In her evolution from being the vivacious child-actor to a matured adult headlining a Telugu film at 19, Esther Anil has more or less grew up amidst a film set and has absorbed acting nuances organically. An accidental opportunity led her towards filmdom when she was a reluctant 9-year-old, but the youngster made it count and balanced it with her academic interests.
Everyone took notice of her when she was on the screen (across her many roles as a child actor) and no prizes for guessing that she was identified as the Drishyam girl wherever she went. Such was the impact that she donned the same role in the three versions of the thriller and she never had to look back again. She’s a sports aficionado, enjoys spending time with her family, knows not to take fame to her head and aspires to find her feet in entrepreneurship in the years to come. Currently pursuing her graduation in Mumbai, Esther Anil talks about her first digital release, Johaar in an interview with Klapboardpost.com
Embracing cinema in a sleepy town
I come from a rural part of Kerala (Wayanad). It’s not a place that has much exposure and a girl from the town getting to act in big films was huge for many people. They owned me and took pride in the fact that a girl from their town has made it to a film that was screened in theatres and shared screen space with Mohanlal. I didn’t know what was going around me. I could see all the excitement and I never thought it was a big thing. Now when I look back, I feel happy that good things happened to me early.
I grew up watching a lot of star films in Malayalam – all of us including my brothers, parents truly enjoyed it. I never wanted to be a part of the film industry or act. My parents had to make a conscious effort to get me onto the sets. I didn’t find a lot of kids there and only noticed that there were a lot of adults coming, walking and leaving. It took time for me to get used to it and understand what professionalism, acting and filmmaking was all about. As an adult, I enjoy the process but not so much as a child.
Life at home and school
We are three siblings and I am very close to my younger brother who’s four years younger to me and share a great bond. From the time he was born and till I was in my twelfth grade, we were more like buddies than siblings and he came for my help if there was any problem. Once I left for college, there was some distance and we couldn’t meet each other regularly. The lockdown has allowed us to reconnect.
I was very much interested in sports and was occasionally dragged to do dance events and Christmas dramas. I never wanted to do any of those, but after coming into movies, my teachers began asking me, ‘You’re doing movies. Why can’t you do a solo act, dance or mimic?’ I didn’t have any interest in them and would have probably been on stage two or three times at school. I enjoy being in front of the camera though; it’s probably the only place where I feel completely in control, enjoy the space and do what the director expects me to.
Drishyam – the game changer
Though Nallavan was my first film and I happened to do many projects later, Drishyam changed my life and people remembered my character everywhere I went. Until Drishyam happened, I had thrown my weight around (laughs), but that experience humbled me. It reminded me that I had a lot to do ahead and as a result, I have matured over the years. I am not someone who lets fame consume me and I make it a point to be a balanced person. Many years after Drishyam too, people still only recognise me with that film. I got introduced to three languages and was recognised for my acting abilities too.
Getting to do the same role wasn’t boring and every experience was different. I was a huge fan of Venkatesh (uncle) and have always enjoyed the dancing, humour and the larger-than-life nature of his films in the past. It’s not something we get to see in Malayalam films often and I cherished the opportunity to act with him. It was a new industry and a new language. With Papanasam, I got slightly nervous and was conscious because Kamal Haasan was such a renowned actor. I have however tried to improve my performance with every version of the film.
No interest to be a quintessential heroine
I am not someone who’s interested to do heroine roles or lead roles. I don’t want to handle the pressure of being the face of a film. Character roles feel easy on the head. I really liked the Telugu film industry and kept telling my parents that I was keen for more opportunities here. Teja Marni and his team approached us at the time, my parents heard the script and they liked it. I am always a lazy person when it comes to films and give all the freedom for my parents to take a call. Teja was planning to shoot the film during my twelfth-grade holidays. My parents instead wanted me to take it easy and felt that I could use the time to relax. However, when I happened to listen to a narration, something about the script struck a chord with me and I wanted to do the film.
Stepping into the shoes of Jyothi for Johaar
When I heard the script, I knew Jyothi would be an intense character but I didn’t want to put myself in such a space where I think of her past or chaotic upbringing. I took it very lightly and thought I would deal with it on the set. Once you begin working on the film, the character builds inside you and you tend to get its essence. We were shooting in Varanasi and I did my best to add various traits to the character by observing/copying people. I looked around the various junior actors who would come on the set, their mannerisms and how they react to situations and talk and made up an image of Jyothi in my mind. I picked up a lot from the environment on the sets and create that mood while I play the role.
I am very passionate about my academics and that’s one thing I could relate with Jyothi. I like the subjects I’m currently pursuing my BA in St. Xaviers, Mumbai in Economics, Commerce and Sociology. I enjoy my course and would like to do business some time and explore something beyond films. About the commentary that Johaar offers on modern-day politics and my view on current day leaders, I would prefer to keep that opinion to myself.
Developing more patience as an actor
For someone who has always worked with senior actors, I was also hoping for a different experience and Johaar, with a relatively young team, was just that. It was one factor that drew me towards the project. I know it was going to be difficult and it genuinely was, both for me and my father who accompanies me to the sets, because the scenes were re-shot time and again. I was asked to do the same scene repeatedly and it wasn’t easy at all. I would go onto say, at times, this seemed unprofessional too. No offence there because the way of working in my previous films and Johaar was poles apart.
In my other films, one couldn’t make a lead actor wait for 10-15 minutes and finish scenes in a take or two at best. In Johaar, we used to take many hours for one scene and it has taught me a lot – most importantly patience. Teja is a director who never compromises on the quality and puts in a lot of effort to get what he wants. I ended up enjoying the experience and most team members in the film are my buddies now. I generally don’t get to spend much time with the actors, just go to the set, do my bit and return home. However, Johaar got me to know my team on a personal level.
With my friends and family, I am this extroverted and jolly person, but when I’m doing a film, I remain reserved and am in my own space. However, my co-star Ankith was quick to open up with me and introduced himself to me cheerily on the set. It felt very nice and we had a great rapport. Pulling off romance too was no big deal because we had that friendship and we could work that out – there was no awkwardness at all.
On Johaar’s digital release
I am extremely happy and curious about it too because it’s not going to have a typical theatre release. I just want the audiences to watch it in some form, regardless of the medium. The best choice in this hour, when everyone is homebound, is an OTT release. I am glad about the fact that it is going to reach more people. The film has been in the making for a while and it has taken its time to release. My friends and family are excited too because it has been a long wait.
(Johaar streams on Aha on August 14)