Actress Prachika Tehlan’s journey to filmdom is as captivating as the tale of her Mollywood debut Mamangam. The former captain of India netball team and basketball player ventured into acting through a Hindi TV show, and almost four years later will be seen as a warrior and a dancer in the M Padmakumar directorial.
Playing the character of Unnimaya in the movie set, which revolves around the life of the legendary suicide squad of Chaaverukal, was challenging but getting the role and preparing for it was equally tough, says Prachi.
“I got a call from the team in January 2018 when I was shooting for my Hindi show Ikyawaan, saying that they wanted me to audition for the role. They met me in Mumbai and I got shortlisted for another round of audition with about 25-30 actresses in Kochi,” she says.
The actress flew down to Kerala on January 26, one of the few holidays she gets in a year due to her hectic daily TV show schedule. “I was the tallest actress in the audition with a height of 5 ft 11 in and an athletic physique. So, the costume wasn’t a right fit, and to make it further uncomfortable, I was asked to say my lines in Malayalam for the first time in my life,” she recalls. “I was also the first one to audition and was obviously anxious. The director probably saw that and said they are mostly just looking at the expressions, and said I can do my dialogues in Hindi. That put me at ease, but after the audition I was just cribbing that I could have taken a break for a day, instead of coming to Kochi. Also, I believed I wasn’t the right fit for the role as it needed someone experienced.” Much to her surprise, the next day she got a call from the team saying that she was selected for the role.
Her next task was to prep for the role and this included learning mohiniyattam and Malayalam. “I started learning the basics of mohiniyattam under the tutelage of Murali sir in Mumbai. Those days, I had to slog for almost 17 hours a day. I had to shoot my TV show for 12 hours, and then the travel took about two hours. On top of that, I had to dedicate two hours for my diction class and one hour for my dance lessons,” she says.
The team started filming Mamangam in May 2018. Ask Prachi how useful her dance lessons were, and she says, “My first shot was part of a song sequence. I was so nervous the first day that I was crying in my vanity van. Learning classical dance is never easy, and whatever I learnt wasn’t used on the floors. That made it all the more difficult as I am not a dancer at all.”
She describes her character Unnimaya as “an entertainer, a warrior and a smart woman who helps the Chaaverukal to accomplish their goal”. “It’s a powerful character and a dream role for anyone, because I had to dance, fight and act with all the major characters in the film,” she says.
In fact, she had zero training before she did the action sequences for the period film set in the 17th century. “They told me that, ‘Prachi, we only have a short time to finish the action scenes. We know you are an athlete and so you can pull it off easily’. So, there was already so much of expectations, but I think they didn’t factor that I used to play basketball, not do martial arts (laughs). But I guess sportspersons generally rise up to the challenges and my team had that confidence in me,” she says, adding she did the scenes well and even have a scar to prove it.
On working with Mammootty in the movie, Prachi says, “He’s one of the finest people I have met in my acting journey. He is extremely polite and professional. He also takes care of you. When I was homesick, he was kind enough to get home-cooked food for me. Also, whenever I had a question, he used to respond to my messages or pick my calls. So, I had an amazing experience working with him and I have immense respect for him.”
Ask her about the biggest takeaway from the role and working in the Malayalam film industry, and the actress says, “I was the captain of netball team when I was approached by a leading production house to do a TV show. Within a matter of three days, I became an actress. And grabbing this role was one of the best things to happen to me since my acting debut. I believe my career so far has been a mixture of hard work, destiny and being at the right place at the right time.”