Aditi Rao Hydari is refreshingly honest and earnest about her craft, even if she were meant to be typecast in characters that are traditionally perceived as ‘docile’ and ‘submissive’ — as was the case in movies like Kaatru Veliyidai (KV), Padmaavat and Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (CCV) to name a few.
The actor got a new lease of life when she landed the lead role in Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai, which, she says, was a “rebirth” in more than one way. “Working with Mani sir was a dream come true for me. He altered my perception about cinema. It is the kind of experience you keep wanting again and again,” says Aditi over phone from Mumbai, where she lives and shuttles between industries. Conversations with Mani Ratnam became an inevitable part of her acting process when she worked on KV and CCV. Mani Ratnam, in fact, mentioned Mysskin when he was discussing new-age filmmakers with her.
“Mani sir suggested a bunch of directors to watch out for,” she explains. Among them was Mysskin, a daring filmmaker who can rightfully be called an ‘auteur’. Aditi says she began to follow his work — Nandalala, Yuddham Sei and Super Deluxe [which Mysskin co-wrote and acted] — hoping to work with him someday. And that day arrived when she got a call from Mysskin, who introduced himself along with her character description for Psycho — something drastically different from what Aditi has done before, both in terms of theme and character. “It was something I was very keen to do. As an actor, you encounter certain challenges when you work with such directors [Mysskin]. There’s a sense of fear developing in your gut — whether I would be able to pull this off. That is what drives me,” she says, about how Psycho was an instinctive ‘yes’.
Those who are aware of Mysskin’s filmography can safely say his movies are a tough watch. For, his approach to life and cinema is deeply philosophical and transports the audience into a metaphorical state — like a therapeutic session with a psychiatrist. But this visual narrative of his was what intrigued Aditi when she signed up for Psycho, slated for release this Friday. “He is well-read and dips deep into human psychology. His visual narrative is metaphorical and leaves a lot to the imagination,” says Aditi, who is now familiar with his filmmaking wizardry. “When he narrated the script, I was trying to figure out what he wanted to create.”
She describes his movies “painterly” but cautions, “A painting that makes you uncomfortable” — an interpretation you cannot help but agree with. “Somewhere, I loved the juxtaposition of the two worlds. His subjects are violent, even though there’s a painterly quality to his movies. I like to play characters that make you uncomfortable,” she adds.
From the trailer, Psycho seems to be an exploration into the mind of a psychopath and the circumstances that push him into becoming one — it has Beethoven’s symphony remodelled by maestro Ilaiyaraaja. Aditi dodges questions about her character, but says she plays a radio jockey who has a desire to help society. She proudly says that she is a “director’s actor” and is instinctive about her performance. “I am very much at the moment. But there are characters that stay with you subconsciously because of the kind of experience you go through. That happened with Kaatru Veliyidai before. And now, with Psycho,” she says.
A date with a psychopath
Violence is an integral part of Mysskin’s movies, just like in life. But Psycho appears to be his most violent movie yet. However, Aditi says there is as much blood and gore as there is love, “Mysskin sir told me once that he is worried that people might perceive his content as violent. But it is not just about blood. It is more about dealing with human minds, fighting your own demons and grappling with you own fears,” she says.
When Aditi is working, she does not make an attempt to “decode” a filmmaker’s style. That takes away the fun of shooting, she says. “What I love to do is observe the director and perform to his commands. Of course, I do try to involve myself in the process, but like an outsider.” She remembers one funny incident when she was to deliver an intense monologue, but the camera was positioned near her toes — a filmmaking trait of Mysskin that has earned laurels and brickbats. “But that shot would mean something, visually. There was also a close-up shot that he had [accidentally] taken. I remember Mysskin sir telling me, ‘My frame has never looked this beautiful before’,” says Aditi with a chuckle.
Been there, done that
Our conversation shifts to casting and how she has been typecast in certain ‘paavam’ characters. While acknowledging that there are issues with regard to casting, Aditi, however, has an interesting take on playing those. She believes that there is “courage in showing vulnerability” on screen. “Vulnerability is your greatest strength if you’re comfortable with it,” she begins, “To be able to feel that emotion… I think it is the strongest and most fearless thing to do. You don’t have to hold a knife to show your strength. The most courageous thing is to be transparent.”
There is a fair bit of stereotyping, admits Aditi. At the same time, she makes an effort to break away from the mould, and does not wish to be boxed into a particular category. “Of course, there are things that need to be said about casting. But I have tried to show variation in my performances, based on my own understanding and life experiences. That’s why I try to reinvent myself and take up movies across genres.”
Could that be the reason why she is offered characters of substance down South? “I just mentioned this to my director-friend recently. I’ll go wherever there’s challenge. If directors feel there is untapped potential in me, it’s a good thing, no?”