In Gautham Vasudev Menon's Vaaranam Aayiram, Simran had a role no one ever expected to see her in. She rocked both roles — a young college girl flush in love and later mother of an Army officer. She is back working with Gautham in his segment of Paava Kadhaigal, the Netflix anthology. Excerpts from her conversation with Baradwaj Rangan
I felt I should work in good films, with good people and good directors. It did not matter if the director was new or established. I always had in my heart that I wanted to do something that interests me, and I used to focus on the film's subject. That's why I had a 95 per cent hit rate. The narration matters a lot to me.
I was very happy working in the South. After Tere Mere Sapne and 'Aankh Maarey', I continued doing movies in the South. There was no looking back.
One of the nicest things I've heard about you is that, despite knowing you don't look South Indian, whenever you did a South Indian film, it always felt like you belonged here. You lip-synced well. How much effort did it take to make that transition convincing?
See, it comes from the heart. I just don't like to do something that doesn't come from my heart. Of course, I give credit to Savitha and Deepa Venkat, who dubbed for many of my movies. Those voices have registered in the audience's mind. Whenever I tried to speak my own lines, even the directors were not able to relate to it. I have to break this taboo someday. I write down my lines in Hindi, understand and learn them by rote. It helps that I understand Tamil. I give my best because this is the career I've always wanted to be in.
Venkatesh has said Sridevi is a 'switch on, switch off' kind of actor. Are you that kind of an actor? Or, do you extensively prepare for a role?
I prepare. During the years when I was extremely busy, I think from 1996 to 2003, I never got time to prepare for a role. I used to work 24 hours a day, or, maybe, 25! I used to take care of the continuity, because you keep switching among several films in a day. All artistes have different ways of preparing themselves for a role, for me it is taking the front seat and telling people how it has to be with continuity, in terms of hair, makeup, emotion and costume. It takes a lot of work — acting is not easy at all.
Gautham [Vasudev Menon] directed your Paava Kadhaigal episode and he said you get into a character with minimum fuss. Do you have anything to say to that?
That is a nice thing to say. It means that I am not fussy. I think the kind of narration that Gautham gives, he just takes you under the skin of the character, which really interests me. I just want to give my 100 per cent, keep up with what my director wants and connect to my audience. Plus, the role is challenging. Even when I shot with him for Vaaranam Aayiram, there was something for me, performance-wise. He creates an environment where you feel like being true to the character. So, I want to thank Gautham for the compliment. He's very clear with his thoughts and what he wants out of a shot. That makes it easy for me to emote.
Would you say this is your most challenging role?
Vaali, Kannathil Muthamittal, Kovilpatti Veeralakshmi, Vaaranam Aayiram, and now this.
When you have a character like the one you play in Paava Kadhaigal come to you, have you ever felt it might be a little controversial? Have you ever hesitated before accepting a role?
Apart from a few that I shouldn't have done, this happens to all artistes. I have not had a second thought about the roles that have become very popular. When I hear the story and find myself in the story I decide to do it. Even though some roles might have been challenging, I avoided them because I did not want to hurt people's feelings. But Paava Kadhaigal has a strong message, and I think it's high time for artistes who have been in cinema for more than 25 years to go out and say "This is what I feel. This is what I can help say through my acting." We must participate. Now is the time, and we also have the platforms that will showcase this.
Earlier, heroes would never age and keep acting as the leading men, while heroines would move on to other roles after six to eight years. Do you think with the arrival of OTT platforms, the lifespan of the heroine will be bigger in terms of consistently getting good roles?
Men and women have their own part to play in their journey, and women are restricted when they get married and take on responsibilities. No matter how big an actor you become or how many movies you're surrounded by, your preference changes. The men know that — the producers are male, the directors are male… OTTs are there, but for different kinds of roles. I know that I can't do the same role I did in Vaali, but a man can. That's because I've accepted another journey in my life. Now, it's all about choices since you have options.
When you look back at Vijay and Ajith, you worked together when they were up and coming. When you see them today, where they have reached, do you feel a disconnect with them?
No, the connection is intact, and they have worked really hard to reach where they are now. It's not easy to maintain that kind of aura on screen and work for it off screen. Vijay and I started together in Once More. Once More and VIP were simultaneous releases. Ajith and I worked on Vaali first and later on in other movies. I'm delighted to see where they are today.
What do you mean by working off-screen?
Maintaining that image. It's difficult to be yourself. People wanted to see me fit. When I did Jackpot, I had given birth and wasn't fit, and when my second one was three or four months old, they offered me a film. I said that if people want to see me slim and thin, they have to watch me like this also. I'm an artiste. When I went for shoot and saw myself, I was like 'What have I done to myself?' I started working out and lost a lot of weight in the second season. You can't take your on-screen image for granted, you have to work on it, because your personal life is different from your professional life.