At the end of her 20-minute speech, someone from the audience asked Manju Warrier what she thought about the attack on actor Parvathy for her comments against glorifying misogyny in films. She gave her signature smile and politely refused to comment on the topic. This is not the stage for it, she said, standing at the Ganesham Auditorium that Soorya Krishnamoorthy had recently raised behind his house in Thiruvananthapuram.
This is the first time she is making a formal speech like this, Manju said, inaugurating the Soorya Talk Fest that would last ten days. Basking in modesty, Manju claimed many times she is not good at speeches, but went on to make a marvelous one, apt and beautiful Malayalam, coming from one of the most-loved actors in Kerala. “If you are all here, if I have a place in your hearts, it is because of the characters I have done,” she said, going on to list out some of her first mentors in cinema. Her first role had been a small one as Murali’s daughter in Mohan’s Sakshyam. Sallapam launched her as a female lead. Lohithadas, the director, saw her photo on a magazine cover and called her for an audition. “That you can convey so much through the small movements of your eyes or hands… he taught me so much,” Manju paid her respects.
Mentioning the notable characters in her first stint in cinema, she went on straight to her comeback in 2014 through the film How Old Are You, after a 14-year break, not mentioning the marriage with actor Dileep or the divorce after. Manju kept the talk strictly professional, speaking only about her dance and cinema.
Dance had begun before school, she said. “My mother had wanted to learn dancing as a child but because of her orthodox background she couldn’t. So as soon as a girl child was born she was happy that she could get her daughter to dance,” Manju said. At the same time her love for cinema grew, living with a family that saw at least a film or two every weekend. “At youth festivals, we would all talk cinema and I realised I saw the most number of films. For us, competition came later, it was more about the excitement of travelling somewhere and making new friends.”
The second stint made her more aware of the responsibility as an actor. “I got more involved and I also enjoyed my work more. Cinema is such a powerful and influential medium that being part of it makes you responsible.” She is now doing a biopic on a writer whom she refers to as a mystery standing in front of her — Madhavikutty. Before that it was the endearing maid in Udaharanam Sujatha.
Today when she visits Ockhi victims or makes a donation to the Chief Minister, it is not with any political interest, Manju clarifies. “I didn’t call the media but someone with me had put up a Facebook post and that’s how the media came.”
To a question on new generation actors becoming a challenge to superstars, Manju said, “Never, no one can take their place. It is all healthy competition.” She came back to the topic of misogyny when someone asked if she thought men in Kerala were disrespectful to women. In her personal experience, no, she said, she never had to face it. She didn’t mention her friend, the actor who was assaulted in Kochi last February, or the Women in Cinema Collective that formed after. Manju appeared to be extremely cautious in her answers. Perhaps at a time when abuses are poured on women actors for their opinions, she prefers to be left alone....