Nov 2020 NewzHook
Well known deaf actor Abhinaya was just 13 years old when she made her acting debut and in a short span of time has made her presence felt in over 45 films. Being deaf has not stopped Abhinaya from exploring a range of characters. Now she is looking forward to the worldwide digital release of One Little Finger, her first English feature film. Directed by Rupam Sarmah, One Little Finger, with a cast of over 80 children and adults with disabilities, has swept many major awards. It was also an Oscar contender at the 92nd Academy Awards earlier this year in February 2020 across three major categories.
Abhinaya, who plays the part of a deaf person, says One Little Finger has a special place in her heart. One Little Finger is extra special because it is a film about my world. I loved spending time on the set with people with different kinds of disabilities and interacting with them. I felt like I was among my family and mingled so much better with them.
Abhinaya’s early exposure to the world of cinema was thanks to her father who is also an actor and goes by the screen name Anand Varma. As a child Abhinaya would accompany him to the film sets. “She would observe the gestures and expressions on the actors’ faces closely and mimic them in from of the mirror when we were home”, recalls Anand, a former Indian Air Force officer.
Her parents realised she had a gift and tested the waters with some modelling assignments. Abhinaya was a natural in front of the camera and her beautiful looks caught the attention of director Samuthirakani who was looking for a new face for his film Naadodigal. The film was a massive hit and critics loved Abhinaya’s performance. She won two Filmfare awards for the role and was cast in the Telugu and Kannada remakes.
Abhinaya’s remarkable ease in front of the camera is in large part due to the encouragement of her parents. “Abhinaya was born deaf and within a few weeks of her birth I realised something was wrong”, says her mother Hemalatha. “I suspected she was deaf as she would not respond to any sound, but doctors dismissed our fears”. There were some developmental delays as well. ‘She did not stand on time and did not crawl. By God’s grace she was able to overcome all this and Abhinaya started walking by the age of three”, says Hemalatha.
Abhinaya’s parents taught her to speak out words in English. “We gave her only English language training and she learned to lip read”, says Hemalatha. When she was 12 years old, Abhinaya had a cochlear implant. “Abhinaya communicates through her eyes. Her power lies in her eyes”, says Hemalatha, who teaches her the dialogues for the films. “I write the dialogues down in English and she reads it out”. The process may sound laborious, but it hasn’t come in Abhinaya’s growth as an actor. She has acted in movies in multiple languages across a variety of roles, even rubbing shoulders with Amitabh Bachchan and Dhanush. “The more challenging the role, the better for me”, says Abhinaya. “I love getting into different characters and exploring them. Shooting for a film is hard work but I love every minute of it”.
A self-taught dancer, Abhinaya is a fitness freak and loves to watch movies in her spare time. She is also passionate about advocacy and has petitioned authorities in her native town Hyderabad for accessibility in theatres, schools, and other public places. No wonder One Little Finger which talks about ability in disability is the film closest to her heart.