Kajal Aggarwal hasn't had an easy path towards stardom and had to consistently reinvent herself to stay on top of her game in her 12-year old film career across multiple languages. While she was only labelled a "glam doll" to begin with, she has proved she's got more to her, evolving as a performer with credible opportunities like Nene Raju Nene Mantri, Awe, and Mr. Perfect. In all likelihood, her role in the upcoming Telugu film Seetha, directed by filmmaker Teja (who'd introduced her to films with Lakshmi Kalyanam in 2007) is among the best in her career. We find out more about that from her in a candid chat.
From Lakshmi Kalyanam to Seetha, many actresses have come and gone in the industry, but you've held onto your career and only seem to be getting better…
I think it's all because of my passion for what I do. I don't really know any other way to lead my life. I can't sit at home and chill and have never been that type of a person. I am a very hyperactive girl, always driven to do something I feel is the best utilisation of my time. And films have thankfully given me the adrenaline rush all these 12 years.
Director Teja has called your film Seetha to be a modern day interpretation of the Ramayana. With your liking to mythological fiction and understanding of the role, do you look at it the same way?
I read a lot of mythology, yes. But I feel this is a story of a modern-day Seetha sans any mythological reference point. She's born with a silver spoon and is a very today's girl, a go-getter. As a film, I would say Seetha is about relationships, ambition, drive and about each person wanting to make it very big in their life. It talks of the varied personal priorities from person to person. Seetha as a character is something out of the box, has several shades and an intriguing character graph with various crests and troughs. I could relate to some of her facets, but there were portions that I found were obnoxious too. I believe I have evolved as an actor with this.
Seetha is your third film with the director and seems to be the most intriguing project among all your collaborations too.
I have a lot of respect for Teja sir. I really enjoyed working him in all my three films (Lakshmi Kalyanam and Nene Raju Nene Mantri being others). He's seen me ever since I was a kid. He knows what I am good at and also where he needs to push my limits. Seetha is probably the most challenging film in our association. It's a script he'd narrated to me a long time ago but it couldn't get made for several reasons. I kept telling him that he shouldn't make the film without me in it. And finally, here I'm essaying the title role!
Teja has always maintained that he pushes his actors to the hilt to extract worthy performances. However, being an established actress yourself, how did you go through that rigmarole this time around?
I think I like being pushed to the wall. That's why we have continued to work with each other. Trust me, every actor likes being pushed. It makes our job easy. Rather than thinking and racking our brains about our roles, here's someone who's telling you what to do. That's the quality of an amazing director and every actor wants it that way. I know it's good for me. It's letting me know what I'm capable of. I want to break the shackles and go further. Especially after working for so long, you want to do things differently and approach roles from an alternate perspective. Somebody like Teja sir is amazing at it because he does not take your performance on face value. He wants to see it in your eyes. Regardless of the number of takes, he'll make sure you feel for the role. Seetha was also challenging from the physical aspect. I had to go through physiotherapy for the film and have done intense stunts on my own.
There's a definite shade of grey to your role in Seetha. Did you enjoy performing it too?
Absolutely! It was fascinating to explore the shades of grey. Not many films offer a scope to bring the performer in you. There's a thin line between portraying a grey role and transforming it into a negative character. I didn't want to cross that bar. Seetha has a conviction about things and she's very selfish about it. All of us in the world are, aren't we? I had a lot of discussions with Teja sir about getting the tone of my performance right. I had even made notes about her character graph. He had to literally brainwash me about the character before every scene. It's very hard to portray a role that is so self-absorbed. I've given all my sweat, blood and tears to the role.
Having a film titled after a female character is a rare occurrence in Telugu cinema these days. Don't you agree?
True, the film here starts with my perspective. I am very happy that times are changing and directors don't really keep a title just for the sake of it. They choose it only when it's relevant to the script. The film is about Seetha, how she deals with relationships and the people around her. I am glad Teja sir stayed true to the story before finalising the title.
Your career has regularly veered towards commercial cinema, is that something you would want to change in due course?
I am not comparing my life to anyone else's. I am only choosing the best from what I have been offered. I don't want to sit and draw parallels of my careers in comparison to my counterparts and say 'I want to do a role like hers'. I am not being offered many films where the stories revolve around me. But even if I get one, I need to feel for it. I can't do something merely because it's female-centric. Like my character says, 'Naa peru Seetha, nenu geesinde geetha'. (I draw the bar for myself).
Well, it's been a long wait to see your performance in Paris Paris, the Tamil remake of Queen.
I only hope it releases soon. It was supposed to come out earlier this year. I am very keen on hearing what the audience has got to say about it. I did the role as differently as I could and still wanted to maintain its vulnerability. She's still soft and innocent. I've made sure that the metamorphosis from a vulnerable girl to a woman who comes of age, feels as organic as possible.