In the intensely passionate romance, Mayaanadhi, there was a song that lingered on everyone’s lips despite the fantastic soundtrack of the film. Bawra Mann, rendered by Darshana Rajendran (who also played a brief part in the film), was so wistfully beautiful that it sort of ‘auto tuned’ into a song for female bonding on screen. Darshana had already made her debut in Malayalam and Tamil and played crucial parts in Koode and Virus but with C U Soon, it seems like the actor has finally arrived. As Anu Sebastian, a young woman who befriends an impressionable young man over Tinder for reasons of her own, Darshana is a revelation. In a screen occupied by Fahadh Faasil, the actor stood her own.
In a conversation with HuffPost India, Darshana talks about shooting the film during the COVID-19 pandemic, working with Fahadh and Roshan Mathew, and her future projects:
C U Soon, according to Mahesh (Narayanan, the director) and Fahadh, was an idea they discussed long back and later dug it out when lockdown came.
Yes, they were close to releasing Mallik and then lockdown happened. They revisited the idea. I had not been part of any discussions and it came to me late—all of it happened quickly. I got a call from Fahadh and he said they were making something with a bunch of characters but did not know how and what it is going to be but promised me that the talent will not go wasted. “We will make sure the world sees it.” I said yes instantly.
Can you take us through the process of shooting C U Soon? I am sure this would have been nothing like a regular film set…
We all shifted to a block of apartments and bunked together for almost 15 days. All of us were able to move within the houses, that includes actors and technicians. When I did theatre, we would all move into the directors’ house and live together. We would be there over the course of a month or two. This is the first time I experienced this format with cinema. Everything was different, it came with more problems but also so much more fun, because of the setting.
What was the brief given to you?
We all read the script together. And I had heard that Mahesh does cool narrations. He showed me a few videos of a girl who was stuck in a similar situation in the Middle East. That was probably the first hook, my reality check. Rest of it we figured during the shoot and found Anu.
So technically Anu and Jimmy were in the same room, video calling each other?
When I am looking at a video call from Jimmy I am not looking at him but at a blank screen, or rather the back of a phone. Roshan’s in the room, breathing, performing the scene like he would when it’s his take, and vice versa. Pretty much everyone was there during the whole time, permanently performing. It was a small unit—felt like a very intimate and safe space. I was ready on Day 1, considering it usually takes a while for me to warm up to a character.
I thought the initial texting and bonding were so organically done. Did you feel that too?
Of course, and all credit to Mahesh ettan. He was doing everything, and we were simply his tools. Those conversations, initially we did not know what it was going to look like? I did not understand much about the tech or format. I did not get a lot of what he was trying to say then. Then one day he put together a scene of Anu and Jimmy and showed it to us. This was our first sense of what to expect. We watched the edit of a few scenes together and he showed us these initial portions. It suddenly made sense.
Was the final film anything like what you envisaged?
Not at all. In fact, I do not think I am capable of visualising it. I think I was very touched that I was part of it and offered my thanks to the universe. I find it difficult to watch myself on screen. I am always nitpicking, thinking of bettering myself. But here for the most part I was able to see Anu.
That scene where Fahadh gets teary eyed watching your video, I felt maybe you did not use any glycerin. Also how was it shot? Were you in the same room?
Yes, I did not use glycerin. We had shot all the video logs that are there on FB. He was watching that video and reacting to it.
Which was the most difficult scene to perform?
I feel that by the time we reached the breakdown part and all, we had sort of jumped in deep into this process. I thought the initial portions, though it seemed like nothing was happening, were more difficult maybe because we started with them. Each scene felt like a different kind of challenge. As an actor it is the best thing— everything is difficult, and you are cracking it.
Did your experience in theatre assist you here?
This film specifically was like being part of a theatre. They did not have different camera angles or different cuts. You finished one whole scene together, there were no portions to be shot later. I think there is a sort of flow that happens in theatre, and I felt it here. There were no cuts or multiple takes of different angles. Such kinds of explorations I drew from theatre.
Sharing screen space with Fahadh and Roshan, that sounds like a hyperbole.
We shared some sort of a screen (laughs). One quality about Roshan is that he can make you comfortable but also keep pushing you in a way that you are never fully comfortable. I have known him as an actor and person for a long time but when we are doing a project, it feels like we are doing something new. He pushes me to do better—as an actor he is never happy with his work. I was overwhelmed with the idea of working with Fahadh but even before the shoot he had become very accessible, fabulous to work with.
Wikipedia shows you are working on three films…
Pennum Cherukkanam, is a short from 4 anthologies. My segment is directed by Aashiq Abu and Roshan is my co actor. Working with Aashiq is like home. After working in Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham, I think I have changed as a person. I have taken a lot from there. He is my absolute favourite. There is a bond I have built with everyone on the sets which I will have forever. While Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Hridayam is a space I thought I would not fit into, Vineeth ettan had so much faith in his actors that you sort of believe you can do anything. Last year, these films were in different stages of production, but it was a very satisfying year as an actor. I was remarkably busy and waking up to go to a set I liked.
Fit in? Can you elaborate on that?
I meant the perception of me as a female lead, doing song and dance. These are far off in my head. I know that I comfortably did it and that was the director’s doing. I really want to try completely different things which I do not see myself doing.
I first noticed you in the capacity of a singer in Mayaanadhi. I thought perhaps acting happened by chance. But then it looks like it was not quite that…
I come from an academic background, did my undergrad in Mathematics (Lady Shri Ram, Delhi), MSc in financial economics from London and I was working in Chennai in micro finance. When I moved to Chennai, I knew a person who introduced me to theatre. The minute I started doing it, I felt like I found something I wanted to keep doing. I saved up money to quit my job, worked and did theatre for 3 years. I thought maybe I would do this for a year or more and if it did not work out I would go back, But I did not go back. My idea of me as a person has changed after this switch. I was always leading a well-planned life but then I became someone with no plans suddenly, and I embraced this completely different side of me. Been floating for a long time. Going with it.
Cinema, theatre, and playback singing. That is quite a juggling act.
I would like to do theatre as much as I can, though it is difficult to keep it going. I know that I am happiest on stage. As for playback singing, I have not learnt it formally. Not much work has gone into my singing. It is very personal. I will explore singing at some point, but it’s not my focus right now.
And finally, which is that one performance that inspired you recently?
Kammatipaadam’s Ganga—he reminded me of someone awfully close to me. The character was so disturbing, it made me weep so much that even now I keep thinking about Ganga.