Tuesday, 30 June 2015

An Interview with Preethi Athreya aka Kundavai

Preethi Athreya as Princess Kundavai
Click here to read Kundavai Character Sketch
There are many on-going debates about who should play this role… who would do justice to it… Kundavai Nachiyaar the celebrated sister of Raja Raja Cholan was the guiding force behind two great Chola Kings. Kalki’s portrays Kundavai as the Queen among women. Her intelligence, shrewd thinking, grace, benevolence and far-sightedness save the entire Chola Kingdom from the brink of disaster.

Portraying this great character on stage would be a daunting prospect for any actor but Preethi Athreya who plays Kundavai in Magic Lantern’s Ponniyin Selvan does with a practised ease that makes us forget that she is a debut theatre actor. A dancer by profession, Preethi is a student of eminent dancers Shanta and Dhananjayan. Preethi also holds a Post Graduate degree in Dance studies (London).

Preethi has been associated with Magic Lantern since 1999 where she has helped them out with back stage costumes and rehearsals. In 2014, she got her first opportunity to perform as Princess Kundavai on stage. Reprising the same role this year too, here is a candid interview with gracious Preethi. 

Have you read the novel Ponniyin Selvan?

No. Not the whole novel. I have read parts of it and I have strong images of the story told to me when I was at a very young impressionable age by my grandmother and others in the family.

Did you know that you were playing the most intelligent heroines ever written by Kalki?

Yes. I knew that I was playing a historical character who had shaped the life of two great Chola Kings. I found Kundavai to be not only intelligent but lot more compassionate and benevolent. At a time when there was a great upheaval in religion and politics she stood for unity and she had a vision to build a great empire and she achieved it.

How did you prepare for this role?

I had to attune myself to restrict and restrain my persona in the stage because as a royal Princess, every word that I speak needs to be weighed carefully as it has the power to affect people. Poonguzhali is a perfect foil to Kundavai’s character. She is not restricted by propriety and can be spontaneous any time. With Kundavai, I had to bring in a lot of restraint. I also accidentally ended up designing costumes for the entire play last year and that helped me to understand the role that I played much better.

What are the things that you love about Kundavai?

Kundavai is inanely compassionate, intelligent and could empathize with people on a different level. What is remarkable about her character is that at a very young age, she has to shoulder a big responsibility of steering the Kingdom from grave danger. She also shows enormous bravery when faced with great odds.

Who is your favourite character in the play?

Azhwarkadiyan Nambi played by Hans Kaushik is by far my favourite character in the play. Hans’s interpretation of this character, his wit, humour, intelligence are a treat to watch on the stage.

In the novel, Nandini is my favourite character as she is quite complex. She is a survivor whose life is a tragic mystery. Filled with an obsessive energy, she is also the most volatile character in the novel.

Given a choice which character would you like to play in this drama?

Nandini would be my first choice. I would also love to play Vanathi. Vanathi has a wonderful intelligence about her and many endearing qualities and there is definitely more to her than just fainting at the face of danger.

Who do you think killed Aditya Karikalan?

Many theories abound but I think it was a suicide…

What was your reaction to the audience’s response to your role in the play last year?

There were different reactions but overall they were very positive. I think Chennai audience is very particular in many ways. Though there were lots of criticisms about the acting, costumes and the script there was also complete engagement from fans and the audience. In Madurai, there were people reciting the dialogue from the audience even before we spoke it. That was scary. Overall it has been great and I am glad to return to the stage wiser.

Vandiya Devan played by Dayal and you had a great chemistry on stage. How did that come about?

Lots of trials and rehearsals, let me assure you. Dayal is a wonderful actor and he was receptive and encouraging. Jayakumar who played Vandiya Devan in 1999 Ponniyin Selvan play also helped us a lot. Never at any point did Pravin (Director) restrict us in any way. He allowed us to find the right balance and gesture giving us the independence to interpret the character in our own way.

Catch Preethi Athreya and a host of talented artists on stage from July 3 – July 12 as Magic Lantern comes back for yet another season of Ponniyin Selvan.

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