Amala Paul is her casual, confident and chirpy self as she begins this interview. She has a lovely smile that reaches her eyes. With exuberance in her hammy gestures and straightforwardness in her speech, she is raring to go. The actor sips a cup of tea and settles down for a chat. “I feel calmer and more secure now. This is the best phase of my life. The change doesn’t happen overnight. After loads of introspection, realisation and acceptance, here am I,” she says.
Excerpts from a conversation:
You are unstoppable. Despite the trolls, negativity and personal issues in the past, you live a Zen life.
I was 17 when I came into the film industry. I knew nothing. I forgot who I was and what I was up to. When my marriage failed, I couldn’t handle it. The whole world was against me. I felt I was alone. I wanted to run away. It was, of course, painful. I kept blaming myself for everything that happened.
In 2016, I signed up for a Himalayan trip that changed my approach towards life. I remember backpacking—fancy dresses, sunscreen, lip balm, chappals and so on. After four days of trekking, I emptied everything. I lived without a mobile phone and slept in tents. I kept walking for days together that my mind and body became numb. I found a lot of answers within and rediscovered myself. I shed both physical and emotional baggage and realised why I took to acting. Trust me, I found my lost self in the process. I stopped feeling the emptiness. The transformation is because of solo sojourns. That’s when you realise your inner power. Looking back, I could see why things happened the way they happened. Everything happens for a reason. It’s all karma.
I am no longer behind materialistic stuff. I live a simple life in Puducherry. I spend Rs 20,000 per month. I sold my Mercedes. It was feeding my ego. I cycle around to buy household items. Even the local auto wallahs smile at me. Otherwise, yoga, gardening, reading and surfing keep me alive. I wanted to stay in the Himalayas. (Laughs) Since that’s difficult, I chose Puducherry. The beautiful thing about Auroville is we keep our surroundings clean. Potlucks happen in the evening. We relax, share food, play the guitar and listen to some music. Everything is a part of conscious living. I am on an ayurvedic diet. I have stopped visiting parlours. I don’t know when I did pedicure or manicure last time. I just use multani mitti and green gram paste on my face. I visit the beach every day and breathe fresh air. I wake up to the sunrise. Auroville’s energy is infectious! I am the happiest today. Yes, I am seeing someone. I would love to get married, have a baby and adopt one.
I am so happy for you, Amala. Tell us more about him.
I shared the Aadai script with him and he told me I needed to work on myself. Guess what he told me after watching my films? I was a shitty actor. (Laughs) He is supportive of my decisions. What I am now is because of the love he has for me. His love healed me. He is such a cool guy!
Moving on… Aadai wasn’t an easy film!
It came to me when I was about to quit films. Filmmakers were approaching me with patronising pseudo-feminist scripts. Women don’t take shit from anyone these days. I want badass roles like that. I could pull off Kamini because I was far from reality. I started hanging out with my co-stars to have a better understanding of today’s youth and how they behave. It’s been ages since I roamed around the city. I visited malls and observed people talk. Additionally, I had to give up on yoga and went to the crazy person I was for the character.
Rathna Kumar wanted me to get six packs (Laughs). I started gymming slowly because it gives an insane amount of energy. In Tamil cinema, a heroine is either a chamaththu ponnu or villi. There is no middle ground. But with Aadai, I could explore the grey shades. There was truth in the story and reflected what’s happening in society. This girl Kamini is independent, arrogant, selfish, artistic and also drinks and hangs out with guys. She doesn’t have any baggage. She doesn’t give two hoots about people. It is good to be Kamini. I was like her when I was 20. (Laughs)
In the trailer, you shared a kiss with your co-star Ramya.
My dad says, “Naai vesham poatta kolachchu dhane aaganum?” A painter paints nude stuff. That’s his job. Likewise, acting is my job. That said, what’s wrong in kissing a girl? (Winks) Why are we judgemental? That shot was not in the script but happened on the spot. Once you are in the character, you should let your inner actor take over you.
How did you mentally prepare yourself for those “controversial” scenes?
I was tense on the sets as it was a huge risk. But that’s the kind of trust I had on my crew. Right before performing the scene, I called my manager and ensured that everything was on track. Everyone got frisked to ensure there were no mobile phones. We had 15 technicians and I told I felt like Panchali with 15 husbands. (Laughs) But once I finished shooting, I felt extremely comfortable with my body. Just imagine… the whole world was going to see my body. The film gave me a lot of strength. I did my best. I said to myself I shouldn’t think about the results. Only two things mattered then. Did I put in 100 percent effort? Did I make sure others also put in the same effort? Look, I am more powerful. I turned producer for my next, Cadaver! That’s what nudity does to you. (Laughs) I felt empowered. I don’t care about trolls and haters because I show them what they lack. They are scared of the truth that I am living. I am someone who believes in taking chances in life and goes for the riskiest things.
Not at all. Post-Mynaa, I didn’t know how to handle success. I did back-to-back films. It’s always a struggle to choose your next film after a blockbuster. I had no time to introspect if I was doing the right thing. In the beginning, I was insecure. Even though I did some good work, I wasn’t satisfied. To be honest, I have never been stereotyped so far. I am lucky to get varied roles. I did Amma Kanakku in 2016. But after that, nobody approached me with a similar script. I played the mother of a girl being young myself.
Who are your friends in the industry?
The failed marriage opened my eyes. Until then, I wasn’t aware of fake people and liars. They exactly told me things I wanted to hear. Friends betrayed me; I lost them. That’s all right. Everything was a lesson. (Smiles)
Not every mainstream female actor has short hair like yours.
In general, long hair is synonymous with beauty—but let me tell you—the haircut is the most liberating thing to happen ever. It’s okay to focus more on your personality and forget about the traditional feminine traits. The interesting thing I noticed was strangers weren’t getting attracted to me the way it was before. It’s a good thing. I am a badass with don’t-mess-with-me looks now! (Grins)
Tell us about your upcoming films.
It’s a great time to be a woman in cinema. Adho Andha Paravai Pola has got some fantastic stunt sequences. It’s an interesting film. Also, I am shouldering Cadaver in which I play a forensic expert. They say there is no market for heroine-centric films, but only I know how much I have made even before the film’s release. That’s the thing about young directors these days. It has become a collaborative process—that as an actor I can ideate with the team and execute. I am playing my game smarter.
Does it mean you won’t play the typical heroine from now on?
It is nice to see Ajith sir do the Pink remake, Nerkonda Paarvai. When a person like him says something to society, people listen. I would love to be a part of such films. Again, the content is important.
I know you are an avid reader. What’s on your reading list?
I bought five books. Four of them were bad. But Robin Sharma’s ‘The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life’ was kickass. I also recommend Maya Tiwari’s ‘Women’s Power to Heal: Through Inner Medicine’. It’s amazing.
What do you do when you don’t work?
The past two months have been maddening with Aadai patch-work and promotions. I can’t wait to go back and chill. Sundays are selfishly for me. I don’t talk to anyone. Even my mother can’t reach me on the phone!
You give me a job; I am there. The north-south divide isn’t there at all. There are some terrific filmmakers like Vishal Baradwaj who comes up with exciting stories. I am all for it.