There is something childlike about Asin Thottumkal. The way she sticks her hands inside the pockets of her shorts and cocks her head as she regards a rack-full of clothes at Cosmo's cover shoot. How she's all giggles and gesticulations when she gets to discussing lippies and mascara woes with the make-up artist. And how she absently sways and bobs her head to soft music drifting through from the other end of the studio. I'm slated to speak with her once she's done gussying up for her shots, but by her second coat of mascara, she looks over her shoulder in my direction with a sheepish smile and says, “You must be bored, no? Just a little bit longer, okay?” This is the sort of thoughtfulness one has not come to expect from a well-known celebrity. Usually, it's a game of Chinese Whispers from a star to you with a conclave of anxious-looking PR agents in between.
Once she's swapped her just-out-of-a-shower simplicity for more fierce make-up and hair, we sit down to chat. Where have you been, I ask her. Compared to the veritable tsunami of media attention her Bollywood debut film, Ghajini, brought her in 2008, she's gone under the radar save for her television endorsements. Her current film, Ready, opposite Salman Khan, is only her third since then, her projects down South included. “I like taking things at my own pace, you know. I don't feel any sort of frantic need to do a certain number of films to remain in the public consciousness,” she says. “And other than appearances for my films, I prefer to keep a low-profile.” She admits that coming from fairly low-key stardom in the South, the unremitting attention, curiosity, and expectations of audiences of stars in the Hindi film industry took some getting used to.
“Southern audiences are more conservative. They like their stars to be relatable. They value a star, who is as regular as they are, no matter how prolific his or her work is. Here, though, I think actors not only need to be stars in their films, but they also need to carry that 'star quality' off screen and in real life,” she says. “I've definitely had to learn how to strike a balance between the two.” That said, she'll tell you categorically that she's no 'star' and doesn't think of herself that way at all. I half expect her to launch into an intense little spiel about how it's only the work she cares about and if she didn't have an iota of fame, it'd be just as well. Mercifully, she does not and when I ask her what is it then that she loves about her job, she says, simply, “Love”. “Love?” I say. “Yes, love,” she states. “Films reach out to so many people. To think they know you and watch you and you're in their living rooms entertaining them without even knowing them from Adam's? I would not have got this scale of attention and affection in any other profession. You could call me greedy for that kind of love and acceptance.” Her guilelessness is staggering.
When I broach the subject of the other kind of love, she tells me her ideal man will be an iron of character and intelligent—in conversation, he must show depth and poise. “Immature, juvenile men really turn me off,” she exclaims. For some time now, there's been much speculation about her friendship with actor Neil Nitin Mukesh and... “I'm single,” she says, reading my mind. For now, her “girl gang” is all the personal life she needs.
“They've known me since I was a child running around in petticoats. We've all grown up together and now even though we're scattered across the world, we know each and everything that happens in one another's lives,” she smiles. “We have so much fun!”
On off days, when not exchanging 30 to 40 e-mails with her girlfriends, Asin can be found vegetating at home, catching up with her mum and dad who she's very close to, watching movies, painting, or with her nose buried in a book. “Simple things make me really happy,” she says. “Like being given a flower for no reason at all or a surprise visit from a friend. Or being cooked for.” In fact, she will be flying out the very next morning to kick-start her first ever vacation since she started working almost a decade ago. Asin's almost vibrating with glee as she gears up to spend a lot of time doing her most favourite thing in the world: hometown Kerala in the monsoon, hot chocolate in one hand and a good book in the other. The actress is the quintessential girl-next-door, the sort that seeks out parks to take long walks in. “I'm definitely no badass,” she laughingly agrees.
How would she describe herself, then? “I'm curious, I ask a lot of questions. I'm passionate in whatever I do, no matter how big or small. I'm emotional, but not silly,” she says. “I have a fun, unpredictable side to me, but not necessarily in an in-your-face way,” she adds. She's been turning over the idea of getting a pixie haircut, she tells me conspiratorially, an unpopular choice for a wholesome Bollywood heroine. “But I must have it!” she exclaims.There's that childlike quality, again—that bright precociousness, that ability to find intrigue in almost anything and the stubborn refusal to be anyone but that little girl her closest friends have always known. How does she manage to dig her heels in and stay unaffected after all these years under the arclights? “You have to emember everything is temporary,” she says sagely for the first time. “The bad times pass and so do the good times. Positivity and a good attitude will see you though it all.”
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