'More than me, it's Payal Kapadia's win; she truly deserves it,' says Kani Kusruti

Kusruti, one of the movie's three actors, walked down the red carpet at Cannes carrying a watermelon clutch in a show of solidarity with Palestine

Actor Kani Kusruti at the at the Festival de Cannes (photo: Divyaprabha)
Actor Kani Kusruti at the at the Festival de Cannes (photo: Divyaprabha)

Ashlin Mathew

Actor Kani Kusruti is the cynosure of all eyes after the movie in which she acted, All We Imagine as Light, won the Grand Prix at the Festival de Cannes.

Directed by FTII alumni Payal Kapadia, the movie scripted history, being the first time an Indian filmmaker won this award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Kusruti, one of the movie's three actors, plays a nurse in the film. She walked down the red carpet with a watermelon clutch, in a show of solidarity with Palestine—her way of highlighting her personal politics.

She believes Kapadia’s movie is one of the best things to have happened to her so far.

Born to social and human rights activists Dr Jayashree A.K. and Maitreya Maitreyan in Thiruvananthapuram, Kusruti began acting in local theatre initiatives. After a stint at the National School of Drama to pursue a course in acting, went to Paris to train at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq.

She made her film debut in 2009 with the Island Express, a segment in the film anthology Kerala Café, followed by Shikkar, where she played a Naxalite. She went on to win the Kerala state's best actress award for the film Biriyaani and from 2018, started appearing in both web series and films in the Hindi entertainment industry.

She has recently starred in Richie Mehta’s Poacher and Huma Qureshi’s web show Maharani 3 and in Killer Soup, starring Konkona Sen and Manoj Bajpayee.

Kusruti has a few new projects lined up across industries too, but was reluctant to speak about them until things were finalised.

Edited excerpts of her interview with National Herald:

Cannes... How do you feel? What do your parents have to say? 

How do I feel? Very, very happy.

Of course, it’s Payal’s (Kapadia) win for me, because she truly deserves it.

But, at the same time, there is a certain joy and serendipity inside me that the win is for all the women in India. It’s not only because I have acted in the film, but I feel a certain kind of happiness in that way too.

My parents are happy, but I have not been able to have a long conversation with them. I have not been able to speak to my father even, and I have been able to speak to my mother for, maybe, 2–4 minutes! That’s it!

I had to travel back and resume my shoot. I had no time to respond to everyone in between. Friends and family are waiting patiently to speak to me.

What drew you to All We Imagine as Light when you agreed to do it?

Payal had called me 7–8 years ago to play the part that was played by Diya Prabha, of Anu, in the movie.

At that point, the project kept getting postponed. A year-and-a-half ago Payal called to say that the project was on and the other character was suiting my age now. I auditioned for this part and even Divya auditioned for the same part. But, later Payal asked Divya to do the other part.

They had auditioned several other people too while they auditioned us. Finally, I think they decided to work with us. That’s how we got the movie.

When I had read the script several years ago, it was not the same draft, but a similar story; I had liked it then too. Now, several years later when I read the script and auditioned for it, I immediately connected with the script. I thought it was extremely subtle and poetic and beautiful.

I have been talking to Payal all these years and keeping in touch... I knew I wanted to work with her.

What is the arc of your character in the movie? Do you relate to it?

I absolutely do not relate to the character I played!

My character’s name is Prabha and she is a conservative and rigid person. On one hand, I think we should be able to accommodate women like her, and (on the other) personally, I find it very hard to resonate my thoughts with Prabha's.

So, I do not relate to her—but there is an arc to my character that I like.

I think that is one reason I like the character. Though she is conservative and rigid, she goes through a transition and she slowly starts understanding how to be inclusive of other people too.

So, I do like that part of the character.

How was your experience working with Payal Kapadia as director?

Working with Payal has been one of the best things that has happened to me.

The amazing thing about Payal is that she is extremely kind and democratic in the way she works with everybody on the set.

That is unique to her, I feel, when I compare her with whoever else I have worked with. She wants to include everyone who is working on the film—she will hear them out, hear their insights, but also stay with the ideas that she has.

She made us feel like this was a collaborative project. There was a sense of camaraderie. We gained a friendship—that’s the best thing, I would say.

You previous film Girls will be Girls was directed by a woman director, Shuchi Talati. It has also won two awards at Sundance. What drew you to that movie?

When I read Shuchi’s script, I didn’t get it immediately.

When I auditioned, she liked what I had done with it, but I hadn’t really connected with the script.

