Reenu Mathews is one of the most sought-after heroines in Malayalam cinema now. And yet, a more unassuming star you will seldom come across – unpretentious, sans starry airs, candid in her words and positive in her outlook.
Reenu joins the brigade of Dubai-based talents who make a definitive impression in Kerala’s film industry – highly selective about their roles and hitting the right mark of success with élan.
A cabin crew staff with Emirates airline, she continues to balance the two careers; the first, which she says, defined her personality and boosted her confidence, and the second, a passion and dream that has fetched her huge admiration and recognition.
With close to 1 million ‘Likes’ on Facebook, if that is any indication for popularity, Reenu indeed has won over the mind of Malayalam cine-goers.
What makes her success even more significant is that she achieved it on her own terms, defying image traps and daring to play roles that demand less frills and more acting chops.
While Reenu has done an award-winning telefilm, December Mist with Anoop Menon, many moons back – the debut itself winning her the second best actress from the Critics – she had largely been confining herself to her work at Emirates, when opportunity came knocking.
Referred to by her friend Parvathi, director Lal Jose auditioned her for Immanuel, starring Mammootty and Fahadh Faasil. The only brief, recalls Reenu, “was to come natural, much like the homemaker’s role Lal sir was trying to fill in.”
The role was totally deglamorized and needed Reenu to also play a mother and much older than she really is. Not long into the audition and Lal Jose declared: “You are the Annie I have been looking for.”
The tough part came next. “Sure enough, the thought of acting with Mammootty sir was scary. More so because the film had a large portion shot interiors.”
Reenu says Mammootty was one of the best co-actors a debutant could hope for, “being extremely patient and giving others the space to be. He is a spontaneous actor, interpreting and improvising on the role by the minute. So you have to be prepared for such surprises in your reaction.”
Immanuel was a runaway hit and Reenu was noted for the charming intensity she brought on screen with absolute ease. For her next film, for which she spotted by director Amal Neerad through word of praise put in by writer-actor Shankar Ramakrishnan, Reenu took on a bolder role.
In Kullante Bharya, part of the anthology film 5 Sundarikal, Reenu played the role of a tall wife to a much shorter man. The film once again brought recognition for Reenu as a competent actress.
Praise the Lord, which followed, again had Mammootty on the lead, while her recent film Sapthamashree Thaskaraha with Prithviraj is the season’s hit.
As a homemaker and a no-nonsense government official who takes on the corrupt, Reenu’s portrayal won her plaudits. “Prithviraj is very technically savvy and extremely dedicated; it was a great learning experience for me working on the film,” says Reenu.
Next, she will be in a cameo in one of the most-awaited film, director Neerad’s Fahadh Faasil-Lal starrer Iyobinte Pusthakam, a period thriller. “I play Iyob’s wife; the role is short but I am looking forward to the movie, which has already generated strong buzz,” says Reenu.
She says that doing ‘wife’ roles, which most actresses shy away from in the initial days of their career, has only added to her confidence.
“I think what has brought me real satisfaction as an actor is that each of these roles has been different, especially in their characterization. After Kullante Bharya, I got calls from friends saying they could not recognise it was me. I have been really fortunate that people have accepted the difference in each role and appreciated it.”
The back-to-back success of her movies has now earned her the epithet of ‘lucky star’ in an industry. “It is indeed heartening that three of the four films I acted in have been superhits,” says Reenu, who however prefers to keep focusing on her dual careers than jump into the fray and cash in on the fame.
“I have never regarded the length of my role in choosing a role,” says Reenu. “It is not about being choosy but about wanting to do roles that people remember, being part of projects that are industry milestones and also give me satisfaction as an artist.”
But how does she feel watching herself on screen? “Sometimes I really feel I could have done better – sometimes I feel it was ok. But I know for sure that there is a long way to go.”
She is a huge fan of actress Shobhana, Urvashi and Vidya Balan, and hopes to perform some powerful characters such as what they have done.
Is she also willing to do glamorous roles as many Malayalam actresses tend to do in other language-films such as in Tamil or Telugu? “I am not keen on doing extra-glamorous roles. In fact, I have been receiving a few offers from other languages with some really strong character roles.
“The challenge is to find the time. I love the job at Emirates; it has made me who I am today. Travelling opens your mind and you learn a lot. It also boosts you confidence. So, for me, it is about balancing the two careers.”
She seldom flies to destinations in Kerala but when she does the fanfare she receives on ground and in the flight has been exceptional. Most recently, she had the honour of greeting actor Dileep on flight, while serving as the cabin crew.
Reenu says that despite being from Dubai and having an alternative career, she has never felt like an outsider in the Malayalam film industry. “I have always felt a respect from the cast and crew.”
She has not taken on any new projects for this year but hope to be part of more career-defining roles next year. Being the ‘lucky star’ and yet disengaged from all celebrity circuses, Reenu says her biggest luxury now is to get some sleep.
Fame, recognition and adulation, clearly, haven’t’ affected the lady who is clear of her priorities: to keep working and be remembered as an actress who won over the minds of audiences.