The year was 2015. Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha hit the screens. In an impressive show in the Bollywood film, a plus size heroine named Bhumi Pednekar stole the audience’s hearts. The movie about an obese woman turned out to be a sleeper hit. Among the wowed audience sat Shibla who swooned over the path-breaking character played by Bhumi and thought, ‘Wow, when will such a role happen in a Malayalam film!’
Fate had great plans in store, unknown to Shibla. Years later, she is all set to make her debut as a heroine in a Malayalam film — O.P.160/18 Kakshi: Amminipillai starring Asif Ali. What makes the role very special is that Shibla is playing a plus-size character, much like her idol Bhumi, and took the pain to undergo an unbelievable physical transformation, by putting on 20 kg of weight!
Ask how she did it all, a now slimmer Shibla laughs, “It wasn’t easy, but I was determined. It was a now-or-never situation for me.”
Shibla as Kanthi in O.P.160/18 Kakshi: Amminipillai
Showbiz happened to the youngster from Malappuram in the form of a reality show for actors. Shibla was a finalist in the 2011 show after which she bagged anchoring offers. She recalls, “The exposure was huge. I fell in love with anchoring and even dropped by course in Bengaluru and shifted to Kerala to not lose anchoring opportunities. I started enjoying the limelight and in the meantime, attended auditions.”
She landed a small role in the film Cinema Company and was busy with her anchoring assignments when life took another huge turn in the form of love. After her marriage to Vijit, the task head at a leading production house, she continued working as an anchor. “Soon, parenthood came our way. But I didn’t lose my hope or passion for acting. I knew that I wouldn’t fit into conventional moulds of an actress, but I was hopeful,” she says.
Shibla was slowly getting back in shape when she came across the audition call for Kakshi Amminipillai. Mother to three-year-old Veer Abhimanyu, Shibla says, “They were looking for an overweight woman to play the central character. Though I was chubby-faced and not overweight, I decided to give it a try. At the audition, everyone else was heavier than me, but I was very positive. At the first round, I was asked to enact a scene from the movie and when I did, the judges applauded. When I was about to leave, they called me back and asked me to try dancing. I did that too.”
On leaving the venue, Shibla had no high hopes, but she believed that whoever is going to play Kanthi in the movie will be lucky. “Kanthi is such a strong and optimistic character with no shades of self-pity.”
A few days later, director Dinjith Ayyathan called her up and said that she was ‘almost’ Kanthi. She adds, “Almost, because there was a lot more to do. I was told to put on as much weight as possible. I also had to work on my language as the characters spoke in Thalassery dialect.” Shibla didn’t pause to think before agreeing to it. She stopped all her workouts, Zumba and anchoring assignments. She also started working on the diction. At the end of one month, she sent a video to Dinjith; he was impressed. The following three-four months were hectic. “I could feel myself blowing up like a balloon. From 68 kg, I became 85!” she chuckles.
When Shibla arrived at the sets for the shooting, she was Kanthi from head to toe. She says, “My co-actors Asif and Ahmed Siddique were surprised. They said they have never seen anyone gaining so much weight for a role! Even my trainer said that nobody would do this. I must be perhaps the only actress who would eat so much food on the sets. Thalassery being the land of delicacies, gaining weight became easier.” However, now, Shibla has managed to reduce her weight by 15 kg; she wants to to lose 10 more kilograms.
Considering the health risks, wasn’t it a thoughtless act for a newcomer? But Shibla doesn’t feel so, “It was risky, but a very nice journey. Kanthi is a very important character in this age of body-shaming. A pampered girl and the eldest daughter, Kanthi is loving, happy and free-spirited. The film is about how she gets married to a mamma’s boy and faces the troubles after that. It’s such a lucky role and believe me, even if I had to cut my heart out to play Kanthi, I would have done that. Even if this role is a one-time wonder and even if I don’t get another role again, I would be happy!”