Edited excerpts from an interview between Baradwaj Rangan and the State-award-winning actress:
You were a background dancer early on in your career. Did you want to be a dancer or did you see dancing as a way to enter films?
Oh no. I was dancing all through school and college. I was actually better at co-curricular activities than I was at studies. Going forward, I became very passionate about movement and dance and I trained in quite a few forms. It then became the obvious profession for me to take up. As a freelance dancer in Bangalore, even as I performed in shows, I just happened to have a tryst as a background dancer in films. It was then that I got fascinated with the world of cinema. I remember the first day on the set, seeing all the lights and the camera and thinking 'Wow! This is how they actually make a film."
There have been many dancers that have become heroines. One of the things directors always say about them is how they need to remove certain mannerisms such as their stiff posture and certain hand movements when they start acting. Did that happen with you as well?
Yes, to an extent. As dancers, we are extremely expressive. There is this abhinaya which comes to you so naturally. And then there is athbuda , which is 10 notches higher because you're performing on stage and you tend you exaggerate your expressions. However, with the camera, it's 10 notches lower. When I was shooting for Lucia with Pawan Kumar, I remember him struggling to keep it subtle.
I was once doing this a commercial film and I asked the director a couple of questions. He then looked at me straight and just said, "no logic ma, only magic." There are so many people who think like that so it's not possible to always collaborate or ask for intent or motive.
And it's from there that you became this poster girl for new wave Kannada cinema… So when you're doing films such as Lucia and Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, did you feel this major movement in cinema happening?
Funnily enough, yes. Because the first Kannada film I watched, despite having grown up in Bangalore, was Mungaru Male (2006). That was a film that brought back a lot of non-Kannadigas to the theatre after a hiatus. After that, I remember watching Lifeu Ishtene (2011), Pawan's first film. So yes there was this slow change that was happening with the kind of subjects the directors were exploring. Even the offers I received after Lucia was unconventional, along with commercial films I did do. I don't know about being the "poster girl of this new wave" but there was a distinct change. It's great to be a part of films that are not the usual commercial "one macho superstar beating everyone up to save the damsel in distress." It's the unconventional films that are breaking borders and coming out of Karnataka.
You once said in an old interview that you're not the kind of actor that just goes on the sets and listens to the director blindly. You said that you prefer to discuss not just your character with the director, but the film as a whole. Is that always possible?
It's not. I was doing a commercial film and I asked the director a couple of questions. He then looked at me straight and just said, "no logic ma, only magic." There are so many people who think like that so it's not possible to always collaborate or ask for intent or motive. But I do enjoy that collaborative process. I've been a part of films where I got to understand why the director is making the film a certain way and it gives you a whole new perspective.
But doesn't an all-out commercial film also free you in some way? Won't it help in exploring another aspect of your personality?
Hmmm…Out of experience and because I might not do it again, I would say that it did not free me. But it did give me a very interesting perspective and I learned that I'm capable of leaving my brain behind and just smile, or just cry or laugh. I look at those films as just business. Looking back, I managed to make a lot of money because I also did commercial films when I was doing films that weren't so commercial on paper. It was my money-making strategy.
Would you do that again?
No. I'm very conscious I won't anymore. If you ask me why I'd say it's because such films don't interest me anymore. If I do get something interesting, like Prithvi which Parvati did, with a strong female character, I will consider it. Now I've grown older and I need more to do than to just have the "perfect hair".
Can you give me an example of a scene where you really had to be convinced about a particular scene?
There have been quite a few. But going back, in my first film Lucia, I remember a scene in the song 'Jamma Jamma' where I was asked to kiss the actor on the cheeks because that's how the scene was going to end. And I remember thinking, "How am I going to do this? How will my family react to this?" And I was just 21. Going forward, I realised that it is different and I became "less stuck up" if you want to call it that.
There was also a scene in Nila where I had to lay in bed with a male actor. I remember having a long chat with Selva, the director of that film, but he managed to convince me. Later, in Beautiful Manasugalu I had to do this scene which many people tell me, won me my State Award. It's a scene where this girl goes outside and confronts the man she loves. I just couldn't understand why they would choose to have this very private conversation in a public space, especially in a bar in the night. I remember the director telling me that he sees it that way and wants it to look like a street play. So he needed to convince me first. Actually, I love to be convinced.