Nivedhithaa Sathish, the 21-year-old girl is an actor who’s always been so sure of herself and her abilities. She didn’t have to think twice before taking up a career in films. Unlike most teenagers grappling with confusions and worries about their ambition and career, she had it all sorted by 17 when she entered films. A fireball of energy, full of spirit, oozing confidence and ready to take on the world like there’s no tomorrow, Nivedhithaa is certainly ambition-personified. Tasting success with a refreshing role in Sillu Karupatti and headlining the Netflix original Sethum Aayiram Pon have only added more feathers to her cap. LetsOTT.com catches up with this promising talent…
Is it any different to have a release during a lockdown?
Netflix was a surprise. Having a release at this hour was a bonus, really. Initially, I was sceptical about promoting the film in an hour of uncertainty. Netflix is a global platform and this is a pandemic that we were going through. I was worried if people would dub me socially irresponsible if I promote it and it was a reason why the film didn’t have much pre-release promotion. I only happened to share it with a few close people in the industry, who however felt it was necessary to give it a push (given the fact that everyone is practically at home). Surprisingly, a lot of people have watched it and have had good things to say about it. I feel blessed to have been born in the era of Netflix and happier for the fact that two consecutive films of mine (including Sillu Karupatti) have released on the platform in quick succession.
Magalir Mattum, Sillu Karupatti, Sethum Aayiram Pon – all your films have offered you relatively unconventional and realistic roles for an actor as young as you. Did you purposely chase such roles?
I knew I wanted to become an actor at a very young age (probably when I was in my ninth grade). I wanted to take up theatre after 12th and do workshops. Before that could happen, I got my first film offer, Magalir Mattum and other opportunities like Sillu Karupatti and Sethum Aayiram Pon came in sooner. This is a good time to be in Tamil cinema – the industry is going to a better place and everyone is having a role to play in it, regardless of how big or small it is. What I sought through my initial projects was a good story, a strong team and a working experience that I could learn from. I come from a family that has nothing to do with the film industry. I would also want to share that I really like mainstream films – that’s what I grew up watching and would want to take up such a project soon. I enjoy big star films unabashedly. I would want to grab hold of every opportunity I get – work on independent films, jump onto the set of a commercial film the next day and do a series the day after. I want to be versatile and be seen on as many avenues as possible.
You barely had a single film release when Sethum Aayiram Pon went to sets. And your director had entrusted you with a film that entirely revolved around you. Were you surprised about the trust he had in a newcomer like you?
The trust was both good and bad in a few ways. I finished Magalir Mattum, shot for Sethum Aayiram Pon in between the shoot of Sillu Karupatti. I was evidently a newcomer and yet have been a very confident person since school. I’ve been a cultural secretary, gave dance performances and did stage plays regularly at school. I had no inhibitions and was immensely comfortable in front of the camera. Just the fact that I was entering a new phase of life (with Sethum Aayiram Pon) and was vulnerable (I was 19) made me feel conscious. Magalir Mattum was a completely different atmosphere, I was extremely comfortable and only had to follow what the director had to say and it worked. I shared a great rapport with Halitha for Sillu Karupatti and the film had a great technical team.
However, Sethum Aayiram got me really scared because the entire film revolved around me. I realised I had to set myself free, treat it like another role and unburdened myself soon from these worries after which everything fell in place. And there were rehearsals, it was more of a collaborative effort by a small, young team. There were no luxuries but there was mutual trust. The extra 10 per cent was what helped it become a special film.
What is it like to deal with fame at such a young age? Does it feel normal or are you overwhelmed?
I wanted to do this all my life and dreamt about it so much that I don’t feel surprised or overwhelmed about this at all. Being on stage, having my film release, people taking pictures with me, signing autographs, wanting to work with big stars, giving interviews – all of these have been on my checklist for a long time. Even as everything in this list is coming true, I am still not able to process it. ‘This was bound to happen and it’s happening’ is the only thing I feel. I am supposed to feel overwhelmed but somewhere inside, this is just a plan that has worked out. My friends have been expecting me to fly high with all the fame, but fame hasn’t hit me yet. I am enjoying it but it’s still not surreal.
Sillu Karupatti and Sethum Aayiram Pon have been two independent films that took their own sweet time to release on different avenues. Was the long wait for a release day tough to handle?
Magalir Mattum was the first brush of filmmaking for me – it was almost like grammar and I tried to imbibe it as much as I could. I didn’t know anything about cinema apart from the shoot. And it took one year to release. I understood then that films take time to hit theatres and have been prepared for the delay in a film’s release (if any) since then. I went in with the same attitude to shoot for Sillu Karupatti and Sethum Aayiram Pon – both films, however, took two years to release. I have been attending auditions for a long time but somewhere I had a gut feeling that both these films will take me places and do well. The waiting period wasn’t easy. There were days where I used to hit really low and question myself. There are many highs and lows about being an actor – there’s no stability and that’s not an easy space to be in. I have figured out a few things now but I need to thank my directors for making me feel secure and for understanding what I was going through. They played a huge part in keeping me sane, cinema has taught me patience.
