It’s a damp Sunday morning. Shwetha Menon has arrived all the way from the Middle East to Kochi. A couple of hours later, this interview takes place at her apartment. As cheerful as she is on the screen, with a fresh and inviting demeanour, Shwetha settles down for a talk. Li’l Sabaina, a bit moody, huddles around her mom until she budges to her demand – a toy. Even if she has personal commitments on the day and is not meant to talk shop, she does not mind. Shwetha has missed the ‘first day, first show’ ritual of her one-day-old film Naval Enna Jewel. The excitement to see herself in a top-to-toe makeover on silver screen throbs in her words, reflects as spark in her eyes. The director had let it slip right in the beginning that Shwetha is doing a male character for the movie. Only those who saw Naval’s dearest Chachu would know she was not another wearer of guises in Indian cinema, but a real actor of mettle.
For the complex makeover, Shwetha literally got into the skin of a man, squeezed herself into the wrinkled old man’s bearded prosthetics and hefty costumes. To live as a man in the arid Arab land in the summer months, as a woman, was no walk in the park. “It took three hours to put the makeup and it took the same time for removal. Shooting went on for 10 hours. My skin breathed in the remaining time. It would have been time for the next schedule, when I wake up the next day. For seven days, it went on like this. On one occasion, water boils popped up on my face. There was no air conditioner in Oman, where we filmed,” she recaps.
While saying a quick yes to director Renji Lal Damodaran, she knew the role was challenging and dealt with Arabi Kalyanam (a child getting married to an older man). “I demanded a few month’s time to psychologically prepare myself. We underwent make-up trials on my highly sensitive skin. After all, the little girls getting married are barely three or four years older than my daughter. With all childishness and no maturity how can a child be wife to a man in his 60s? Isn’t he a grandpa in her perspective?” she asks. It did not go down well for her at all.
“I was in for a shock when I heard about the existence of such an age-old system in present day society. Having been born and raised outside Kerala, I couldn’t believe it. Nobody is scared of the law since there are umpteen loopholes. Every religion has its rules, the nation has its own. I have a daughter and I feel there should not be any particular religious intervention in the growing-up stage. Will such things happen if an ‘all people, one law’ concept was there?” she asks. “Is that what Uniform Civil Code means?,” asks hubby Sreevalsan Menon. This piece of info slightly irks Shwetha, who shows the least interest in his political leanings and wizardry. Just a few seconds of funny debate and she returns.
Like an awestruck child, Shwetha explains working with international artistes like Adil Hussain and Reem Kadem. “We are nothing before their amazing dedication. In Hollywood, no star value can rule talent. If done to perfection, they pay high for even the smallest of roles. So they put in a lot of dedication. Reem was given the script six months prior to the shoot. She learned it by heart,” she says. The movie is inspired from three real-life tales — of an Arabi Kalyanam victim, a woman persecuted for assassinating her rapist and a Malayali women living in the guise of a man in an Arab nation. Shwetha had heard their stories, though she couldn’t meet any of them.
Shwetha has no hard and fast rules in her career. “As an artiste, I can’t say I’ll do only commercial movies. When I do glamour roles, I am asked why I stick on to it. If I return, the question will be why I have stopped doing the other type. People are interested in what is not there. I am ready to be a Rathi chechi again or do an Ozhimuri. I want to be part of good cinema,” she concludes....