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Nimisha Sajayan on playing Mala Jogi in Poacher: ‘Being true is the key; I didn’t fake it’

Nimisha Sajayan’s recent works include The Great Indian Kitchen, Chithha and Jigarthanda Double X, and will next be seen in Netflix’s Dabba Cartel

Ratnalekha Mazumdar Calcutta Published 02.03.24, 03:34 PM
Nimisha Sajayan, who stars in the Prime Video series Poacher, strikes a pose

Nimisha Sajayan, who stars in the Prime Video series Poacher, strikes a pose Instagram/Nimisha Sajayan

Of the many people who couldn’t stop gushing about Nimisha Sajayan’s intense portrayal of Mala Jogi in the Amazon Prime Video series Poacher is the show’s executive producer Alia Bhatt. The Telegraph Online caught up with Nimisha to talk about the Richie Mehta-directed eight-part crime thriller series that is winning hearts, how she breathed life into Kerala Forest range officer Mala and the secret behind her back-to-back heart-felt performances.

Congratulations on your heartfelt and honest performance in Poacher. What kind of response are you receiving?

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Nimisha Sajayan: It’s amazing to receive love from the audience. I am still processing it. It’s great to see people enjoying the show. Richie’s (Mehta) main goal of creating awareness has been achieved. I am grateful for the love and support we are getting from the audience.

Besides being a film, Poacher is also an important initiative. Did you also want to be a part of it because of that?

Nimisha Sajayan: I take my role as an actor very seriously. I always try to be a part of projects that hold social significance, are socially relevant and have relatable characters. When Richie shared the story with me, I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of it. After reading the story, I knew the impact it would have on everyone.

When you first heard the Poacher’s script, what did you find fascinating about your character Mala Jogi?

Nimisha Sajayan: Mala Jogi is a very fierce yet sensitive character. No matter what she is going through, she is always focused, which is what I admire the most. We always love to label people with tags such as mother, father, or sister. If someone who doesn’t have that tag does something wrong, we immediately react to it strongly. With people who are close to us, we immediately forgive them. But Mala is different. She didn’t forgive her father, which I admired about her. Her deep affection for animals and nature is truly selfless. Playing a character like Mala has been a rollercoaster ride.

What were your discussions with director Richie Mehta about your character and tonality?

Nimisha Sajayan: Mala Jogi is a mix of two-three characters. I asked Richie if he wanted me to mimic the real-life person and he told me to capture the essence of that person. Then I had a conversation with the actual person. I met the person for two hours, and it was impossible to know him completely in that time. My main motive was to just know him as a person, the way he interacts with his colleagues, his family dynamics and just understand his emotions.

We see Mala melt when she is with her pet dogs at home. And there are pictures of you with your pet on Instagram. Did you draw from these moments?

Nimisha Sajayan: Mala shows her vulnerability in three to four scenes. Whenever she is with her pet dogs, she can’t help but smile as there’s a sense of relief. All I know is that I stayed true to the character. I have a pet dog, so I understand the emotions and the comforting feeling they bring to our lives. Their presence can make everything better and Mala’s love for elephants is truly unimaginable, so I stayed true to the character. I didn’t fake it in front of the camera.

Was there any scene that pushed you out of your comfort zone in Poacher?

Nimisha Sajayan: I absolutely loved every scene. When you genuinely love something, there’s no such thing as a comfort zone. I was constantly pushing myself to improve. I genuinely enjoyed every single scene.

In Poacher, Mala shares a strong bond with her mother. In the scene where she breaks down on the phone, was there a personal voice playing in your mind?

Nimisha Sajayan: I have a special bond with my Amma (mother). This specific scene with the phone holds a special place in my heart. It was so touching that I couldn’t stop crying even after Richie said ‘cut’. I remember I hugged our DOP Johan (Heurlin Aidt) and we sat there saying nothing. When Amma saw the scene, I saw her tear up, and then the scene meant even more to me. It’s a very special scene.

Is there anything that will always remind you of Mala Jogi?

Nimisha Sajayan: Mala is very special. She is very close to my heart. If I witness someone showing kindness to animals or standing up for them, I will always remember Mala. I will always carry a piece of Mala with me because the tattoo you see is a permanent one. It will never fade, so she will remain by my side forever.

With back-to-back strong performances, how are you picking characters and scripts?

Nimisha Sajayan: I wanted to express my gratitude to all my directors for believing in me with such incredible characters. I always try to find characters that resonate with people and will have a meaningful impact on society. I aim to spark conversation through my work and not just for the sake of it. I seek creative satisfaction and as an actor, I constantly tell myself if I fake emotions in front of the camera, it becomes difficult for people to relate or connect to the situation and the character. I just always tell myself to be true to my emotions, my character, and my art. Whatever you do, stay true.

Do you feel your liberal upbringing shines through your performances?

Nimisha Sajayan: My script selection reflects my upbringing because I have been taught to follow my instincts and never compromise my values to please others. Being true is the key and it will naturally shine through my art.

Alia Bhatt and many others in Bollywood are in awe of your work. Who are the people you want to work with?

Nimisha Sajayan: I can’t wait to collaborate with different directors in future. There’s a long list of directors that I am looking forward to working with. I love all of Alia’s work. She is such a talented performer, with an impressive body of work. It was so kind of her to say such nice things about me. I am still trying to process it, but it means the world to me. Lots of love to her. She is amazing.

From your Instagram profile, we learnt that you love sketching. Apart from art, what do you do while not facing the camera?

Nimisha Sajayan: I enjoy watching films and sketching. Even if I am on the set, I sketch. Sketching is my form of meditation. I also love to travel and even while travelling, I sketch. Sketching is my constant companion.

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