Was there a point when you knew you wanted to be an actress?
Not really. I always had other plans. The only dream of all Anglo-Indians living around us was to move to Australia. So, I thought that if I studied hard and got a scholarship to the University of Sydney, I'm done. It was never anything else.
Acting happened to me by chance. Once I took it up, I worked hard. I'm a person who needs to excel at everything. I don't like anyone pointing fingers at me and saying I didn't do something well. I can't handle disappointment.
You had to struggle until you cracked the audition for Ye Maaya Chesave. How did you handle disappointment and rejection?
I guess it all added up to my insecurity. A rejection has an effect on you for a good while. For the longest time, there was a voice constantly telling me that I wasn't good enough. In fact, it worsened after Ye Maaya Chesave and Dookudu. I was convinced that I wasn't good enough. It destroyed my mind and my health. Only with age was I able to find clarity amidst the insecurity. That it's okay if I'm not the best, but I will do the best with what I have. It took me so long to reach this point.
I wish girls who come into the industry realise this earlier. Understand your strengths, and work on them. I'm sure there will be people to tell you that you're not good enough. They will ask you to look at someone else who, according to them, is better. It's very, very hard to be here. You are one in a million. So, make it count.
Why did the insecurity worsen after Ye Maaya Chesave and Dookudu?
I think that when a person experiences success, it can go either of two ways. The person might feel like the king of the world, a superstar, with everyone else beneath them. A feeling of superiority and specialness. Or, like me, you might go the other way. You ask: Why me? Why do people like me, when I see myself differently in the mirror? I know I've done stupid things. Why are they still making me special? The feeling can eat at you. You begin to feel that you have to do something to be as special as people think you are. That can destroy you.
Did your success in Telugu cinema offset the pressure for success in Tamil?
Yes. Also, I was starting to get more comfortable with people's tastes here. I have a better pulse of the Telugu audience compared to Tamil, because I live here. I have invested so much in Telugu.
You did films such as Kaththi and Theri that helped you settle down in Tamil films. Was it a conscious decision to do those films, or were you going with the flow?
I was just lucky at the right time. It had nothing to do with my thinking. At least with Theri, I heard the whole script, and I knew it was going to be special. But, Kaththi was just luck.
Do you have a few roles that are special to you in Tamil?
Neethaane En Ponvasantham, Super Deluxe and Theri.
Tell us about Super Deluxe, a role that nobody saw coming…
It was a huge challenge. They're calling my character a 'slut' in the first shot. At the same time, people had to feel bad for her when she cried in the end. This challenge attracted me to the role. How was I going to pull it off? Nowadays, I am obsessed with such challenges.
Before every film, I destroy myself for a week planning how I should play my character. Whether I pull it off or not, I plan. In Majili, Sravani is a simple character. But, sometimes, you cannot sympathise with a pushover, or connect to an overly nice person. It can come across as fake. There was a thought process as to how I should play Sravani without people thinking she's ridiculous. In any role I have played over the last two years, there's been a challenge and a risk. I'm glad the planning has worked out so far.
Would you have done a film like Super Deluxe five years ago?
I don't think I would have been very good. Like I said, I had too many hang-ups, insecurities, too many what-ifs… these days, I continue to have the same questions, but they drive me to do better.
In the last decade, roles written for women have been relatively better, when compared to the past. How do you see this?
Globally, it's a trend that trickles down eventually. It's also the mood of the people. I see this decade as being all about women fighting for their rights. It's going to increase tremendously. Women are going to have bigger roles in any field, not just films.
Often, female actors, in contrast to men, play diverse roles after they've established their careers…
Maybe, because girls have to work so much harder to get a hit. We have to bend backwards to bring people to theatres. A superstar can just walk on screen, and people go crazy. Because of the phenomenon around the male superstar, we have to slog to get just one percent of that reaction from the audience. That's why roles become more difficult, and involve greater risk and effort. We need to keep setting the bar so much higher each time. Just because Oh! Baby was a hit doesn't mean people will watch my next film. I'm not a male superstar who can have three disasters, and still get a great opening.