When Ajith Sir Speaks, The Audience Will Listen: Shraddha Srinath

The actress, who plays the wife of a middle-aged cricketer in the upcoming Telugu film Jersey, talks about becoming a part of Kannada cinema’s new wave, evading stereotypes and the importance of remaking Pink in the south
When Ajith Sir Speaks, The Audience Will Listen: Shraddha Srinath

It has been three years since Shraddha Srinath's Kannada debut U Turn made a splash. The film's success was a gamechanger in many ways to the Kannada industry, giving some much-needed momentum to the new-wave cinema when terms like heroes or heroines began to take a backseat. Shraddha considered herself lucky to have entered films when the industry was in the cusp of change. The actress didn't leave it at that and has made her success count, consciously associating with content-backed projects across languages.

Shraddha feels she couldn't have planned her career better. "In fact, for an actor like me, it was the only phase of Kannada cinema where I could have been accepted. For the longest time in conventional cinema, filmmakers have looked to cast a 'dictionary heroine' who ticks all the boxes in terms of feminity, looks and so on. That I was cast as a protagonist in a film where there was no concept of hero and heroine was everything falling in place at the right time. Had I tried to enter the film industry even two years earlier, not many would've thought of me as heroine material."

This is the kind of work that I had hoped to get someday. I'm not just getting the big league films but I'm also earning the scope to perform in such offers. Not often do you manage both  

Her choices weren't the conventional protagonist roles. She even chanced upon a handful of cameos in Tamil and Kannada including Mani Ratnam's Kaatru Veliyidai, Munguru Male 2, and the latest being a song in the Sudeep-Shiv Rajkumar starrer Villain. She saw them as opportunities to give power-packed performances in a limited time-frame and destiny has rightfully smiled at her. Shraddha quips, "In fact, I don't mind doing cameos in the future too. It's a challenging space for an actor to create an impact in five or ten minutes. The audiences must feel they could have seen more of her. Typecasting is a curse of this profession and I have tried my best to not take the safe route. "

2019 holds a special spot in Shraddha's heart; she stars in films across four languages, including her recent Bollywood debut Milan Talkies besides a foray in Telugu cinema with Jersey (releasing on April 19) and a host of of projects in Tamil and Kannada. With a gleam in her eyes, she exclaims, "This is the kind of work that I had hoped to get someday. I'm not just getting the big league films but I'm also earning the scope to perform in such offers. Not often do you manage both."

Does she consider herself a debutante in Bollywood and Telugu cinema? "You need to accept that it's a debut. If you're someone with an ego, that will affect you. I felt it worked to my advantage. With three years of experience, there's every chance you could put up a better performance and surprise the audiences. In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, people recognise me but I'm an absolute nobody in the Telugu and the Hindi-speaking regions. It's like going back to your roots, knowing you have to start from scratch. You discover newer things by the day."

Jersey, as a matter of act, wasn't the first Telugu film she had signed. The untitled film with Kshanam director Ravikanth Perepu and Jodi (with Aadi Saikumar) were the earliest Telugu scripts that came her way. However, both films having taken their own sweet time with their making, Jersey now marks her Telugu debut. She plays Sarah, the wife of a cricketer Arjun (played by Nani) who embarks on a professional career in the sport at 36. She couldn't say no to a well-written role and the prospect of playing a sportsperson's spouse, a thread often under-explored in sports films.

She goes on to add, "I was even telling my director (Gowtham Tinnanuri) that a film surrounding Sarah's life deserves a sequel. It's rare for us to see the trauma and the fears of a sportsperson's wife. This film is about Arjun but Sarah goes through a lot of emotional turmoil. It's a big decision for a couple when the husband decides to give cricket a second shot in his mid-30s. Does she support him or not? How does it affect him? Cricket is a huge part of the film but the relationship that Arjun and Sarah share isn't any less significant."

The making of Jersey was a joy-ride for Shraddha and she found actor Nani to be an amiable co-star. "Nani's direction background has helped him understand films more beautifully. He's a person who goes beyond his acting abilities and has a wonderful insight into the craft. On so many occasions, he would sit and explain things to me and I would be surprised with his knowledge. His spontaneity took me by surprise on many occasions. Say, there was a birthday scene in Jersey where we were cutting a cake and I was expected to eat it. I was on an extremely strict diet and was not told to consume even the tiniest amounts of sugar. I was wondering if I really had to eat the cake. I didn't have to say anything. Nani just saw my face, noticed my discomfort and said that I didn't have to do this. He understood me without even saying anything."

She admits sports films like Jersey come with a bag of cliches but feels that's what audiences enjoy at the end of the day. "The victory, the failure, and celebration generate great emotion on-screen and people identify with the film a lot more. However, I'll maintain that Jersey is still a very real film with wonderful performances." It surprises you that the Bengaluru girl prefers watching tennis and athletics to cricket. "I was an avid cricket spectator in the past. But after watching several seasons of IPL, I couldn't see my favourite team (RCB) not performing well year after year," Shraddha hints.

The actor has also been in the headlines for the right reasons for another release Nerkonda Paarvai, the official remake of Pink, where she reprises Taapsee Pannu's role. The film reiterates the significance of consent in relationships, a pertinent issue the Hindi original had tackled with great sensitivity. It wasn't an easy space for the actor to step into the shoes of a molested woman."It's sad that not a lot of people know the importance of consent in a relationship. There are several factors attributed to it, including patriarchy, lack of education and the absence of open-mindedness. I have never looked at Nerkonda Paarvai like a remake, even though the pressure to match up to the Hindi version would obviously be there. I just wanted to portray the character as honestly as I can, as a woman. The greater advantage with this story is that when Ajith sir plays the lead role, the audience will genuinely listen to him and treat his words like gospel. When a star states hard facts about the society on-screen, it can be a conversation-starter."

The desire to run into new characters, hopping from one set to another, going through nerves on Fridays, gives all the adrenaline rush that Shraddha needs for her life. "I just hope I continue to find more work."

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