Why should actors who play sex workers be classified as 'bold': Kerala Crime Files actor Rooth P John

Rooth says she was warned her character Swapna would not receive much empathy from the audience. Photo: Instagram | Rooth P John (@_shutter__bug @yedukrishnan._)

Two weeks after its release, Disney+Hotstar's first original crime series in Malayalam 'Kerala Crime Files' is still getting good reviews from the audience.

Actor Rooth P John, who played the murdered sex worker in the crime investigation drama, opens up about the challenging role she essayed, her initial inhibition to undress in front of the camera, and the effort the cast and crew took to make her comfortable on the sets.


So, how did you land this role?

I participated in a common audition for this role at the ActLab in Kochi. The audition was less than 40 seconds long, so I packed up to leave thinking that they will not be any follow-up. However, the associate director informed me that I might get a call in a few days. Nearly five days later, I was told I have been chosen to audition for Swapna's role as a sex worker.


Were you nervous?

Director Ahammed Khabeer delivered a brief about my character, including the scenes and the costume that I would be wearing. I was asked to come for the audition only if I was confident about essaying that role. I spoke to my parents and discussed my character arc with them. My father is a veteran theatre artist and he advised me to go ahead with the role if I am comfortable. I believe it was a wonderful opportunity. I must say, everyone, including the director and the cameramen, made me feel extremely comfortable during each scene. Though I initially felt a little hesitant about unhooking my blouse for a scene, it was handled really well by the crew.


In a recent interview, you mentioned how unfair it is to categorise sex work or skin show as bold roles...

Yes! Would you ask an actor who kills someone onscreen or indulges in a violent act, how he felt while acting? In my opinion, killing someone or attacking a person is bold. If people are okay with such actions, why can't they normalise the portrayal of sex workers or actors who show some skin onscreen? I believe it is a mindset. Devaki Rajendran, who played Lathika in this series, is often portrayed as an actor who does 'bold' roles. Actors like Kani Kusruti had to live with that tag too, just because they played such characters onscreen. I don't believe it's right to categorise boldness.


How was people's response to your character?

I received a lot of messages telling me that I did a good job in the series though I didn't have much screen space. Khabeer had warned me that my character would not receive sympathy or love. Swapna has been written differently, without much depth and because of the way she behaved at the end. So, I was prepared for that. However, I am happy that people appreciated my performance. Initially, there were plans to add more depth to my character (through Lathika's narrative), so people would feel sympathetic with her in the end. However, the makers then decided against it, because they did not want to divert the emotions to her character.


How was the experience working with the cast of the series, especially Aju Varghese?

Initially, the makers had planned a sequence between Aju Varghese and me. In that scene, sub-inspector Manoj Sreedharan would close his eyes and imagine a conversation with my character Swapna. But that was later not included in the series. Despite that, I had a wonderful time interacting with Aju chettan. He is so down-to-earth and I was especially pleased that he would remember my name every time we met. Lal sir instilled a lot of confidence in me by appreciating my performance. That was something I still cherish. I also had a wonderful time interacting with Navas Vallikkunnu, Sreejith and Sanju, and the rest of the cast. Ashwathy Manohar, who played Aju's wife, is a very good friend.


Working with director Ahammed Khabeer

To be honest, I was quite apprehensive about working with Khabeer ikka who had delivered two hit films 'June' and 'Madhuram'. But he can connect with you as someone who has known you for long and that made me comfortable, right from the start.


Any future projects?

I have done a few films prior to this series, which will be showcased in this year's IFFK. I am also part of an upcoming Malayalam movie titled 'Jerry', which is expected to hit theatres this September.

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