For a girl who has been obsessed with movies all her life, Priya Anand entered the industry wanting to assist the maverick director Shankar. But life had other plans for the pretty girl. She was meant to be in front of the camera as an actor. Priya needs no further introduction to the Malayali audience than just a single mention — the Lailaakame girl. Her debut Mollywood film Ezra, opposite Prithviraj, made her a household name with the song Lailaakame climbing up the charts and remaining there for a long time. Ezra may have been her debut but Priya has worked across the Southern industries in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films as well as in Bollywood films like English Vinglish, Fukrey and Rangrez.
Priya is now looking forward to her second Malayalam film — the big-budget Rosshan Andrrews film Kayamkulam Kochunni, wherein she plays Janaki. It is a period film. That along with the chance of working with acclaimed director Rosshan drew Priya to the project. She reveals, “I met Rosshan and discussed a bunch of projects and eventually Kayamkulam Kochunni happened. KK is very different from any other project I've done so far! It's a period film made on such a large scale. And most importantly, Rosshan’s style is very different from the other directors I've worked with,” those directors include Gauri Shinde, Aishwarya Dhanush and Priyadarshan.
Explaining further, she says, “Rosshan knows exactly what he wants from every character because he lives and breathes them! He is very specific and clear about what he wants from you, which is a dream for someone who wants to explore and learn.” And learn Priya does like a thirsty sponge soaking up water. While she was paired opposite Prithviraj in Ezra, this time around, she shares screen space with Nivin Pauly and Mohanlal. She is in awe of each of them and gushes, “Malayalam actors are so subtle and it's lovely to watch their performance. I have been fortunate to have worked with the best in the business! First, Prithvi and now Nivin. I've watched a lot of Nivin’s previous films in Malayalam and Tamil and I love him as Kochunni!”
Priya plays the earthy Janaki with her costumes reflecting the lifestyle of that era. This is also the first time that Priya is acting in a period film — a fact that she is thrilled to bits about. “I have always wanted to be a part of a period film ever since I started working in this industry,” she mentions, going on to speak about Janaki. “It took some time for me to get used to seeing myself as Janaki. But the costumes and everything about that part in time was so authentic and well-researched,” she finishes her statement. The professionalism and storylines have impressed the actor in Priya, who reveals that she never noticed much of a difference between the industries until she came to Malayalam. “The kind of stories being told and the quality of movies being produced are by far superior here!” While female actors are often treated as eye and arm candy regaled to being just glamour props, she feels that the Malayalam industry is different.
“This is probably the only industry where performance comes first before glitz and glamour for a heroine and I respect the filmmakers and the audience for keeping it real!” That is not to be misconstrued as pointing fingers at the other industries. She clarifies, “Directors like Bala give a lot of importance to the women in his films. The regular commercial formula is catered towards the hero and his fans. I feel Malayalam cinema has always given importance and dignity to the female protagonist, which is one of the many reasons I'm excited to be a part of this industry.”
Incidentally, it was while she was returning after the shoot of KK that she heard of her co-actor Sridevi’s death. The duo acted together in English Vinglish and she is still grappling with that loss — both as an actor and a fan. “I have been in awe of Sridevi for as long as I could remember! I never ever imagined that I'd get an opportunity to meet her, let alone act alongside her and get noticed! I find it extremely fortunate to have met my childhood idol and it means the world to me when people talk about the bond between Radha and her mausi! It is so unfortunate that she is no longer with us and it's a terrible loss to the industry and most importantly to her family,” she says sadly.
To shrug off that mood, let us ask her criterion while selecting a project. Priya instantly says, “Quality is much more appealing to me than quantity. It is important for me that I am a part of something interesting that will add value to my life experience. Fortunately, I have never been insecure about the audience because I have always received a lot of love from them. I want to be a part of stories that need to be told.” Films aside, Priya is also the ambassador for Save the Children campaign — a cause that is dear to her. She says, “I think whatever anyone can do is not enough. Reading the news is dreadful in our country. Laws have to change. People's attitude has to change. I love working with children and I hope to always continue my work with them. I look forward to working with many more organisations.” On a free day, Priya would most likely be, “Spending time with my dog! On my days off, I usually catch up on all the things that need to be taken care of at home,” adding, “Not so glamorous.” Before she ends she says she is pursuing some projects in Tamil and Kannada and quips, “By the way, I am yet to even meet Shankar,” referring to why she stepped into the industry....