Does a change hurt? Well, not as much as remaining the same does, says Shibla. When she says it, she means it because Shibla gained as much as 20 kg of body weight to play the female lead in the movie 'Kakshi Amminippilla' within just three months. From a healthy 65-kg lass, Shibla grew into a plump 85 kg woman just because her character demanded it. After the 32-day shoot schedule, a determined Shibla shed her additional 20 kgs of body weight and regained her previous shape within four months. Fat and back, in a blink!
This Malappuram girl who aspired to become a clinical psychologist is now a mini-screen celebrity, program presenter and a movie actor. Shibla narrates her story to Onmanorama.
Mind games to TV games
Shibla hails from Koottilangadi, Malappuram. After completing her graduation in psychology, she had joined for post graduation in clinical psychology in a prominent college in Bangalore when she first got an opportunity to appear on the mini-screen.
“I was trying to find a job abroad. I used to make train journeys to Kochi at least once a month back then. It was one of my co-travellers who asked me about trying my luck in television anchoring. I was impressed with that idea and started applying for VJ openings from then on,” Shibla recalled.
With her cheerful attitude and bubbly personality, Shibla became a successful television anchor. She also participated in a couple of reality shows and secured prizes.
A revolutionary marriage
Shibla fell in love with Vijith during her mini-screen career. The couple tied the knot against the will of their families. “At first, I found it hard to accept that I lost my roots and all what I believed as mine so far. But that phase made me realize my real assets. I became confident enough to shed anything that stood close to my personality and identity. I felt easily detached from my own perceptions about my personality,” she said.
The couple is blessed with a three-year-old son named Veer Abhimanyu.
Fat in three months
Shibla joined the crew of 'Kakshi Amminippilla' by clearing auditions. The notice for the audition had clearly mentioned that those applying for female lead character should be plus-sized or obese. That criterion impressed Shibla.
“I am a big fan of Bhumi Pednekar who won the hearts of Indian movie-lovers through her impressive performance in 'Dum Lagake Haisha. I had even wondered why Malayalam cinema never had such a distinctive character. Not in my wildest dreams have I imagined that it was my own destiny to perform such a role,” Shibla said.
Director Dinjith Ayyathan and writer Sanilesh Sivan selected Shibla to play the female lead character called Kanthi after evaluating her acting skills and the similarity of her Malappuram accent to Kanthi's Thalassery twang. The first thing the makers told Shibla was about Kanthi's obesity.
“I was asked whether I was ready to put on weight as demanded by the character. I was ready for that. The challenge was revealed later – I had to put on at least 15 kgs of body weight and I had only three months for that!” - she said.
Shibla exploited her sweet tooth and ate what all she could eat. She snacked round the clock. She stopped her regular work-outs and concentrated on munching fatty deep-fried food. “I know it is unhealthy to start snacking fatty food all of a sudden. Healthy way to gain weight is by adding more carbohydrates to your diet. But I was short of time. By the time Ammini Pillai's shooting started in September, I weighed almost 80 kg,” Shibla said.
A determined Shibla also found time to explore local food destinations in between the shoot schedules and piled up an extra 5 kg to be confident about her character.
Shibla says that by the time shooting was on full swing, her toddler son started calling her 'Kanthi' instead of her 'mother.' “I looked so different from my old appearance that my son hesitated to believe it is the same person,” she said, laughing.
Close encounters in 'Amminippilla'
Shibla says that it was all a new experience on the sets of 'Kakshi Amminippilla.' Quite contrary to what she thought of the attitude of established actors in the industry, Asif Ali, Basil Joseph, Vijayaraghavan and Mamu Koya were all supportive and friendly towards Shibla. “Asif Ali even taught me how to behave in front of the camera. He stood in front of me when I delivered dialogues, just to make sure I looked in the right direction. Everyone on the sets were so supportive and helping,” she said.
Body-shaming, a harsh reality
Shibla admits that roaming around in a plus-sized body is not as easy as it looks. Every other person you encounter in the public will show high concern for your obesity. Even those random aunties you share your seat with on a public transport will pass either a look of disgust or of sympathy, Shibla said. “I don't understand how does that extra bit of space I consume offend them. However, I was enjoying all those as I was determined to regain my body shape after the shoot schedule ended,” Shibla said.
Nevertheless, outgrowing her favorite denim-and-tee did certainly bother the fashionista in Shibla.
Waiting for the next lead character
Unlike the new heroines who are ready to take whatever roles that come their way, Shibla has a crystal-clear view about her future in filmdom. “I don't want to do unimportant character roles in ordinary movies. I am looking out for a female lead in a meaningful movie next,” she says. Shibla says that there is a huge difference in the way character artistes and lead actors are treated in the industry. "If you get typecast as a character artiste, you will seldom get a chance to play a lead role," she said.
Shibla is all set to start practicing as a clinical psychologist alongside her mini-screen career. She will welcome another movie-offer only if it has a significant, lead character to offer her. After all, Shibla wants to find her place in Malayalam movie industry. “A lot of heroines come with a distinctive look and mold themselves to the zero-size, pale heroine stereotype within a few months. I am not one among them. I have enough patience to wait till a worthy character turns up,” she concluded.