Thrissur natives and National Film Award winners Biju Menon and Aparna Balamurali, who were present at MMTV’s News Conclave in Thrissur on Saturday, spoke at length about the need for pay parity in film industry, producers’ prerogative in the matter, the controversy surrounding singer Nanjiyamma’s award for the Best Female playback singer this year, and more.
The duo, who walked onto the stage dressed in their traditional best, were welcomed with huge applause. They also spoke about working together in the upcoming film ‘Thankam,’ which is incidentally set in Thrissur.
Biju Menon, who won the Best Supporting Actor Award for his portrayal of the character Ayyappan Nair in the film ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’ directed by the late Sachy, said that the award was quite surprising and unexpected. “I was never a born actor, never expected to be a notable name in cinema and wasn’t even serious about the profession until a while ago. Moreover, getting good films is also a matter of luck. I feel thankful that Sachy entrusted such a character with me, and also got a meaty role in Aarkkariyam,” he said.
He remembered Sachy, who passed away last year, and said: “He was more of a friend to me than a filmmaker. I could speak to him about anything, and he used to speak from his heart.”
Funnily enough, when asked how despite donning the role of one of the heroes in ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’ ended up getting the award for the best-supporting actor, he said with a smile: “Probably, they might have ticked the ‘supporting actor’ column while applying.”
Aparna confessed that she got the drive to be a thorough professional after working with the ‘Soorarai Pottru’ team, for which she won the award.
“It showed me the possibilities in depth. Moreover, I am getting more good characters in Malayalam too after the film,” she said, adding that her bold characters have influenced her as a person too.
“I feel there is a lot more sense of freedom and professionalism too in my attitude,” she says.
The highlight of the chat session was the issue of pay parity for female artistes, about which Aparna had mentioned soon after her National Award win.
At the conclave, she said, “Now, when I get opportunities to speak about such matters, I should do it responsibly and that’s why I raise these points. I started around 2016 and at times, one hears the figures quoted as remuneration by those male actors, who started around the same time as you. You wonder why there is a stark difference. More than greed, it’s a feeling of helplessness. Moreover, it has also been a matter that has been discussed in our inner circles so far. These days, many female-centric films are also well-received by the audience, in many industries including ours. Therefore, I feel it’s only a matter of fairness.”
However, Biju Menon said the matter of pay is a producer’s prerogative. “It’s a business and they decide the pay based on the market value,” the actor said.
Aparna's comments came in the wake of leading producer G Suresh Kumar lashing out at her the other day for demanding equal pay for all artistes.
Suresh Kumar claimed Aparna was not well aware of the financial dealings in cinema, which pays money for an actor’s star value. “Do you think it is fair to pay my daughter and actor Keerthy Suresh the same remuneration that Mohanlal commands. No, even I would be against that. We can pay Mohanlal crores, because he is a superstar. There is no issue paying superstars crores because of their star value. They are called superstars because they guarantee to bring people to the audience. Let Aparna Balamurali churn out hits on her own. Then we can give her the same remuneration,” Suresh Kumar had said.
The actors said Nanjiyamma deserved the award for the uniqueness she brought into the rendition of her song in ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum,’ which won her the National Award for the Best Female Singer.
When Aparna was asked what she has to say about it as someone who hails from a musical family, she said, “Someone recently asked me whether I can sing it, and I said, ‘no.’
The reason is that her signature on it is inimitable. We haven’t had such a song in recent times and for the effort that has gone into making the song what it is, she deserves the award.”
A vibrant question hour
When the session was thrown open to the audience, former legislator K S Sabarinadhan, footballer I M Vijayan, former minister V S Sunil Kumar and many others shot their queries at the duo.
To Sabarinadhan’s question on Biju Menon’s view on his career blooming late, Biju said: “It’s after films like Marykkundoru Kunjadu, Ordinary etc that people got a sense of what I can do. I hope that from now on, more of such versatile roles come my way.”
I M Vijayan said that he wants to see Biju winning the Best Actor’s National Award soon.
V S Sunil Kumar, who also hails from Thrissur, was keen to know how the place helped the artistes in their craft. “The atmosphere here promoting good theatre and a serious attitude towards art has helped me,” said Biju.
Aparna wrapped up the session by rendering the song ‘Kayyile Aakasam Kondu Vanna O Paasam,’ from her film ‘Soorarai Potru’.