TWO WORLDS COLLIDE: THE BEAUTY TAKES ON THE BEAST
“Pffftttt… Mary Kom rip off for sure!”
“Yeahhhh they just copied Ong Bak…”
“These people have nothing to do other than make copies of other movies…”
These are some of the things many people have said about the movie without even watching a few minutes of it. It is a bit saddening how we collectively as a Nepalese audience are quick on jumping to conclusions that are based on nothing but assumptions. But the silver lining to it all is Xira, a movie that will have hit the silver screen on August 23rd, 2019, and send out a fury of punches that are aimed to change the course of Nepalese cinema.
Xira follows a plot line we all are familiar with. The protagonist’s world is smashed to smithereens by the antagonist and they must take revenge to set it all right. But the refreshing twist here is that the protagonist is a woman, taken up by no other than but Ms. Namrata Shrestha, an actress who is a show stopper in all regards with a groceryAlist of awards and accolades to prove it.
Then, no hero is complete without an antagonist; a pair of shoes that can be filled by no other than Mr. Pramod Agrahari. He’s a man a movie can’t do without, the best man to play as the worst man, thrown into the plot to not just thick it, but to splash it on your face. But talking to him is like flowing in a bed of water; conversations that start at one point but deviate to numerous endings. In others words, as real conversations can get.
Having these two powerhouses in one movie playing polar opposites is something we’ll love to be on the edge of our seats for. But for the following interview, we step back a little, get comfortable, and dive into the tales to two personalities that influence so many others.
TNM: RESEARCHING ON YOU, IT’S MENTIONED THAT YOU HAVE YOUR HAND IN THEATER AS WELL. HOW DO YOU BALANCE ON THESE TWO BOATS?
Namrata: For me, theater is a completely different medium. As an artist, I am constantly trying to grow and break out of my own mold. I do at least a movie or two a year. Rest of the time, I use it to reflect on myself and work on as I feel like I am still learning. I did Sano Sansar, my first movie, without any training, and I have come a long way. But there’s also so much more to go.
And this is where theater comes in. Months and months go into making a play and it demands team work. On top of that, everyone has their own way of going about what they do. Just by being there through it all makes it a learning process and I feel I grow from it.
And then I get better for my movies as well.
Since you brought up Sano Sansar, your filmography dominantly consists of romantic dramas. Is the genre a personal preference?
N: Not at all.
The thing is, producers want to play it safe. Regardless of the twists here and there of being a blind girl or a mute girl, the bottom line is that it’s the same old romantic drama. It’s because that the story sticks, and thus is safe.
This obviously needs to change, right?
“I USE IT TO REFLECT ON MYSELF AND WORK ON AS I FEEL LIKE I AM STILL LEARNING.”
OF COURSE. IT’S BEEN A DECADE SINCE SANO SANSAR BUT THE PLOT REMAINS THE SAME.
That is why I have become a producer as well. I don’t want to do the same thing for another decade.
And I’m taking this risk not just for myself, but the coming generation of makers and watchers who are tired of the homogenous romantics.
AND THIS IS A BOLD MOVE FOR YOU. AS XIRA, THIS IS A STARK DEPARTURE INTO THE ACTION GENRE. HOW DID YOU PULL IT OFF?
N: Xira is a mix martial artist, so just to get the physique part down, it took me 8 months to get into shape of a fighter. A really intense process for me but I just persevered through it.
DID YOU TAKE ANY INSPIRATION FROM OTHER FILMS OR ACTORS OR SUCH?
N: Not at all. If I did, it’d be hard to be away from the tag of being a copy.
People who have not even seen the trailer properly are saying that we’ve ripped off Mary Kom. That’s how our market is. I want to avoid that at all cost. So, no inspirations.
THAT’S ACTUALLY INTERESTING AS PRAMOD SIR SAID THE SAME THING. IS COPYING OR “BEING INSPIRED” A THING IN THE INDUSTRY?
N: I can’t say for every artist has their own way of getting into the character. I am someone who love watching any and every kind of movies from morning to night. But when it comes to getting into the role, I like to look at just the character, nothing else. I want to get into the clothes they wear and speak the words they mouth. I want to create their background and live though it.
For Xira as an example, I used to wake up early in the morning, train, come back, eat, sleep, watch a fight, train, come back, sleep, and all over again. That’s the life of a professional fighter and I lived one to be one.
AND WHAT KEPT YOU GOING THROUGH ALL OF THIS?
N: Because people said I couldn’t.
I had to prove them wrong.
TNM: BEFORE WE START OFF WITH ANYTHING, I’M REALLY CURIOUS ABOUT THIS: WHY DO YOU ALMOST ALWAYS GRAVITATE TOWARDS NEGATIVE ROLES?
Pramod: No reason at all. In all honesty, it just that the director trust me to pull of the antagonist character. Without the casting, I’m the bad guy because of the way I look.
Apart from that, I feel that playing as a villain, I can bring some life and realism into the picture. For instance, the writers in our industry sit in some café in Thamel and write about a poor farmer sweating in the blazing sun of Terai. They might put it in flowery words, but the true essence will never be captured. This is where I think I come in, to put those ideas and thoughts into a body that so dynamic that all of the pretending we do on screen seems believable.
