Let's start with Pink, the Hindi original, which released three years ago. Did you watch it in the theatres then?
As a matter of fact, I did not. I think it released in September 2016 and I was constantly reading up about the film and how amazing it was. But I wasn't in India at that time. In fact I got back a month later and by that time, it was gone from all the theatres that were close to me. It was only playing in a few far off theatres and you know how Bangalore traffic is. Then it did come on TV and I heard some loud noises from my drawing room and I knew something was being watched there. I happened to stumbled upon that scene where Taapsee was being abducted and molested. It disturbed me so much that I was shivering with anger and I said I can't watch it anymore. And I walked away. So this was the only scene I had watched even though I had read the reviews.
So did you get a chance to watch it before you signed the film?
No. I did not. I was very glad in a way that I hadn't watched it. The ADs on the set were very curious to know why I hadn't watched it. I thought the answer was very simple. I didn't want to look it as a remake. I didn't want to know anything about the film and how it had been done originally. I wanted to keep it as fresh as I can, without being influenced. In fact, anyone who would have watched the original and seen Taapsee's performance, would have gotten influenced. I too was fearful of that so I decided not to watch it. Even now, I have seen rushes of it, but not the whole film. It just doesn't feel right. But I will watch it after our film releases.
But is there something wrong in being influenced by her performance?
But why? I knew that there'd be comparisons and I just wanted to do it my way. Now I know that there will be a hundred people saying that she did it better, or I did it better. But I didn't want any of that. I just wanted to approach it thinking that this is a brand new role in a brand new film.
One of the reasons such a film affected us so deeply is because the women in question are just like one of us, right? People we see everyday. As someone who comes from a city like Bangalore, were there specific incidents or scenes from the film that you could relate to? Also, why do you think the film is so disturbing?
Because it could be you! Or it could be someone you know. I have seen brats with major influence behave in certain ways and it's really scary. Because, it almost feel like you could be their next target. That's why it feels so real. But being a Bangalore girl, I cannot say I've faced similar situations. But I remember an incident when I was travelling on the last bus and my house was one of the last stops and there were only men in that bus. All of them were glaring at me and it was like a ride of shame. You could sense their predatory looks. That itself was scary. So I can't imagine how much worse it can get.
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What's the process of going through all these disturbing sequences when you shoot the film? Like you said, the abduction scene is difficult to even watch. So when you're shooting it, what exactly goes through your mind? Is it disturbing?
It is. I remember the Nirbhaya case and being very affected by it. There was also a play called Nirbhaya that was staged in Ranga Shankara and I watched it then. I think I get very very emotional when it comes to sexual abuse and I'm very open to talking about the issue, especially among children, because they are the most vulnerable. While shooting for that particular abduction scene, I knew I could do it two ways. I could have screamed for the sake of it with the co-actors pulling me to make it look like I'm under immense trauma. But I decided to imagine what Nirbhaya went through when all of that was happening. The trauma of being alone and cornered, fearful of your life, all of that together. I can say that it was a self-inflicted experiment. But I wanted to approach it like that. I remember being exhausted by the end of it. Of course, sometimes the camera focus isn't right or we would need extra shots because we were shooting from outside the car, but by the end of it, my screams had become the screams of "please, let's end this."
What was the director, Vinoth, telling you through all this? Was he asking you to focus on the trauma or did he want you to work on the technical bits to get the scene right?
He's a man of very few words. But when he speaks, you really need to listen because he can drop these gems in between. He will give you beautiful analogies that will strike you, giving your performance a new direction. But working with him was a beautiful mix of 'you do you', and 'I want exactly this.'
So when you do a film like this, with a situation that makes you feel like it could happen to you, do you approach the role very differently compared to a film that's not very realistic or relatable?
This one definitely requires a lot of planning and thinking. Not every film needs it. If someone asks me how I prepared for some of the films I've done, I'm honest enough to say that it needed no preparation. In such cases, I just go to the sets and I just do what comes to me then. But a film like this really needs a lot more. All three of us, the three girls, are so different from each other. My character Meera would react in the drop of a hat. She asks for trouble and there's a scene where I challenge someone. She might know it's risky but she's still asking for it. Abhirami's character is the one that sits us down and tells us that we're in the city to work hard and that we don't need the trouble. And then there's Andrea.
We had to consistently be the character throughout. A lot of thinking had to be done and there was also a lot of physical traits that I had to show. Because Meera needed to that bold person who will stare at you right in the eye without batting her eyelids. All this was Vinoth sir's inputs. And for me, all my years of being a woman too contributed to this role. I remember how a grownup man winked at me when I was just eight. It's been several years, but it has been one incident after another where I did not react, because I didn't know how to. It just kept piling up and I internally imploded with the #MeToo campaign, and then this movie happened. All those years of not doing anything and just brushing it under the carpet has blown up on the screen.
When you act in such a role, do you have the option to think that the character is reacting to this exactly like you would have in such a situation?
This character helped me in a lot of ways. I usually pick a character I know I am. I want women to see me as the character and say,'I want to be that girl'. This is the first time I said, 'I want to be this girl'. She will not take things lying down. When we were shooting certain scenes, I said, this is how I'd like to react to something like this. I wish that's how all of us would react.
When Pink released, since it's a film that discussed gender equality, there was a debate about how a female lawyer should have been the right person to take up such a case for these women. A male lawyer, that too being played by a star, may be interpreted as a saviour figure in such a situation. What are your thoughts on that?
On the contrary, I would have liked a female lawyer to represent the men. You know there are so many women who support the patriarchy; women who say, "you wore a short skirt, you deserve it." It would have been interesting if these men were being supported by such a woman.
What do you think about the idea of a male superstar coming in support of these women in such a situation?
Purely for commercial purposes, I know that it would only do good if a superstar did it. The reach is unimaginable. The thing with films like this is that it has to reach people. I could write this movie as a social media post but how many people would read it? You could instead make a film like this with 'Thala', Ajith as the frontrunner and you can't even fathom the reach that would have. He has this god like status and that can only be good for a film like this.
Do you really believe someone will watch this film and change how they think about women? Will they understand the idea of consent better after watching this film?
I'm hoping that through the dialogues that it will. They've been written so beautifully and the depth with which we've spoken about the topic of consent, it has been broken down in such a way that even a lay man will understand it. And that's what we need to do. It has to be rudimentary education to people who don't understand the concept of consent. Especially for those people who think they are entitled to the female body. I don't believe there will be a pre and post Nerkonda Paarvai phase in society but I do believe that it will definitely plant that seed of thought in people's minds and it could well be a movie that teaches people a concept they were completely unaware of in the past. And most people will watch it and think 'what I thought was wrong', or 'what I did was wrong.' It's just a start.