The actor discusses her new releases, acting with Mammootty for the first time in her career in ‘The Priest’, and her family
Characters are written for her. Her gravitas, on and off the screen, is unmatched. Her looks, style statement and social media posts are celebrated as much as her performances. Manju Warrier, the ‘lady superstar’ of Malayalam cinema, is certainly on a roll.
She is guarded but affable as always during a brief chat over phone. We begin the conversation about her new release The Priest, a horror-thriller directed by debutant Jofin T Chacko. The film has created quite a buzz, as it brings together Manju and Mammootty for the first time in her career.
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“It was a dream-come-true moment. But it was not at all easy. Our first scene together was the climax sequence. Shooting the peak point of the narrative as our first scene was difficult. I had to get into the mood of the character who has travelled through the full movie. At the same time, I was extremely nervous and cautious about the fact that I was doing it with Mammookka [Mammootty]. I could hear my heartbeat and kept asking myself ‘what if’ I made a mistake and had to go for a retake!” she laughs. She goes on to gush about how the actor made her comfortable and eventually they had a good time.
Now that theatres in Kerala have got permission to resume second shows, she hopes for more people to turn up. “It is the need of the hour for the industry as well,” she says.
The actor is equally excited about Chathurmukham, which also has horror elements in it. “We call it a techno-horror thriller. Technology is an integral part of present-day life. However, we tend to forget the hidden dangers in it. I shot it before The Priest and so it was my first tryst with the horror genre. However, one cannot compare it with how horror has been treated in The Priest. I enjoyed it and I love watching horror movies,” she says. Directed by Ranjeet Kamala Sankar and Salil V, Chathurmukham has Sunny Wayne in a significant role.
Another project close to her heart is her own production, Lalitham Sundaram, directed by her brother and actor, Madhu Warrier. “The shoot was stalled due to the pandemic and resumed in December. Thankfully I had a trustworthy team to manage the production and I often forgot that I was the producer. The project has people who are family to me, such as Biju chettan [Biju Menon] and Sukumar [cinematographer P Sukumar] who made it an enjoyable experience,” she says.
An “out-and-out family entertainer”, it is her first film with Biju after she made a comeback in the industry with How Old Are You? in 2014. Prior to that, they had worked in films such as Pranayavarnangal, Krishnagudiyil Oru Pranayakalathu, Pathram and Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu in Manju’s first innings in cinema. “It has been over 20 years now. But we didn’t feel the gap at all. The way we used to greet each other on set remained the same and we just picked up from where we had left off.”
Manju adds that she is “excited and happy” for her brother who has finally fulfilled his dream. “He left his job to make this happen. But it was never going to be easy and I have seen him struggle a lot. Eventually, things fell in place and he got a fabulous team on board. As for our equation on the set, it was all professional,” she says.
Earlier, she had co-produced Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s A’hr (Kayattam), which premièred at Busan International Film Festival last year. “We are now looking at an OTT release or television première of the movie,” she says.
Among her other forthcoming projects are Priyadarsan’s Marakkar: Arabikkadalinte Simham and Santosh Sivan’s Jack N’ Jill. She is acting with Jayasurya for the first time in Prajesh Sen’s Meri Awaz Suno, a remake of the Bengali movie, Konttho, and has “a cameo” in Nivin Pauly’s Padavettu. Her 50th film will be 9 mm, co-starring Dileesh Pothan, Sunny Wayne and Dhyan Sreenivasan. Meanwhile there are confirmed reports that she will make her debut in Bollywood opposite R Madhavan in Ameriki Pandit.
Talking about her presence on social media, the actor says, “It is not an important part of my personal life. I use the handles because they are essential in our line of work to update and promote project details. And I put up fun posts once in a while, when I am in a mood for it.”
Looking back at the year that went by, Manju says that her mother’s achievements have been her happiest moments. In fact, she was on her way to her mother’s [Girija Madhavan] Kathakali arangettam (debut performance) at a temple in Thrissur, when we reached her for this interview. “She keeps surprising me. She and her friend found a Kathakali guru two years ago. During the lockdown, amma also went back to writing. She is 65 and I am proud of what she is doing,” says the actor.
So, how happy is she about her second innings? “I am always happy, irrespective of the number of innings or number of projects. Or the success or failure of the projects.”