Having been a software engineer, did you ever imagine that you would end up in films?
I didn’t imagine becoming an actor and I didn’t want to either. It was never a part of my agenda! As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even an avid movie watcher. I would go for that one odd movie which was really good or I would go if a lot of my friends were going for it. I didn’t wait for Fridays for a movie release and I was never crazy about an actor or an actress. Films happened by chance. I modeled for some pocket money during my college days and some of my pictures were doing the rounds amidst the film fraternity. In the South, filmmakers always look for fresh faces and some of them approached me. I refused a lot of offers in the beginning because I wanted to study. Also, my modeling didn’t take me beyond my city, so doing films was a big no-no as I didn’t want to compromise my studies for anything. After college, I declined the job offer from Infosys. I was going to while away a year to prepare for CAT exams. I thought instead of spending a year just studying, I could do something else. So, I decided to give films a shot, see where they would take me but even then I didn’t have any set plan.
Was it difficult to uproot yourself from a hardcore Delhi household and move to Hyderabad?
Of course, it was extremely difficult in the beginning. First of all, I was alone. None of my family members accompanied me, like it is the case with most actresses. It was the first time I had to come to a city in South India and talk in a language that I had not even heard of before. So, everything was new; right from the people, the language, the city and the work that I was doing. I had no idea about acting, I had never even taken part in dramas in school. But I knew what I had signed up for. It was not like someone had forced me to do it, you know? I knew I was getting into an alien territory, which was not going to be easy. I was always open to experimenting new things in life, I always believed in taking risks. When you keep trying new things, you really discover interesting things about yourself. So I decided to learn the language, study acting and actually, growing up in the true sense began here, when I decided to leave home and start afresh in Hyderabad.
Aadukalam was a massive hit and it is such an offbeat film. What triggered you to go for the film?
When it comes to the first film, it is always the film that chooses you and from there onwards, you choose the films. It was not really in my hands. I was Googling the names involved and their work seemed pretty credible. So I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t anticipate it for it to win so many National Awards but I knew it would do well. But who signs on a film knowing that it has the potential to become a flop? You always believe that it is going to become a hit.
Actresses are always typecast and there is also a lack of female-centric roles in the industry. What do you have to say to that?
We’ve been seeing female-centric films quite often in Bollywood. I can’t say the same for South. I have tried to fight this battle while I was there…I wouldn’t say I’ve given up but I tried to use a different route. When I began, I didn’t know what was right for me. I was told that I should take up everything that comes my way, especially if there are big names involved. But when films bombed at the box office, the actors weren’t blamed but I was tagged as ‘unlucky’ even though I had a very insignificant role to play. On the contrary, if an actress produces three back-to-back hits, she is touted as the next golden girl in the industry even though she is just a glamour quotient in the film. So basically, superstition matters over talent. So I stopped doing films that I didn’t understand, so from having seven releases a year, I came down to one or two releases a year. People started seeing this as my downfall but I just felt that doing films I don’t believe in hasn’t worked for me. People didn’t believe me for the longest time, till I ventured out in Hindi, and I started doing the kind of roles I am doing here. Now actresses from the South call me to tell me that they are so happy that I have ventured out of South to do these kinds of films. This is what I mean when I say I took a different route. I wanted to prove my mettle and do impactful roles.
If you had to change a few things about how the Indian film industry functions towards women actors, what would they be?
First, please write a good character sketch for a female lead just like you would for a male lead. I recently received a script from the South where the men’s character was so interesting! They had a very good screen presence for the female but there was no depth to her character, she could’ve been anyone. This is something we have to address. I would also like a change in the pay disparity. An actress puts in equal amount of work as an actor in a film and she faces an equal amount of backlash if the film doesn’t work. At times, the heroines get paid even lesser than the character artists in the film. If they are so less significant then why have them at all? A hero has the liberty to do one film a year because he gets paid that much. As heroines we have to do 2-3 films a year to get a house running!