There is an essential difference between stage and screen. While a theatre person has to use his voice and body for effective communication, a film actor must express through the face, the eyes in particular. And in Indian cinema, Tamil cinema in particular, actors still tend to be theatrical, loud and gesticulating with abandon.
There are exceptions though. Remya Nambeesan is one, whose extraordinarily expressive face and eyes caught one’s attention in Arun Kumar’s just released Sethupathi. In fact, Nambeesan been critically applauded for essaying most wonderfully the wife of Sethupathi (portrayed by actor Vijay Sethupathi). One of the high points of the movie is Nambeesan’s riveting performance that includes a range of emotions -- from love to anger to fear.
One remembers that scene in her house where she and her two young children are accosted by knife-wielding goons. The sheer anxiety and fright were etched most brilliantly on her face. And one also thinks of another sequence where her husband has been a bit rough on her, and she camouflages her tears and anger with a smile so that her little daughter does not see her mother upset.
In the course of a long chat with this writer at her home in Chennai, Nambeesan says that one of her favourite parts in Sethupathi is where her husband cajoles and comforts here after the fight -- with words and gestures of love. She is adamant, refuses to meet his eyes till he falls at her feet and begs forgiveness.
Interestingly, while one saw an array of Nambeesan’s emotive powers in Sethupathi, her career -- not long though as yet -- has been a fascinating mix of characters. She began her screen journey as a child artist in Sayahnam -- which was coincidentally R Sarath’s debut feature. The Malayalam movie caused a sensation winning seven Kerala State Awards (including one for Best Picture) -- the jury, headed by no less a legend than Saeed Mirza, included this writer.
However, while the lead actor O Madhavan came in for critical praise, most of us forgot Nambeesan till she emerged later ( after her graduation in Communicative Skills from a Kochi college) in a string of Malayalam films initially, followed by ones in Tamil. She was first noticed in Rajesh Pillai’s marvellous Malayalam movie about organ transplant, Traffic (also remade in Tamil) -- where Nambeesan essays the adulterous wife of a doctor, a boldly provocative role for a newcomer.
Later, she would reprise a similar character -- in a certain sense -- in Raman Thediya Seethai, helmed in Tamil by KP Jagannath. Here, Nambeesan’s Vidhya would elope with her lover just before her marriage.
Be that as it may, one would say with a degree of finality that Nambeesan was best as the policeman’s wife in Sethupathi, also playing mother to two young kids. “True”, she admits, but hastens to add that she would also consider Pizza (a Tamil thriller by Karthick Subbaraj) among her favourites. She acts as the girlfriend of a pizza delivery boy (Vijay Sethupathi). “People on the streets of Chennai recognise me as the Pizza girl,” Nambeesan avers. “Of course, I am not so well known to get mobbed. The most some may want from me is a selfie,” she sound modest.
After Sethupathi, the Tamil masses may recognise her more easily. Nambeesan considers Sethupathi as one of the most satisfying and substantial roles she has done till now. “I could see here how I have evolved. I could see the change in the way I approached the wife’s/mother’s character,” she smiles. “Of course I had a great director in Arun Kumar, who was willing to accept suggestions, and Vijay Sethupathi made me, as always, so comfortable. He has no ego hassles, and was always ready to say yes when I wanted a retake.”
Watch Remya Nambeesan and Vijay Sethupathi in the song titled Hawa Hawa from Sethupathi here:
Undoubtedly, the part had very few dialogues, and Nambeesan’s eyes did most of the talking, and obviously she has been noticed by many.
These days after the excitement of Sethupathi, Remya Nambeesan is into a mood of calm reflection, reading through a whole lot of scripts. “Nothing has appealed to me as yet”, she contends. “But I know I must learn Tamil well enough to dub myself...And Hindi too, because I missed two great features in Hindi, because they were being done with sync-sound and I do not know the language”,
But one is sure that Nambeesan would cross all these hurdles with ease, because as she says she likes to emote through her heart. “I must be able to act in an atmosphere of freedom, maybe without any artifice, maybe without hearing sounds like ‘action’ and ‘cut’. Such freedom would enable me to be my natural best”. That is Remya for you.