I’ve always wondered what it felt like to work in a digital firm such as BuzzFeed that has a global influence. I would imagine what their work culture, the ‘cool’ employees, the entertaining video team, and of course, their red office would be like if I was part of their team. After all, BuzzFeed has always had the ‘best media and entertainment company’ tag in India for God alone knows how long. And getting the opportunity to work with them is like giving a chocolate cake to a kid. The only insight the world gets to know about BuzzFeed India is through their rib-tickling videos hosted by well-known names in the industry, unless of course, you’re close friends with these personalities.
Having said that, each of BuzzFeed India’s visual influencers has a huge fan following. I’m pretty sure you have them on your ‘Following’ list on Instagram. And, as might be expected, you have your favourites among the fun lot. Me too! And her name is Sonia Mariam Thomas – not because she’s a Malayali (you can strike that off), but she’s got this particular spirit of a strong woman I aspire to become. Saudi-born Sonia may be a vada pav loving Mumbaikaar, but she’s as Malayali as pazhampuri, beef and porotta, and Popy umbrellas. She’s unapologetically cheeky and full of spirit, but at times, she goes all out when someone tries to sabotage the Malayali-ness in her. There’s not a single video of hers that’s not left me rolling in the aisles. For a lady who’s appeared on multiple BuzzFeed videos (and entertained us quite a lot), she’s surprisingly low-key and as simple as you are. Despite her high-profile statue, Sonia has remained grounded, as anyone who meets her will confirm.
I got up close and personal with Sonia (aka sokneeoh), learning about her Malayali side and personal psyche. She isn’t afraid to inject a bit of Saudi, Mumbai, and Kerala in her day-to-day language and I love her for that. Let’s dive right into what she has in store for you.
Describe yourself in three Malayalam words
Dear GOD I DON’T KNOW ENOUGH. But I will use the words my mom uses for me: Kalli, Panni, Sundari. Those are the nicer ones.
What does your typical day look like?
I go to work, I come back home, I watch a movie or a TV show. Or I write. Or I cuddle with my stray cat. Or I call a friend. Or I play Color Bump 3D on my phone incessantly. Or I sing loudly to music. Then sleep. Perfectly normal tbh.
What’s your most unusual talent?
I remember movie release years very well. That is it. That is the talent.
Are you are Malayalam movie buff? If yes, name three movies you’d force your colleagues to watch?
I didn’t watch a lot of Malayalam movies growing up because my parents are more into Bollywood. But I developed an interest and took the initiative to watch more Malayalam movies starting in 2014. Once I started finding movies with subtitles, it saved my life. And I started forcing people to watch:
– Bangalore Days
I just want Bollywood fans to know where their stories come from.
People tend to be self-conscious, especially in front of a camera. Did you face this issue? What would your advice be to someone who wants to overcome it?
I have been lucky to never have felt conscious on camera. One of the biggest reasons we get conscious on camera is that we’re afraid people are judging us (they are) and that their judgment will impact us (it does not).
Something Oprah said that changed the way I see myself on screen was when she said that every single person she’s ever interviewed, including Beyoncé and Barack Obama, ask the same question when they’re done: “Was I okay?” Literally everyone wants to be assured they are good enough. So don’t worry. You are too!
A more practicable tip is that I don’t rewatch my takes and just depend on my directors for notes on improving a take. Sometimes, we are the harshest critics we have. So I don’t want to let myself down when I need to be my best on screen.
Which Malayali actor would you love to have dinner with (and why)?
A girl gang of Parvathy, Nazriya, and Rima Kallingal. They are all amazing women with minds of their own and intense drive to be the best at what they do. I just want to be their friend. If they’re reading this, give them my contact details.
What book have you gifted or recommended the most to people you know? Why?
Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. It is a compilation of her advice columns she wrote under the pseudonym, Sugar. It has all kinds of genuinely reformative advice and anyone who is at a crossroads in their lives should just pick it up and read it.
What’s the weirdest thing you find attractive in a person?
I have been told it’s not weird anymore. But I love people with good hands. I don’t mean manicured hands. I mean kind, loving, gentle hands.
It looks like you have quite a collection of earrings. Can you name a few cost effective places to buy earrings in Mumbai?
Honestly? The train! The western line has a bunch of women who regularly sell jewellery that I spend very little on and get lots of attention for.
What’s the one Gulf born Malayali stereotype you think is true?
That we are always well-stocked on snacks from the Gulf.
In a fight between idli and dosa, who do you think would win the battle? And why?
What do you love most about Malayalis?
We are loud, unapologetic, politically inclined, ridiculously talented, and — above all — we are not afraid to laugh at ourselves.
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