Priya Bhavani Shankar has had quite an impressive strike rate with both her films working well. This TV-star-turned-movie-star talks at length about her experience of working on Meyaadha Maan and Kadai Kutty Singam, her formative years in TV and how being an actor takes her to the nooks and crannies of the state.
Were you able to relate to the large joint family setting of Kadai Kutty Singam? Did you also have a similar upbringing?
No, I don't belong to a joint family, but my mother has three sisters and a brother. During my vacations back then, I used to visit them and could see all the drama and comedy unfold.
Did you ever feel claustrophobic on set, with so many actors in each frame? Did any feeling of insecurity creep in, due to the army of senior established actors around?
Yes, when I was in talks for KKS, I had the feeling that I would be lost among the presence of so many other established, senior actors. It's just my second film and I had already crossed the TV-to-cinema barrier. I didn't want to be slotted as a second heroine in cinema. I had a lot of hesitation in the beginning, but Pandiraj sir convinced me, citing the performance scope and potential that I would have in a couple of key sequences. Till I saw the film in theatres, I had the feeling that I would be overshadowed. But it was good to see all the actors shining in two to three scenes each.
Actually, I could've had a few more impactful scenes. But I wasn't able to take part in a couple of major combination sequences involving about 25 actors. I was away on overseas shoot and I couldn't give them two extra days. It was a practical difficulty, bringing together so many actors for a sequence. We couldn't help it!
Did you regret not playing the lead heroine in KKS, the one who has duets with the hero?
Not at all; it's just the mindset of the audience and the industry. I was very happy that there was no compromise in the story and that a dream song wasn't forced into the scheme of things just for the sake of the 'template'. My relationship with Karthi was presented with a lot of dignity and respect till the very end; it was genuine. Big credit to the director for the consistency that he maintained throughout.
At the success meet of Kadai Kutty Singam, you spoke animatedly about the treatment of animals in our society and the relevance of 'jallikattu' and 'rekla races'. You seem to be emotional about this whole issue.
I came to know of the team's struggles with the censor board and PETA to get the 'rekla race' scene approved only when Pandiraj sir spoke about it at the success meet. The farmers, who attended the meet that day, said that the animals were shown onscreen with a lot of respect. I also realised at that moment that cows or bulls are seen as God in our culture. If PETA or other corporates feel that there is animal cruelty during 'jallikattu' and 'rekla races', proper regulations should be put in place. Imposing bans just doesn't serve the purpose. These are elements which are a part of our culture. They don't have the right to talk about bans. There are positives and negatives in every aspect of life; the good and the bad co-exist. Just because there are some cases of animal cruelty, one can't take the entire system to task and shut it down.
It so happened that both your films have had more than one female lead…
The stories worked out like that and in general, all the actors are just working for the story. In Meyaadha Maan, the other female character was really strong, but I was still the lead heroine. I didn't hesitate to take it up. Unfortunately, the one who sings 'love duets' with the hero is branded as the 'lead heroine' here. Gradually things are changing in the industry and it's a welcome change for the audience too. Malayalam cinema is already in a good space, in this regard.
You've developed a huge fan following thanks to your work in TV. It's a unique career graph for a heroine, being a late bloomer in cinema after becoming a TV star. How is your TV experience helping you in films?
Three to four years ago, if I had taken up film offers in a hurry, I could've slipped due to my lack of experience and improper judgment. I'm more stable and mature now and can handle the film world. I've evolved and gone through a good process in the TV world. I don't regret losing out on some years in cinema. TV took me to all the households in the state and families now see me as one of their own. I'm really happy with the reach that TV has given me.
In TV, we used to have really long work days and would shoot a lot of scenes. My TV experience has helped me in terms of dialogue delivery and I'm also comfortable emoting onscreen. My initial TV episodes were pretty sub-par in terms of my work but I used it as a good learning ground.
What's next? And what sort of space have you envisioned for yourself?
My next release is a film with director Nelson Venkatesan, co-starring SJ Suryah and produced by Potential Studios. More exciting announcements will follow soon. Glamour is definitely not my cup of tea and I'm sure that the audience also doesn't want to see me in such roles. I see my performance skills as my USP and want to move ahead. And, 'girl next door' doesn't mean just ethnic, traditional roles. I can also portray a modern person within my comfort zone. I want to be a part of films that I can see with my whole family, without feeling embarrassed. I don't want to be an 'out of the world', 'dream girl' kind of heroine; a relatable simple heroine is what I want to be.