An Interview with Kuttram Kadithal’s Radhika Prasidhha

The film Kuttram Kadithal, which won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil, revolves around characters whose lives are turned upside down by an incident in a classroom. One of these characters is Merlin, a newly married teacher, who finds herself on the run as a result of the incident. Consumed by fear and guilt, Merlin is caught between self-preservation and doing the right thing, and actor Radhika Prasidhha portrays this struggle with a standout performance.

Kuttram Kadithal is out in theatres, and is also available online at Tentkotta and HeroTalkies. Here’s a conversation with Radhika Prasidhha about how she prepared for the role of Merlin, and the challenges involved in making the film.

How did you hear about this script, and get involved with the film?

Christy Siluvappan [a producer on Kuttram Kadithal] was searching for actors on Facebook when he saw my photo. He then sent me a message. There are a lot of people who send messages asking, “Are you an actor?” and then flirt with you. So I hit ignore. But then Bramma [the director of Kuttram Kadithal] called me and said, “We are making a film. Would you be interested?” He had seen the web-series that I was making then called Gnyayiru Maalai, and called me after that.

What was the audition experience like? Did you act out a scene from the movie?

No, it was about acting out emotions from the movie. We did it for almost an hour and a half. There were no lines at all. He was like, “You can use words if you want to but I just want to see your expressions.”

How did you prepare for the role?

We rehearsed for a month. For every scene in the movie that I was in, Bramma would sit down and tell me, “The feeling that I expect from you is…” For example, he’ll say, “Have you ever experienced that overwhelming surge of emotion when you suddenly see a person that you love?” He made my job easier that way.

Once shooting started, was there a lot of on-the-job learning?

A lot. One learning was not to hold back. Female actors tend to hear, “What if you don’t look good when you’re doing this scene?” That was running through my head, but during rehearsals I realised that when you’re very honest with your emotions it doesn’t matter, people just accept it. When I looked at myself in the rehearsal videos, all I could see were the emotions. I could detach myself from that feeling of, “How do I look?”

And the cameraman [S. Manikandan] gave me a lot of practical lessons. I have a tendency to rest my face in a slanted position. And that exhibits a lot of character. The cameraman used to bring me to the monitor and say, “See, you’re doing this. It’s bringing a quality to the character that you may not want to bring.”

You play a school teacher in the film. Did you look at people from your own life to shape this character?

We had a school principal in Coimbatore. Whenever he walked the corridors, everyone would go quiet. He used his eyes a lot; he would just look at you in a very scary way. I tried to imitate him in the teacher scenes. Music helped me a lot too. I was listening to an album called Sinema by Peter Cat Recording Co. that helped me get into the right space.

Was there a scene in the movie that you found really tough to navigate?

There is a scene where I’m sitting in a lorry and I need to cry. We didn’t use glycerin in the film. We were trying to do it theatrically using emotions. But once I started doing it, I couldn’t stop crying. I was so embarrassed. I called my mom — it was two in the night and we were in the middle of a dark highway — and she said, “Just come back. You don’t have to be there.” And I was like, “Amma, it’s just this scene but I’m not able to stop crying.”

When you’re controlling something, it’s like you’re pressing something down. If you press something down, you feel it in your stomach. So I was recreating that feeling over there, and as I did that the expression was perfect. But I didn’t have the control to get out of it once the scene was over.

That’s fascinating, though, to use your body to generate emotion on demand.

That’s actually what they use in the Natya Shastra. They actually manipulate breath to create emotion.

What were some of the challenges that you, and the rest of the cast and crew faced to film this movie?

Funding was one. There was only Christy producing it at the time. We had a location and we had actors, so we decided to just shoot it. The camera we used, though, had high rental charges at that point. And because we used an expensive camera, we needed lights and there was more detailing that went into it. The expenses started to rise. So we would take breaks to wait for the funding to come, and then shoot. It was 54 days of shoot, but it was shot over a year.