Malayalam actor Manju Pillai is basking in the success of her role in ‘#Home’, which is getting rave reviews
“I am still floating on air…,” says Manju Pillai with a laugh. Ever since her new release #Home dropped on OTT, the actor has been flooded with congratulatory messages and phone calls. “It started from August 19 night, when the film was released. I have lost count of the number of interviews [I have done]. This Onam has been truly special for me. I know it won’t be there for long. Nevertheless, I am relishing every moment of it,” says Manju.
The heart-warming family drama, directed by Rojin Thomas, has been getting rave reviews for performances and story. Manju shines through as Kuttyamma, a mother of two. Her sons Antony (Sreenath Bhasi), a filmmaker, and Charles (Naslen), a wannabe YouTube star, take her for granted, but she keeps the family together and stands up for her happy-go-lucky husband, Oliver Twist (a brilliant Indrans), when he is looked down upon by their children.
“It is the honesty in the script and innate goodness of the characters that made #Home connect with viewers in such a big way. Such characters live in many households and that relatability struck a chord with the audience. However, I am still not sure if I have done complete justice to the character. Although people are saying that it is one of the best works of my career, I feel I could have done better. Especially when I look at the kind of work Indrans chettan has done,” she adds.
The 44-year-old maintains that there were no preparations to become Kuttyamma, a character in her 50s. “When I asked Rojin about her, he said, ‘Come to the set and then you will be able to figure it out’. And I did just that. He gave me the freedom to play the character. I have modelled her on my mother. I have got several calls and messages saying that Kuttyamma reminded them of their mother. Now I know that mothers have similar traits!” she says.
The camaraderie on the set enhanced her performance. “We all felt at home on location. In fact, I lived as Kuttyamma on and off the camera! It has been almost a year since we finished the shoot and we still remain a close-knit family,” she adds.
Oliver and Kuttyamma are inspired by Rojin’s parents, Thomas Richard and Rosamma Thomas aka Kuttyamma. “I met the real Kuttyamma only recently. After watching the movie, she told me that neither is Oliver such a naive man nor is Kuttyamma a terror!” Manju says.
Manju says that the prosthetic teeth she wore were meant to age the character. “Also, according to Rojin, Manju Pillai is more beautiful and younger than Kuttyamma. I had to sacrifice my looks!”
She was among the many artistes Rojin had shortlisted for Kuttyamma, one of them being Urvashi. Similarly, he had plans to cast actor-director-scenarist Sreenivasan as Oliver. “Now the team is saying that they can’t think of anyone else in these roles,” she adds.
It helped that she has shared screen with Indrans in many movies. “We had expected such a rousing reception for his Oliver. I can go on and on about him, especially the person that he is. He doesn’t know his worth. It was a privilege when he said in a few interviews that my presence helped him in the scenes. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that.”
Worth the wait
Manju admits that this “level of appreciation is new for me.” TV comedy has been her mainstay. Except for her character in auteur Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Naalu Pennungal, there aren’t many stand-out roles in her three-decade-long career in Malayalam cinema. “I always believed that if I am destined to get a good character it will come to me. I don’t find fault with filmmakers for not casting me because I was not always around. I have not done many movies, so it was quite natural that my name didn’t pop up in their list,” she observes.
Response from within the industry has been encouraging.
Besides shooting for #Home with a limited crew, her lockdown days were productive as she started a farm, Pillai’s Farm Fresh, at Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram with her husband, cinematographer-director Sujith Vaassudev. While the shoot of her popular sitcom Thatteem Mutteem has been put on hold for the time being, she is appearing as one of the judges on reality show Oru Chiri Iru Chiri Bumper Chiri.
Meanwhile, she has already got a few good offers. The actor emphasises that she has no qualms about playing mother on screen. “What is wrong with that? But my condition is that the role should have some significance and shouldn’t end up as a prop. I would never let myself be typecast,” she says.
#Home is streaming on Amazon Prime.