When I first called Kani for an interview, she was in Mumbai and in the middle of a shoot. She had exhausted herself over interviews following the tirade after bagging the State award for best actress for her performance as Khadeeja in Sajin Babu's upcoming movie, Biriyani.
After promising not to bore her (one that I might have failed at), we spoke again after a few days.
♦Anan: What is the one question you are most tired answering in interviews?
Kani: (laughs) "How do you feel?"
What do you feel when you won the award or something like that. I think everyone would know this answer. That was the most tiring! I think everyone feels happy, so it was pretty weird to answer the same question again and again.
♦Biriyani has been much talked about though it hasn't been released?
Yeah, Biriyani hasn't been released. Sajin Babu, the director, has been trying to release it since March. Then, we have Covid now. So we don't know, yet.
♦ I recently watched Rajesh Rajamani's 'The discreet charm of savarnas' in which you played one of the leads. How did it feel doing a satire?
I felt so good to do a satire! I requested Rajesh, "Can I be part of the project?" He was talking to me about the project for other concerns and I requested him, "If you're still looking for an actor, can I be part of it?" He was, I think, happy about it (laughs). It was a pleasure to work with him because I really liked the script!
♦What is the genre you most enjoy and why?
Of course, comedy! It is the most difficult to fool! Every other emotion, actors pretend or they can easily fake the audience. As an actor, I see through other actors when they do that. But comedy, you cannot fool. If it worked, people laugh at that very moment and you immediately know if it's good or not. It's like playing an instrument; there is no way you can go out of tune. It demands a lot from an actor; talent, hard work and complete honesty.
♦Does your choice of movies reflect your politics?
Of course not. It reflects the politics of the director, I think. Sometimes when I worked with it, it didn't resonate with any thoughts of mine. Some work that I have done, partially it reflects and some parts it doesn't. Sometimes it almost reflects.
Even with Biriyaani, I had my own- I still have my own- doubts or thoughts about it but it didn't stop me from doing the character. I don't think it ever reflected my politics. First of all, I don't think I have any choice (laughs). I have very less choice when it comes to acting, very few projects come to me, so within that, I make compromised choice if I were to look at it as my politics.
♦Given the circumstances of today, how do you perceive cinema as maybe, say, resistance or reflection? Does it have to be at all or is it without effort?
I don't think cinema or any art has to be a reflection. For some people, it might be resistance or reflection, not for everyone. It's a playful place to be imaginative.
♦You recently mentioned in an interview that you have got hope for cinema and particularly Malayalam cinema despite its many problems. What gives you that hope?
I see a significant difference in Malayalam Cinema- both in terms of creativity and healthy working culture. I feel the working spaces have become more female-friendly, or less misogynistic, or at least more of a 'friendship' place. I might be wrong. A better culture is coming along in the Malayalam cinema industry. The writing and stories have also gotten more interesting than the last decade.
I've felt the '80s or the early 90s or the 70s had seen a lot of amazing stories, screenplays, dialogues and actors in Malayalam cinema. But after that period, or maybe after 2002, this saw a dip. But now, in this decade, I feel there's been a positive change. Of course, I could be wrong here and might be feeling this being a little farther away.
♦As everybody has much talked about Kani as an actor, how is Kani as a fan? Do you have favourite filmmakers or actors?
I'm a fan of a lot of actors. (laughs)
I do have a lot of favourite filmmakers and actors. In Malayalam, knowing that Padmarajan's stories are misogynistic and caste-insensitive, I find him an amazing author and an amazing director. I still like him despite having those disagreements with his politics and lots of other things in his stories. My favourite film of his is Kallan Pavitran and Arappatta Kettiya Gramathil.
And a lot of actors! Like Urvashi, Philomina, Meena, Revathi, Manju Warier... And then, I like Tilakan, Karamana, Gopi, Sankarady, Mamukoya, Jagathi, Vinayakan, Soubin- these are all Malayalam though. As for people from world cinema- I love Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix. That'll be a long list, so let's stick with Malayalam ones.
♦Do you like watching films?
Actually, not so much (laughs). I watch very few films. I need to know it's a good film already from the peers that I admire or my friends and family and a lot of good reviews, after that I actually choose to watch a film.
I generally like live performances of music, dance and theatre. I am an audience of a live show than a recorded thing. I am not a fan of going to theatres, so (laughs) I end up not watching a lot of films
♦Does your taste in movies you watch affect your selection of the movies you act in?
I don't have plenty of choices to make such decisions. Whatever comes my way, within that, I might be making some choice. I mean, I would love to have it; I don't have that opportunity yet.
I think everybody would like to be part of something they would like to watch but I think my taste in films is a bit quirky or comedy or satire and I haven't had the much opportunity to work in such things. I would like to be part of things that I would like to watch but I don't know how much of a choice I have as an actor for that.
♦Do you like watching yourself on screen?
No, I don't! (laughs) I hardly have gone and watched any movie I have done. I hate it.
♦How do you judge yourself?
Very harshly and I am most of the times disappointed by what I have done. So far, only in some moments, scene or shot, I am satisfied with my acting.
Navigating through theatre to short films to commercial features to art house, which do you enjoy the most?
Actually, all these platforms are amazing so I can't say. I enjoy all of them equally, but the theatre has been a little more closer to me because I think I love the process of making a play, that is very liberating. The process of making a play is one of the best things that has happened to me in my life so, somewhere, theatre.
♦Which has been your favourite performance?
I think it's this play called Pacha directed by Surjith Gopinath. In that play, when I performed, I liked myself in it. Then I think I liked me in this play called A very normal family directed by Roshan Mathew. These two plays, I think I'm okay in my performance (laughs). In films, umm not really… there's hardly a single shot that I find.
♦What do you engage with when you are on a break from the movie world?
So I'm not always in the movie world anyway, I'm a theatre artist and a freelancer. So sometimes you have work and sometimes you don't. I learnt Sitar- that's something I like to do. I have online classes now and I like gardening a lot. Then I watch some series and I eat a lot, so I'm basically lazy. I read sometimes, but now it has been non-fiction mostly. That's what I do probably when I'm on a break, but it's not just with movie world, I see it more like a break from work – movies, theatre, anything.
♦Which of your works would you want to rework had you gotten the chance?
Recently, it's been the discreet charm of the savarnas because I think my performance was below average and I think I should have worked much better in it because it was such a fantastic script. I don't think I did any justice to that. Otherwise, with every work, when you watch again, you are like, "Shit ! I want to do it again!" to make it better. So I think every work of mine I feel the same way but more than anything else, I think it is this film because this was fun. Rajesh's short was one of the best that came to me and I am a bit disappointed with the way I performed in it.
♦What is that one role you wish to do that you haven't yet?
A lot! It's not just the one. There are a lot of characters in Malayalam for which I went "Wow, I wish I could do that!" A lot of characters that Urvasi has played, some which Revathi has played, then the girl in Aranyakam, that character, I find it amazing. Jomol's character in Ennu swantham Janakykutty -I used to love. The character Nimisha has played in Eeda, the one Aishwarya played in Mayanadi.
These are some, I felt, were amazing. Also, some characters that Jagathy has done! I always wish I'd gotten an opportunity to do that! I won't be able to perform even a thousandth of what he has done, and not thinking that I'll deliver anything close to his performance, but just, you know, an ambitious wish. (laughs) I don't have anyone in mind or rather, I have a lot in mind, that I don't know how to choose one!
(All images of Kani Kusruthi used in this interview is taken from her official facebook account )