Thanks to her exuberant voice brimming with joie de vivre, Nyla Usha has become an indispensable part of the lives of the expatriates in Dubai. They wake up and drive to work listening to her voice as she educates and entertains them as the host of the programme Big Breakfast Club (BBC). After working as an RJ with Hit 96.7 in Dubai for nearly a decade, she stepped into Mollywood in 2013 with the Mammootty starrer Kunjananthante Kada. Though she chose not to quit her job and still continues to work as an RJ, Nyla makes sure that her film commitments and job as a TV host are spaced out to accommodate her busy schedule.
Nyla’s performance as the shrewd Alappattu Mariam, the village money-lender, in the recent release Porinju Mariyam Jose has earned her praises from fans and critics alike. Wearing chatta and mundu, the traditional costume of Christian women in Kerala, she breathed life into Mariam — a fun-loving, bold, independent and strong woman who lives alone, but has several deep emotional layers to her.
It was her co-star Joju George who paved the way for Nyla’s transition into Mariam. Nyla and Joju’s friendship dates back to several years. She informs, “He came to my office after the success of Joseph and informed that he had sent my photos to Joshiy sir. Later, the makers of the film got in touch with me and narrated the script. I was completely floored by the story and my character! Here I was playing the titular role in a film directed by Joshiy and what was there for me to not say yes!”
Nyla says that even as the script was being narrated to her, she could visualise the church, the band set and the perunnal celebrations with song and dance like it was unfolding in front of her eyes.
But, there was a lingering fear — the reputation that preceded director Joshiy. The veteran director is known to be a stickler for perfection and has been known to get angry and share heated words with his actors.
“Taking up a role was fine, but what if I messed it up,” she asks. Nyla met the famous director just a day before the shooting and that interaction drove away all her fears. “Mine was the first shot to be taken. The way sir explained scenes and gave me acting tips made me confident about playing Mariam.” There were a lot of emotional moments and solo scenes for her to perform, which she could pull off largely thanks to the director’s expertise. Nyla also divulges that she is a director’s actor — listening and following the instructions given to her.
Nyla’s numerous Instagram followers are privy to her world where she dresses stylishly and thinks nothing of bungee jumping, paragliding or zip-lining. It would admittedly have been difficult to slip into the chatta andmundu and mouth the Thrissur dialect.”I had a fantasy of donning the traditional chatta and mundu and curling up my hair, which I realised through Mariam,” she happily reveals.
Nyla is one of the few female actors whose acting career took off after marriage. The stigma against married female actors is well known and Nyla is one of the exceptions. “It is all about managing your time. I have a family in Dubai and have to fly down to Kerala for my projects,” she informs, sharing the biggest advantage her jet setting career gives her. “I have become a role model to my son who sees his mother working hard and pursuing her career. I am not the kind of mother who will be there every day to supervise his homework or attend parent-teacher meetings. But, he understands my lifestyle, and says that his mother is a celebrity and that other children don’t have star mothers,” she laughs. As an afterthought, Nyla adds, “I think it is important for sons to grow up thinking that their mothers are capable of travelling and working outside their homes so that that he respects the choices that other women make of their careers. I also think that nothing should stop a woman from pursuing whatever she wants.”
It is this family-profession balance that does not give Nyla the luxury of taking up every project that comes her way. When she does sign on the dotted line, it is after ensuring that the director, hero, and the team are good. “I take a 30-day leave from my RJ job to work in a project and I will be spending the next couple of weeks with a team, so I need to know that I am comfortable with them. If the director is capable, then I can rest assured that all the other parameters will fall in place.” She wants her characters, irrespective of the screen space, to be integral to the film, like the one in Mohanlal starrer Lucifer where she played the role of an award-winning TV journalist. “I wanted to be a part of Prithviraj’s first directorial, which is the reason why I did Lucifer,” she mentions.
Fifteen years of being on-air have already made her a celebrity in Dubai. So, did her role of an RJ bestow on her added advantages? She candidly answers, “The perspective of people changes when you become an actor and they see you on a different pedestal. I get queries about my films, co-stars and projects from listeners. My job as an RJ is to ensure that I keep my viewers entertained and happy till they reach office. I work from 6 am to 11 am and in those five hours, the onus is on me to keep them smiling through my interactions, though I do have to share information about calamities that happen. On air, I am just Nyla the RJ and the actor Nyla is kept aside.” Of course, she is human and like most humans, the occasional truant thought does cross her mind. “Sometimes I feel like sleeping a little longer and wonder if I should call in sick, but the next moment that thought goes poof! I have listeners waiting to hear from me and I better go!” Nyla says that she can drive blindfolded to her office, so familiar is her clockwork RJ routine.
Enough of career talk, it is time to get personal. How does Nyla manage to look so svelte and beautiful? She laughs a full-throated laugh. “My diet has gone for a toss since I have landed in Kerala! The kappa-fish curry combo is a huge temptation. On a serious note, I spend an hour and a half in the gym. I do heavy weight training which initially pained me, but once you get used to the routine, there is nothing better. I also avoid carbs, cut sugar and eat in small portions.”
Before she signs off, she reveals that she has not signed for any project as yet.