You’ve said in many interviews that education somehow wasn’t your priority. Did you ever consider joining a film school though?
It’s true that I have always given more priority to co-curricular activities over education. I wanted to join visual communication because I sketch really well or work on an animation course abroad. It was certain that I wanted to something creative – it was a choice among interior designing, visual communication, animation and filmmaking. I picked up visual communication and I was on sets mostly during the course. I learnt more from the set than college because I knew more than the professors – they were still teaching me print media, stamps on paper while I was learning about Blackmagic, anamorphic lenses. (laughs)
How did you view the granddaughter- grandma relationship in Sethum Aayiram Pon (given that you tell you’re close to your grandparents in real life)?
I am not a rebel at home and definitely not like Meera (the name of my character in Sethum Aayiram Pon) in real life. Irrespective of the differences between the grandmother and the granddaughter and their angst in the story, I liked the fact that they cared for each other. Even though Meera’s life wasn’t going great, she somewhere had this desire to meet her grandmother. Despite the obvious differences, they don’t give up on each other. She even begins to like her grandma’s profession (oppari) by the end of the film. The equation is very weird but deep at the same time.
Did you make an effort to strike a rapport with your on-screen grandma Srilekha?
I didn’t meet Srilekha ma’am before, so our conversations remained strictly formal. We were just two artistes on the set who didn’t have much to talk. Only the two of us stayed in Paramakudi while the rest of the cast had stayed in Aappanoor. We used to wake up at 3 am to reach Aappanoor every day and return to our room by 12:30 am. I hardly had two hours of sleep during the entire shoot. We were cranky, mentally drained and didn’t know what to do. After a week of sleeplessness, the whole set was losing energy while I was going extremely hyper. I told my director that I need a day’s rest and got back to our rigmarole again. By the end of the shoot, she was having maternal feelings for me, pampering me with food to keep my senses alive. Our bonding happened very naturally and it was beautiful.
While one expected you would do makeup to your grandma in the final sequence of Sethum Aayiram Pon, you surprised many with the subtlety in your performance and of course your singing…
A lot of people have asked me if I am a professional singer after watching the film, though I’m not and it (singing) doesn’t work in my favour. We rehearsed for 15 days before we went to shoot and I was so thorough with my lines. However, I told my director that I wouldn’t alone rehearse for the climax scene and that I needed some personal space and would perform it on the set directly. The director and the entire set was nervous because they had no idea what I was going to do. That we had shot the entire film in sync sound made the process more complicated. We shot the sequence on the final day of the shoot. The only thing that I told my director was to not cut the shot until I stopped singing. He also had the same thing in mind though there was some tension. There were too many people on the set. Nobody could take it when a brat like me turned all emotional for a sequence without glycerine. The whole set was sobbing and I cut the scene after which everyone clapped for me. It was an unforgettable day in my life.
Did Sethum Aayiram Pon make you look at makeup artistes any differently?
Interestingly for Sillu Karupatti, I didn’t have any makeup and just had a lip balm in my pocket which I used sparingly before I went for a shot. Sethum Aayiram Pon was similar too. I had my skin peeling because of the heat and had to go to the doctor because of that. More than makeup, I haven’t heard much about oppari or the rural lifestyle before. I was practically an outsider in the film and real-life too. People were amused seeing me wear torn jeans. Though I speak Tamil well, I couldn’t grab hold of their accent at all. The director had given me a lot of information about oppari and the makeup traditions, the legacy they had and the scant respect they have now.
In contrast to your first three films, your next film with Sasikumar and Jothika is the big-ticket project you’ve always been hoping for. How different has been the working experience?
Everything is different – from the process to the team. Fortunately, I have had completely different experiences for all the films I have been a part of. It is a massive production, a drastically different character and I am enjoying being on the sets after a challenging film like Sethum Aayiram Pon. It’s a lot of luxury, fun and I got to spend a lot of time with Jothika ma’am, Sasikumar sir and (Samudra) Kani sir in Thanjavur chatting away and cracking jokes. It may be a simple, lighthearted role but it’s a film I did for the experience of working with a great cast. Observing their process, work ethic and being a kid on the set, discussing filmmaking technicalities – it felt like a paid holiday.
Does the lockdown period make you feel restless as an actor?
I started working in the industry when I was 17. I don’t exactly remember how life used to be when I wasn’t facing the camera. My high school life, adulthood, college days breezed past so quickly. Not being on sets is something I will miss. Being in cinema, you lead a life in two extremes – you’re either having an extremely busy calendar or are completely jobless sitting at home. I am used to being at home and not doing much because I maintain a routine. However, it took time to be used to a lockdown. I am doing fine, having nothing to whine about! I am only worried if this phase will make me lazier during the post-Corona era (laughs)!