But then I met Shuchi and spoke to her.

When I met her and when I talked to her, I immediately felt that I want to work with her. And then when she cast my co-actor Preeti (Panigrahi), who won the best actor award at Sundance, I began rehearsing with her, and the story began making sense to me. I immediately knew I had to work with them.

Like Payal, Shuchi is also extremely kind and sweet and soft, but a very different director. They have nothing in common in the way they direct.

Shuchi’s interpretation of certain scenes is completely different sometimes. She is curious and superbly open to different takes.

It was so much fun. Every day, we would discuss something new. It was really amazing.

Recently, you have worked with a couple of women directors and both the films have won several accolades. Was that a conscious choice?

It wasn’t a conscious choice to work with female directors.

I have worked with a few women directors and it was a pleasure to work with all of them.

All of them have been unique, but very strong directors. All have been very kind and no shouting on the sets. They have been receptive to ideas and extremely amazing.

It was not a conscious choice. It just happened, thankfully, and I have only good memories of working with them.

You have won several awards for the Malayalam movie Biriyaani. It ran into controversies for its storyline and its depiction of Muslims. How do you feel about it now?

I am aware of the controversies around the film Biriyaani. Even when I read the script, I also had my own stand against the story.

But, unfortunately, I have not reached a place as an actor where I can choose only to be part of stories that I believe in.

I’m in an extremely 'struggling' phase, where I will have to sometimes compromise on the work even though it is not resonating with my mind.

Biriyaani was shot in 2018, and at that time I had absolutely no support system financially in the industry. In the last 2–3 years, I probably could choose a few projects, which was much more than I could do in previous years. But, I’m still not in a place where I can absolutely choose what I want to do.

So, when Sajin (Baabu, the director of Biriyaani) came with the story, I had many reservations—and not just over the political aspect of it. I had plenty of disagreements and I expressed my point of view about it to Sajin, but he also made a point about it, saying that it is his story to tell and he has a right to say it the way he wants.

He is from a Muslim community and this is how he sees this experience. Even when he gave his opinions, it was not a pleasure to work on a story where it would be interpreted in the way it has turned out now.

I had no choice in terms of being an actor. I wish I could be stronger, to let go of money even when I have no money to survive and am struggling financially. But, I have not reached there yet.

So when people point out that I should accept what I did, I don’t know what to say. I do take responsibility for what I did. But, this is the situation.

In future too, if I am required to and have to work on movies where I may not agree with the script, I may. I may have to end up compromising.

You have done a few films and a drama series in Malayalam. Which has been your favourite and are you likely to do more?

So far, Tara Ramanujan’s Nishiddho has been my favourite in Malayalam. I haven’t done a good job, I feel—I should have worked a bit harder; but it is my favourite amongst the movies that I have done in Malayalam.

I would like to do comedy, whether it is a web series or a film. That is something I am more interested in.

What would you say are the differences you notice between the Malayalam Film industry and the other film industries where you have worked in?

In the Malayalam film industry, the content and the storytelling is far better than in the other industries I have worked in.

But, in terms of professionally how organised we are, Bombay stands out. They are extremely organised and professional. I also hope the Malayalam film industry also reaches there one day, but Malayalam industry also manages in its own way. But, I think we can be more organised and make things seamless. I am comparing with the Bombay film industry.

There’s also how many women are there in the Malayalam film industry — I feel the numbers can go up. There are a lot of women in the crew but the numbers can go up. In Bombay, there are a lot of women on the sets and it feels comforting and nice to see women running sets. That’s another big difference I have noticed.

You don’t seem to be choosing mainstream movies. Is that a choice? What has led to it?

No, it isn’t a choice. I take most movies that come to me. Mainstream movies and roles haven’t come to me so far.

In the past few years, because I have liked the work in the Malayalam film industry, whenever I see an audition call, I have asked if I can audition too. But nothing has worked out so far.

It isn’t a choice... I would love to be part of mainstream movies. Anything that I audition for and they find me suitable for, I would like to do it!

What kind of roles would you like to do and are there any roles you would rather not take up?

I would like to do all kinds of roles as long as the story is not, probably, justifying characters that are not so... are out of sync.

For me, personally, I would love to be part of the comedy genre. I really hope I get a chance.

OK Computer, a Hindi web series, is the one time I got a chance to do it and that won an award, which I am proud of. I got a Filmfare award for ‘Best Supporting Actor Female (Comedy)’ and I really was happy to receive it.

I hope to do more of such roles.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines

Published: 29 May 2024, 12:25 PM