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Abhija on making her choices as an artiste

“I was never cast as just another face in the crowd.” That’s how Abhija sums up her journey in tinsel town. She has never been the conventional heroine, yet she stood out with her performance notwithstanding the duration of her characters on screen. A natural in front of the camera, she has been a delight to watch in movies such as Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi, Njan Steve Lopez, Love 24×7, Ozhivudivasathe Kali, Action Hero Biju, Munroethuruthu, Udaharanam Sujatha and Aabhaasam.

But acting is not an end in itself for Abhija, a trained dancer and theatre artiste. “I had not planned to make a living as an actor. I had decided on a break from my job, that’s all,” she says. The ‘job’ was her stint as a designer with different firms in Bangalore. “After finishing my course in Applied Art from College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram, I worked for eight years before I decided to take a break. Dance was the only relief for me. I wanted to do something more creative. Theatre was the first choice because my mother, late Rugmini K.K., was an amateur theatre actor,” she says.

Theatre happened through city-based Abhinaya theatre group. “They were looking for a tall, dark girl with curly hair to play Lady Macbeth in their production, Macbeth. Parvathy [actor Maala Parvathy] chechi suggested my name,” she says. Although she didn’t plan to stay long in theatre, that wasn’t meant to be. The International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) 2010 saw her as one among the 45 artistes who acted in a mega Indo-Latin American project, Las Indias, directed by Elias Cohen from Chile.

“It was a learning experience. We had to do everything from scratch and that was a revelation for me. Eventually I decided to stay back in Kerala, although I enjoyed my life in Bangalore. I did another production with the team, Tsunami Express, which, unfortunately had to be dropped after one show. With Abhinaya, I worked in productions such as Invisible Cities and Pacha. Life had taken a new course. Each day was exciting and unpredictable,” she muses. Abhija worked with foreign theatre groups/artistes such as David Berga in ‘Automatarium’, a visual installation, and clown theatre with Francaois Calvel.

Cinema calling

That was when movies came calling. Although people “barely saw” her in Bachelor Party, Paru, her character in Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi, was noticed. Abhija admits that she was not serious about films initially. “All that changed once I worked in Rajeev Ravi’s Njan Steve Lopez. Even though I was called to help with the casting, I got a good role in the film. I became responsible as an actor and realised that cinema too is my profession,” she points out. Abhija adds that she got each role based on the merit of her performances and not because of any personal connections. “Now people have started suggesting my names for certain roles. In Ozhivudivasathe Kali and Munroethuruth, I was the only female actor, who, though not the heroine, played a crucial part in the narrative,” she observes.

However, she is disappointed about getting typecast. That restricts her as an actor, Abhija says. “I want to do action-oriented roles. That was fulfilled to some extent in Aabhaasam. How I enjoyed getting into action! I do physical theatre and so I am raring to do such roles,” she says. That passion also comes from her training as a dancer. She has learnt Odissi and Kathak and is currently learning belly dance in Bangalore. “I am not much into South Indian dance forms. I have shifted base to Bangalore where there are classes in other dance forms. I learn dance to keep myself engaged and not to perform on any stage. I am particular about staying fit and dance gives me that flexibility,” she says.

She is game about doing dance-oriented characters. But then it is not in her nature to go around seeking good roles. “I am aware that I should be getting better characters. However, I can’t work towards that. I move at my own pace and I can’t change that nature. I am in no hurry,” she says.

Voicing her views

Meanwhile, she was not hesitant to take a stand in the stand-off between AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) and Women in Cinema Collective (WCC). She was among the 15 female actors who signed a petition that said they were not part of AMMA. “I can’t shut my eyes to what is happening around. This revolt was inevitable. This is a man’s world and I respect the four artistes who dared to raise their voice. Why can’t those at AMMA understand that things have to change?” she asks.

Abhija goes on to say that she is not worried about being sidelined for taking a stand. “I am not concerned about losing projects. I came at a time when the industry was at the cusp of a change. I have worked with respectable filmmakers. If it is a question of survival and earning money, cinema is not the only platform. I have done only 14 films in the last five years. But that’s fine. Even if no projects come my way, I will look out for other options. I am extremely curious about life,” she smiles. Right now, she is working on staging a solo theatre production.

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