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    Kalieaswari Srinivasan on the big Cannes surprise and her lessons on the sets of Jacques Audiard’s crime drama

    KALIEASWARI SRINIVA-SAN,  Kali to friends and the Chennai theatre circuit, is in a celebratory mood. Her Jacques Audiard-helmed immigration drama, Dheepan, came away with the top prize at the 68th Cannes Film Festival—the Palme d’Or—last week. But the 30-year-old has not deluded herself into thinking she is a star yet. ‘‘I know the fame is short-lived,’’ she says, adding, ‘‘And I am not someone who visualises my future.’’ Away in the French countryside, in the spectacular Luberon region to be precise, with not another house in sight and just her husband for company, Srinivasan only knows that she wants to continue acting.

    Accidental actor
    Srinivasan used to work at a call centre before her ‘‘accidental introduction to theatre’’, courtesy a workshop she attended to become a radio jockey. Given that her only film experience till Dheepan was a brief role in an award-winning short, Kuttram Kadithal, she believes being ‘‘a blank slate and open to experiment’’was what worked in her favour. Post the Cannes win, when interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, about how he found his cast, director Audiard had said, ‘‘I’ve worked with non-professional actors before and I actually prefer it… I like to go toward new faces, new colours…’’ The relatively low-profile crime drama—about a family of Tamil immigrants living in Paris—was shot over three months last year in Paris and the suburbs, just after Srinivasan’s wedding. Some scenes were also filmed in Ooty.
    Srinivasan recalls her two-hour audition as ‘‘phenomenal’’. Even when it seemed that she didn’t stand a chance —given that many from the theatre and film fraternity had auditioned for the role— she relished the experience. Once selected, the actor formed a bond with everyone on the sets, from her co-star, Antonythasan Jesuthasan, who introduced her to the Sri Lankan community in Paris and helped her with her accent, to her driver. In fact, her post-Cannes holiday, a much-delayed honeymoon, is at a cottage owned by the movie’s costume designer.

    Of movie marathons
    Describing her days on the Croisette, Srinivasan says even Tahar Rahim, the actor she adored in Audiard’s prison thriller A Prophet (a movie she watched after her audition), had to be introduced to her, before she recognised him. ‘‘I did not know anything about Audiard as well before my audition, but what I have learnt from him since is priceless,’’ she shares. As for the Cannes’ famed red carpet, she gamely followed the motions at the photo calls, but let her stylist call the shots. ‘‘Except for the blue sari, which was originally my wedding sari, I had no idea about the labels I wore. I am not one of our Bollywood beauties,’’ she chuckles, adding that it was her first turn in stilettoes as well. But she loved that the Cannes Film Festival, ‘‘a thiruvizha,’’ was all about the movies. ‘‘I cried through Mark Osborne’s The Little Prince adaptation, which was both philosophical and spiritual. As for the (lesbian love story) Carol, I found truth in Rooney Mara’s acting. You feel with her, not for her,’’ she concludes, hoping to act in Pondicherry director Kumaran Valavan’s 2009 travelling play, Land of Ashes, which is once again about the Sri Lankan civil war, when she returns. ‘‘Theatre is not easy. But it is my calling,’’ she concludes.

    Rosella Stephen

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