Nithya Menen on ZeePlex film Ninnila Ninnila, and how collaborating with director Ani Sasi was 'invigorating'

Hemanth Kumar
·5 min read

Nithya Menen, by her own admission, goes through phases which have a big impact on her life and work. Five years ago, the actress was on a roll with films like OK Kanmani, Kanchana 2, 24, S/O Satyamurthy to her credit, but she found herself resisting all that life was offering her. It was a phase where she had to pause to reflect on her choices, and she put herself in self-imposed quarantine at home for a couple of years. "Back then, I had to learn more about myself and find a purpose in my work. It turned out to be a spiritual quest too to truly find joy in what I wanted to do, and once you understand why you want to do what you want to do, everything becomes easier. People don't give enough time to themselves. It's so underrated," Nithya Menen avers, adding, "I don't understand why people keep saying that I'm making a 'comeback', if I don't take up films for an extended period of time (laughs). If I am taking a break, it doesn't mean that I'm gone forever. When you are an actor, your craft will always shine through when it needs to."

Then, in 2020, the whole world went into a lockdown for months altogether due to the pandemic, and in turn, it forced Nithya to introspect further. "It was eye-opening in so many ways. I believe that there's a reason why things happen, and it's so rare for the whole world to go through the same thing at the same time. It's given us time to introspect, rethink about our lives and how it's going, and get a better clarity about our decisions. In my case, a lot of these things happened subconsciously and I'm back with renewed energy to keep working. The whole world needed a little shaking up, I guess," she adds.

In recent years, her choices have ranged from OTT series and films like Breathe and Mission Mangal respectively to Psycho and Kolambi in Tamil and Malayalam. And in her current phase, she has found herself drawn to slice-of-life dramas like Ani Sasi's Ninnila Ninnila and even a period drama set in the backdrop of Skylab space station's crash in 1979. "Nothing about my life is mechanical. My choices are always an extension of who I'm, what state of mind I'm in, and as things change, the films I'm part of will reflect all that. Change is the only constant in an actor's life. I truly feel that expecting consistency will make the process itself quite mechanical. That's the saddest part for an actor," she says, with a tinge of philosophy and a sense of calmness.

Reflecting on how some of her films are an extension of her personality, Nithya says her role in Ninnila Ninnila is inspired from who she is in her real life. She has known filmmaker Ani Sasi for almost 12 years now, and their friendship and faith in each other seeped into the whole process of making their film. Set in London, Ninnila Ninnila tells the story of Dev, played by Ashok Selvan, a chef who suffers from muscle spasm sporadically, and the roles which Maya (Nithya Menen) and Tara (Ritu Varma) play in his life. Nithya says, "Ninnila Ninnila is a magical ride. It's very emotional and it will tug at your heartstrings. For a long time, people have been asking me to do a film like Ala Modalaindi, which is happy and emotional. This is one such sweet film. It'll leave you smiling."

Talking about her friendship with director Ani Sasi, Nithya says when someone knows you really well, the collaboration itself becomes an invigorating process. "If given a choice, I would love to just keep working with my friends. A lot of work environments make you feel like you are in a boot camp. But when you know the people you're working with really well, I can be myself. The intimacy really helps to keep you relaxed, I guess. And I'm more uninhibited as an actor in front of the camera. There were days when Sasi would simply remind me of incidents from our real life and ask me to reenact some of my gestures as part of the character. Sasi was so adamant on portraying me how I'm in my real life that he insisted that I keep my hair natural and not wear any make-up. Maya, who is 20 years old in the film, is how he sees me in real life. The character is pure and naive, and Sasi wanted me to look like a kid. The other character, Tara, too is partly inspired from another side of my persona. It's a special film for all of us and it was lovely working with Sasi that too in his directorial debut," Nithya confesses. "Incidentally, Ashok Selvan and Ani Sasi studied together, and I've known Ashok through Sasi. It really felt like a reunion of close friends."

The film is getting a digital release through ZeePlex on 26 February, and it's one of the very few things about the film that, Nithya says, had been the other way around. "I really wish it got a theatrical release because Ani Sasi's detailing of sound is amazing and it's such a visually rich film too. We started filming in London back on 1 January, 2020. There's a lot of food, snow, winter, and an element of magic in Ninnila Ninnila. It has a Christmas vibe to it," she signs off.

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