Shruti Haasan, who was last seen in the Amazon Prime thriller series Best Seller (2022), is having one of her best years on the professional front. Even as she is shooting for three big films - Prabhas’s Salaar, Chiranjeevi’s Chiru 154, and Nandamuri Balakrishna’s NBK 107, the actress caught the attention of audiences last month for different reasons.
Apart from raking in more than a million views for her original single 'She is a Hero', the actress also came to be part of the voice cast of the international fantasy audiobook series Sandman Act III, which is based on Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed books of the same name. In a free flowing chat, she talks about her upcoming films, balancing a busy schedule, and the significance of switching off from work, as advised by her father Kamal Haasan.
Tell us about your contribution to the Sandman Act III audiobook. You have mentioned in interviews that you are a big fan of Neil Gaiman.
I have been an obsessive Neil Gaiman fan. I've read most of his work even outside of Sandman. People always say not to meet your idols because they will disappoint you. But in the case of Neil Gaiman, it was the complete opposite. I had once mentioned him in a Tweet several years back and he replied asking why I have so many followers. I always say I'm not someone who has enjoyed fame very much. But in situations like this, it is only fame that helps cutting queues and meeting people like Neil Gaiman.
It was amazing to meet him and when he approached me to do a small voice bit in the audiobook, it was a complete no-brainer. I was like, “If you want me to just cough once on Sandman Act III, I'm okay with it.” It's really a full-circle moment for me to be able to be part of something that really shaped me in my formative years.
This year also marks the tenth year anniversary of 3, your film with Dhanush. The Telugu version of the film was re-released to packed theatres last month. How important is this film in your career?
The film is a very big part of my career, especially because it was one of the first roles I was offered, thanks to Dhanush and Aishwarya (director). My character was really important to the story and it was very challenging. We all need that one extra push when somebody says, “we believe in this person”. So, that was really important for me at that time.
How do you look at the response it's been receiving lately?
I think the film has aged like wine. During its release, it was all about the ‘Why This Kolaveri’ song and just a whole bunch of stuff. Over the past 10 years, people have begun to understand the nuances like why it was such a beautiful love story, and why it was kind of timeless. My performance is also appreciated much more now than before, which is really special to me as an actor.
You also have your hands full with films this year. Tell us about your experience working with Prabhas and Prashanth Neel for Salaar
Salaar is a big project and they're each amazing achievers in their own industries. But the best part is that it is such a positive work environment. It is really meticulous and professional, but also relaxed and positive, which is a rare combination. So I really feel like it is a fun, cool trip.
What can you tell us about your character Aadya in the film?
I want to clarify to everyone that I'm not doing action in the film. Because after Krack (2021), everyone's like ‘So, who are you going to kick in Salaar?’ But no, I am not kicking anyone. Aadya is a layered character who is an integral part of the film’s world. Even when I talk about KGF, Prashanth Neel has this way of giving voice to even the secondary.
He has a particular way of looking at the world he creates, which I found interesting. And it’s just a different metre with him when I work on the character or dialogues. Prashanth Neel is relaxed and meticulous as a director. So initially, I was not able to understand why he didn't say anything. I was clueless about whether he liked the scene or not. It took me a while to figure that out but he's literally one of my favourite people that I've worked with.
You are also working on Chiru 154 and NBK 107. So with a wide range of films in hand, how are you handling the schedule?
Honestly, the most challenging thing has been the schedules because there have been delays in production on all three projects. So that's where we get stuck. The schedule has been busy. Like last month, for the first 10 days, I was in Turkey working with Gopi (director Gopichandh Malineni) for NBK 107 and flew back to India. Within less than 24 hours, I got into Chiranjeevi’s film and then went back to NBK 107 again. I am literally jumping between characters that are completely polar opposites. While my character in Chiru 154 is restrained and serious, my role in NBK 107 is comedic in nature.
How do you switch between characters while shooting for different films simultaneously?
Basically, I would prefer to stay in one character. When I was doing Bestseller, I was shooting only for that series and I had two characters to play in that. And that's why the performance is kind of easier for me to execute. But when I am doing multiple films, it is challenging. So I keep a playlist and perfume for each character. It sounds a bit superficial, but it helps me get into that zone on an everyday basis.
I have to depend on superficial things because I don't have the turnaround time to immerse myself psychologically as much as I like. So the minute I smell it, it’s like I tell myself I'm in this world. I think I've become particularly good on a personal level at switching in and out of roles and also switching my work off to the best of my ability.
How do you maintain a work-life balance during such busy schedules?
It is difficult for me, especially given my current schedule. But I do try and take breaks whenever I can. When I was younger, I used to think that people would think I was unprofessional or someone who is not dedicated. But I have learned to take time off in these 13 years. There is something that my dad kept telling me and I try to follow. He would say, “You have to learn to be professional on set and relax like a professional off the set. Give relaxation and personal time the same energy you give to your work.”
Speaking on the heels of World Mental Health Day, you have been open about your battle with anxiety for several years. How important was it for you to address that?
Personally, I felt I was just running on a loop that wasn't making sense to me. And I started to recognise patterns in my thinking that weren't healthy for me. You have thoughts like how many films am I doing, what am I doing, how much am I getting paid, and others. We all go through this and it doesn't matter which profession we're in. When I started to kind of hit walls constantly in my personal and professional life, I felt like my feet got stuck in the mud. So I reached a kind of point where I had to address it. I wish I didn't wait so long, which is why I talk about it today.