Faria Abdullah, who made her acting debut with ‘Jaathi Ratnalu’, is a multi-hyphenate, pursuing dance, theatre, painting and poetry
Faria Abdullah is still coming to terms with the euphoric response to her Telugu film Jaathi Ratnalu: “It’s sinking in, one step at a time,” she says, speaking for this interview in between visiting cinema halls in Hyderabad for post-release promotions.
Jaathi Ratnalu directed by K V Anudeep and starring Naveen Polishetty, Priyadarshi and Rahul Ramakrishna as three friends who migrate to Hyderabad in search of better prospects, but are sucked into a whirlwind of unexpected events, has taken the box office by storm.
Also Read | Get ‘First Day First Show’, our weekly newsletter from the world of cinema, in your inbox. You can subscribe for free here
All through lockdown, producers Vyjayanthi Films waited patiently for theatres to re-open, not wanting to take the OTT route. Faria looks back at the seemingly never-ending wait and says, “Nagi (producer Nag Ashwin) took a vote by asking us whether the film should have an OTT release or wait for theatres to re-open. I had completed filming 95% of my scenes and 90% of dubbing in 2019, and it was a long wait for me. Impatient to see myself on any screen, I voted for OTT. But he held on. Soon after the film’s preview and theatrical release, I messaged Nagi, thanking him for not listening to me. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a newcomer like me.”
She, just like the others involved with the film, was confident that it would be received well. But the euphoric response took them by pleasant surprise: “It’s becoming a sort of cult film?” Faria says cheerfully, adding, “We knew that the audience would relate to the authentic, rooted humour. Anudeep hails from Sangareddy district and his writing reflects the milieu. But the response is much more than what we imagined.”
Faria grew up in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, and was inclined to fine arts in school. She used to paint, learnt dance in summer camps and all this, she says, added to her personality. After Class X, she didn’t want to take the MPC (maths, physics, chemistry), BiPC (biology, physics, chemistry) or commerce streams. Her mother arranged for home-schooling: “That gave me the freedom to learn what I wanted, from different teachers. I would travel to Kachiguda for painting classes and Lingampally for literature…”
Around the same time, Faria got introduced to theatre and has been a part of well known theatre groups in Hyderabad — Nishumbita, Torn Curtains, Samahaara, Dramanon, Rangeen Sapne and Kissago, to name a few. “I missed working with the Sutradhar group so far,” she says. For a brief while, she also wrote and directed plays.
While pursuing Mass Communication at Loyola College, Hyderabad, she met Nag Ashwin who visited the campus as chief guest for an event: “He asked if I would be interested in acting in one of his productions, and I auditioned for the role.”
Her experience in theatre prepared her for Jaathi Ratnalu: “The stage prepares you for everything — acting, networking and social skills. On stage, you have to be present in the moment and think on your feet. Once, my sari nearly came undone. I quickly went backstage, took the strings off someone’s hoodie, tied my sari, and got back on stage.”
While many actors state that cinema, unlike theatre, has scope for retakes, Faria differs, “You have the opportunity to improvise when you perform the same play again. In cinema, you can’t do that.”
She remembers her parents and grandparents being inclined to the arts, especially acting and dancing, but not having the opportunities to showcase their talents: “I would hear that my mom used to dance when she was carrying me; maybe that’s how my interest in dance began. She was born in Kuwait, though her parents are from Mumbai and Hyderabad.”
The family spoke Hindi and Urdu. Faria learnt Telugu in the last couple of years and dubbed for the film.
Away from the cameras, her interests include abstract painting, poetry and dance. She’s also a movement practitioner: “I love freestyle dancing and I let music dictate my moves.” She learnt Kathak briefly, hip hop, house, waacking, belly dancing and dance hall styles.
Talking about her journey ahead, she says she hasn’t signed any new films yet: “I am open to acting in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and even English. Who knows?” She doesn’t want to limit herself to acting: “I’ve always been multi-hyphenate, expanding my skill sets and integrating them to my personality. I don’t want to be unidimensional.”
Before we wind up, we talk about Jaathi Ratnalu and if, beneath its hilarious veneer, it’s a black comedy of migration and survival in the big city. Faria mulls over it and says, “It can be watched just as a fun film and later, one can ponder what it was about. I think there’s an element of black comedy. We talk about success and development and don’t realise that real development is when you can succeed in staying true to your roots. That’s what I believe in and I’m glad I could begin my career from Hyderabad.”