And lastly, playing as the bad guy, I am imparting a social message as well. By showing the things I do, I’m telling the world what not to do.
SO HOW DID YOU GET INTO MOVIES?
P: It’s mostly by chance.
The thing is, I used to dabble in sports, dance, and was pretty passionate about martial arts. Seeing the way I was, my brother, who’s a pure business man who moonlighted as a singer, wanted me to star in a song of his.
I was just in grade 12 and didn’t know jack about acting. But when I did, my brother was taken aback. So much so that he pushed me to take the profession up seriously. Which, well, I did.
And it just so happened that Rajesh Biswakarma sir was in town and looking for talent. I was able to get his attention and he offered me a role. Obviously, I was delighted, but I had a condition; to be taken under his guidance and learn from him. He was more than happy to take me in. And so began my film journey.
In 2007 though, I opted to go to Delhi because I wanted to learn more about this craft. There, I met Prem Matiyani sir of National School of Drama, and I’d talk to him, record the conversation on my phone, go home, listen to it, jot down questions, go to him the next day, get them answered by him and record it, and all over again. That was my education.
I spent 5 years there, came back, and did my first legitimate movie, Uma. The rest, as they say, is history.
THAT WAS THE PAST, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE. WHAT KIND OF ROLES DO YOU WANT TO DO IN THE COMING DAYS?
P: I was the kind of guy who’d always dream up a character and contemplate about playing it, or seeing someone else do a terrific role and wish it was me playing the part instead. But eventually, I realized that that mentality was pinning me down. Like a bad habit.
We did a play in 2013 called Swapna Mahal. It was my first theater performance, and it was based on A Streetcar Named Desire, a movie from 1951. It starred Marlon Brando, playing the role of Stanley, which was then picked up by me for this performance.
I did the role without ever watching the film just because I was afraid that it will get in me and I’ll try to copy it. I don’t want that. When people saw me in that persona, they loved me. But they said that had I watched the movie, it might have been better. But then again, this was my take on the character.
Something fresh, something native to the lives of our nation. Something me. To bring this answer home, I want to do all the characters there are in the world. And to give you a more solid answer without giving much away, I want to play as a third gender.
AND YOU’RE NOT THAT PROMINENT IN THE MEDIA. ANY REASON WHY?
P: Just because I want to be known for my work, not my name.
People say that I’m pretty weird about these things. “Pramod doesn’t come to parties.” “Pramod doesn’t come to ask for roles.” I mean, that’s how I am, I can’t change that. I’ve never known how to talk with a buttery tongue.
“I NEED TO BE NO. 1.
I DON’T LIKE TO BE NO. 2 NOR BE TOLD WHAT TO DO.”
THAT’S VERY MUCH LIKE YOUR CHARACTER IN TANDAV. AND THAT’S A PRETTY ICONIC ROLE, ESPECIALLY THE OPENING SCENE. WOULD YOU SAY SO AS WELL?
P: I don’t know about iconic, but it was the most interesting role to do. I wanted to bring in a reptilia vibe about the character, so I spent an entire week just looking at snakes. Looking at how they move, how they flick their tongue, how they coil and uncoil how they prey.
And for the role of Raja in Xira, I’ve tried to bring in the spirit of the wolf.
SO HOW DO YOU GET INTO A ROLE EXACTLY?
P: Let me be a bit poetic and say that with each role, all I’m trying to do is survive. I don’t know how to drown because I don’t know how to swim, so I just survive.
In this manner, I live their lives, be in their circle, wear their clothes, and know why they like the things they like.
AND WHAT ROLE HAS MADE IT THE HARDEST FOR YOU TO SURVIVE?
P: Every damn one of them. See, getting into a role is basically like giving birth. Mothers have the luxury of doing it in 9 months. I, however, just have 1. 2 tops. In that time, I have to not only develop them, I have to pace them through their childhood laughter and traumas, their adolescence lusts and angst, their adulthood pains and desires. Then only can I become them.
And that’s hardly enough. The point then becomes to make the audience feel that magic of life.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRAMOD OF A DECADE AGO VERSUS THE PRAMOD OF TODAY?
P: I was a reckless kid without a care in the world. A ruffian in the truest sense. I had no regard for what people thought of me. If someone stood in my way, the only way out was a fist fight, which of course would end badly for them. I was that kind of guy.
Coming to now, I have toned it all down gravely. Reason being my involvement with theater. It taught me how to live and be in a disciplined track.
Then again, I haven’t cut off my roots completely. With all that youthful carelessness came my sense of competition. If I were to get in a bus, I had to sit in the first sit. If it was occupied, I’d catch the next one.
A cop had stopped me this one time in my younger days just to salute at him. I did.
Across his face.
I need to be No. 1.
I don’t like to be No. 2 nor be told what to do.
INTERVIEWED BY: NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH
PHOTOS BY: GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR
STYLED BY: PROJENDRA BIKRAM RANA
ASSISTED BY: BAIBHAV SHRESTHA
WARDROBE FOR PRAMOD: LOUIS PHILIPPE, LOGO FASHION
WARDROBE FOR NAMRATA: KASA STYLE, CHUPLAG STUDIOS
MAKEUP BY: ALLURE MAKEUP | ADITI SHRESTHA
LOCATION: MIRROR MAZE