Meet Manju Warrier, the recipient of the 1997 Screen-Videocon Best Actress award for her performance in the Malayalam film Aaram Thampuran and Krishnagudiyil Oru Pranayakalathu. In just two years since her debut with the Malayalam film Sakshiyum, Manju Warrierís success graph shows a meteoric upward curve. Manju speaks to Screen, at her residence at Trichur. Excerpts:

How do you feel winning the Screen-Videocon Best Actress award in Malayalam for your performance in Aaram Thampuran and Krishnagudiyil Oru Pranayakalathu?

I feel thrilled beyond words. I was determined to make it to the awards ceremony this time, especially since Iíd won the award last time too, and wasnít able to make it to the function on account of chicken pox. This time I was in Palakkad when I got the news that Iíd won the Screen-Videocon award. Everyone on the sets congratulated me on winning the award.

How important are awards to you?

Very. Awards confirm my faith in myself, make me feel talented. I give my best to all my roles, but when the roles are well-etched, playing them becomes a lot easier. But then I donít get tailor-made roles too often. I am very critical about myself and I know my performances very well. When I see scope in a performance, I do it in right earnest. Awards helps me judge my scope and limitations better. Till now, I have won the Screen, Filmfare, Cinema Express and the Kerala State awards. I hope to win the national award soon

Last year, you won the Screen award for Ee Puzhayum Kadannu, a film directed by Kamal, and repeated the feat again this year, for another Kamal film.

Well, it certainly is no coincidence, if thatís what you wish to know. It only goes to show that Kamal Sir brings out the best in me. You wonít believe it, but when the script for Krishnagudiyil Oru Prema Kalathu was narrated to me, it seemed rather normal and ordinary! But once shooting commenced, and Kamal Sir began developing my character, it became a lot more interesting. I was able to perform naturally and effortlessly, once I managed to get into the skin of the character. I should thank both Kamal Sir and Shaji Kailas (the director of Aaram Thampuran) for managing to extract the best out of me without exerting the slightest pressure on me.

How was it working for the first time with Mohan Lal in Aaram Thampuran?

It was a dream come true. I used to be mad about Mohan Lal and Mammootty from the time I was in school. They were the icons of the film industry even then, and Iíve watched each of their movies a number of times, religiously. Suddenly as it were, by a strange quirk of fate, here I was working with one of them! It seemed too good to be true, and I was both excited and nervous about it.

How is it that you have not worked with Mammootty?

There have been several offers, but each of them has been hampered by something or the other, mostly date problems. I was slated to do Kalioonjal with Mammootty, for instance, but we ran into date hassles.

In only two years since you entered the film industry, you have managed to create a niche for yourself.

I havenít, the audience and the media did that for me. I owe my success to their affection and encouragement. But success hasnít come too soon. Itís taken me two years and nearly 20 films to get where I have, while there are people who make a mark with just one film.

Whatís happened to Nanba Nanba, the Tamil film you were doing with Prabhu?

Itís had to be shelved owing to financial problems. Though it was a Tamil film, the entire team was virtually Malayalee and it used to be like working in a Malayalam film. The director was Sibi Malayil, and my co-star was Jayaram.

Why did you turn down the Mani Ratnam film?

For Godís sake, I didnít have a choice. I am no idiot to turn down a Mani Ratnam film on a mere whim. Mani Ratnam did speak to my father about a movie he wanted me to be in, but there were date problems. You see, in Malayalam movies, we finish a whole film in a single schedule but Tamil films take a long time to complete, so there was no way I could have accepted the role. But given another chance, and dates permitting, Iíll stun everyone with a do-or-die performance, thatís a promise.