.
Having been part of conversations about KM Chidambaram’s Thuramukham, with Rajeev, Geethu Mohandas and Indrajith, as they discussed the subject, the politics, the women in it Poornima felt connected to it. It had grown so much on her, that when Rajeev offered her the role, it was inevitable that she agreed. Her last release was Aashiq Abu’s Virus in 2019.
Rajeev Ravi: Director or friend?
Rajeev and Poornima have been friends a long time, “we have seen each other grow as people and evolve. But the dynamics change in a professional setting. On sets you can’t be friends, we were professionals. I looked up to his craft and initially I felt pressure but he was a mentor and guide who helped me transform. As director and actor, there was an exchange of fruitful energy.”
Making the metaphorical journey back in time, from a modern woman of the 2000s to the 1940s was not easy. But the more she interacted with the few people who lived through the period and actors who were part of the original, the more she understood the challenges faced by her character. What struck her, she reminisces fondly, is how Rajeev and Gopan would ask her for her feedback as a woman. As part of gaining insight into her character, she spoke to a woman in Mattancherry who, like the character Poornima essayed, came here for a better life.
In the film, Poornima plays mother to Nivin, Arjun and Darshana’s characters or as she says, “I prefer to think of my ‘kids’ as Moidu, Hamza and Khadeeja; Umaani [Nimisha Sajayan] too.” The many intense experiences during filming helped the actors bond. “Moidu is not only a son, but also a man of the time he lives in. The patriarchy deeply ingrained in him comes into play in the form of constant friction in his relationship with his mother. Nivin and I tried to keep that going even while we were not shooting,” says Poornima.
She credits the entire team for the work she has been able to showcase. “If there is a moment I own in [in the film] it is not mine. It is everybody’s. When you work with actors who are invested, there is so much energy and encouragement. The team helps, the script and screenplay too do…”
Dressed in a yellow sari teamed with a cropped shirt in bubble-gum colours, her signature curly hair grazing her shoulders, Poornima looks younger than her 40-odd years. Interestingly she was barely 40 years old during filming. Contrasting it with her character’s look one gets an idea of how much work she and the team of makeup artists led by Ronex Xavier put in.
Transformation of self
She portrays two phases of the woman’s life, her 30s to her late 50 or early 60s. With the physical transformation — gaining weight, hours spent on makeup and the discomfort of a bodysuit — she had to acquire her character’s ‘emotional’ heft of life experiences. “Getting into the skin of the character happened a few days into filming,” she says. But there is more to Poornima’s performance than the physical transformation, as the character’s body language too changes with age.
Having worked in the entertainment industry over a period spanning more than 20 years, the change on sets was exciting for Poornima. The fluidity of roles for actors and technicians and the creative space to perform were some of the things from the ‘new gen’ set that struck her.
Poornima started her career in 1997-98 as anchor on Asianet, one of Kerala’s first satellite television networks. Subsequently she became a household name thanks to her work on television and as a fashion designer. It comes as a revelation that she has acted only in seven films until now. “It surprises a lot of people. I owe it to the television screen that people think I have been around for a long time!”
After staying away for so long, what made her want to return to acting? “Being part of films today is something I need to do personally as an actor. This is a period of transition in entertainment with so many different mediums and the variety of content. Malayalam cinema is the front-runner of cinema in India, and I want to be part of it, I don’t want to miss the bus again,” she says. Not a fan of comfort zones, Poornima will soon be seen in a couple of Hindi OTT series too.
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