I’d Call Ram Gopal Varma A Very Chilled-Out Director: Priyamani

The National-Award winning actor on working with greats like Ram Gopal Varma, Mani Ratnam and Bharatiraaja and the draining shoot of Paruthiveeran
I’d Call Ram Gopal Varma A Very Chilled-Out Director: Priyamani

Edited experts from an interview between Priyamani and Lahari, just before the release of Bhamakalapam:

At what point did you decide to do Bhamakalapam? Was it Abhimanyu's narration that sealed it?

Priyamani: He narrated the film via Zoom because of the pandemic. Even then, I thought it was something interesting, something different. And for a platform like Aha to come onboard and say, yes, we're gonna take up this film. So I thought what better way to mark my digital debut in Telugu. 

Was there a particular scene that worked for you?  

It was not just one scene, per se. I think it was the story and the way they thought of the idea, the whole concept and the way those incidents played out, one by one. 

You're one of the few actors who have had the chance to work with senior directors like Balu Mahendra, Ram Gopal Varma, Mani Ratnam, Bharathiraja and Rajamouli. Can you think of some memories with regards to your films with them?

I think the only time I was scared was my very first film with Bharathiraja sir, my debut in the film world. I had heard that he is an extremely short-tempered director and that he gets angry very quickly. So I was conscious to remain on his good side, without making him angry. But on the other side, I think the reason he was like this is because he's a perfectionist and he just he wants his product to speak. He wants his characters to be seen and known. 

So I think him temper is because of that dedication and that precision that he wants from the his cast and crew. And there was a thing where everybody said, "you know, sir's hand is so lucky that whoever he's hit have become a very successful actress." You see people like Radhika and all the actresses whose names begin with the letter R are his prodigies. So I was also one of the lucky ones to be hit by Bharathiraja sir. That's the face you see today.

What about a director lie Ram Gopal Varma? 

No, Ram Gopal Varma sir is a sweetheart. Shooting Raktha Charitra was like a cakewalk for both Suriya and me. But I remember, I think that was the first time I was shooting in Mumbai and we had to shoot a song there. I've never seen him getting angry and he's very chilled out director. I had so much of fun working with him in Raktha Charitra

In one of his interviews, he did mention that he was  blown away by your performance in Paruthiveeran.

Priyamani: I got introduced to Ramu sir through Puri Jagannadh. I was doing Golimaar at that time and he said Ramu sir wants to have a word with you. So I said who Ramu sir? He said Ram Gopal Varma! I said, really? Me? Of all people, me? He said yeah yeah, he wants to talk to you. So he called him and RGV said, "I saw your performance in Paruthiveeran, you've done such a marvellous job." At that time we were shooting in Malaysia for a song. So he said when you reach India, call me. I want to narrate a script to you.

Then he narrated the line of Raktha Charitra. Even then I didn't know anything about Paritala Ravi or Suri, people the film was based on. He just kept filling me in about their story and that's what Rakhta Charitra was all about. When we were shooting in Bombay, the actual person who the film was about, came and saw the shoot. He met me and I was playing his wife's character. He was also obviously involved in the film because we were telling his side of the story. So yeah it was really great fun working with Ramu sir.

Your choice of films have been interesting. You act in a breezy romantic kind of film in Pellaino Kothalo and then you play a tough rustic character in Paruthiveeran. It's like you've never stayed in the safe zone. 

No, actually it was the reverse. I first did Paruthiveeran and then I came to Pellaina Kothalo. So it was like I had to take the weight off my shoulder after Paruthiveeran and I needed to do a lighter film after. I had been carrying that weight for 160 days we shot for the film. I still remember, I think we shot the climax alone for 20 days. Physically it was draining. 

I remember we were shooting from six in evening to six in the morning and I just remember that pack up. We came back to the hotel, packed everything, had a shower and went to Madurai airport. Then we landed in Hyderabad,  the next thing I remember I went to the room and just slept. I just spelt the whole day sleeping. I think the next day, we met Madan for Pellaina Kothalo. Then we started shoot. So it was like a big weight taken off my shoulder. And then Pellaina Kothalu was a breeze. I can say Pellaina Kothalu was a bit of a cakewalk when compared to Paruthiveeran because it was not that emotionally draining for me.

So personally for me, your performance in Raavanan was mind blowing. You perform this happy, fun loving girl, who also has a different side to her. How did Mani sir explain that scene or your part in it?

He didn't explain the scenes at all. I was just told, out of the blue, that when Mani sir calls you, you leave everything and go. That is the power of Mani sir. And I was fortunate enough that I got a call from him personally. I went to his office and I was told that I was going to be playing the character of Shoorpanakha. When a person like Mani Ratnam calls you and gives you such a role, who in the right mind will ever say no? I said, yes immediately and he said, "How good is your Hindi?" I said it's quite good. Then I got a Hindi assistant director who sat one-on-one to help me with my lines. I could read and write Hindi also because it was my second language. After the AD spoke to me, he said there were some grammatical errors but generally, my Hindi was fine. That's how I got cast in both Hindi and Tamil versions of Raavanan and I got to work with fantastic actors like Vikram and Abhishek Bachchan. 

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