Lead actor Sruthi Hariharan of Vadham, streaming on MX Player, speaks to Vishal Menon about what OTT offers female protagonists, the audience in the OTT space and what it felt like to perform action sequences. Excerpts:
We are on the cusp of an OTT revolution. Scaling back in time, when you signed the Vadham series, the film industry was more inclined to theatrical releases. As a heroine working in mainstream films, did you have any concerns about signing a series?
Absolutely not. In 2016, when Netflix opened up in India, Nila, one of the indie films I had done, went on the platform, and did really well. I never felt it would make me feel less of an actor, because at the end of the day, I was working on an interesting script with an interesting team, and I was doing something that I believed in. For me, as an actor, that’s the happiness I receive. Irrespective of the platform, what matters is the process. If Vadham had been a film releasing on 70 mm screens, I would still have been a part of it.
Keeping all parameters in mind about OTT or theatre, do you think selecting a script is getting complicated? Is there an easier way to make a choice while signing for a project?
Of course, there’s an easier approach. It should not be about whether it is a short or feature film or an OTT web series, it should be about what the content is, who the people are, and what you are trying to say. Not just for us actors, but for anybody working on any kind of content, I feel this should be the approach. We are all part of the filmmaking process. At the end of the day, I think it’s putting your best foot forward.
Vadham is about a particular murder case being assigned to a team of female police officers. Do you think such a script would come your way in the mainstream cinema space?
I highly doubt it. That’s the kind of freedom we get from an OTT platform. There are no limitations to creativity when you have something on the OTT platform and there are no unnecessary commercial elements that you have to add to make the content work. This is not just about four women trying to do their job as cops, but it’s also about their lives. I think the series has very nicely balanced both their personal and professional lives. Applause Entertainment, who produced our series, was very happy about the idea, because it was going on an OTT platform.
From your understanding, what kind of audience views OTT content?
They are definitely educated. Even if they are not, they are surely looking for their own form of entertainment. I think Hotstar as an OTT platform has something for all, as opposed to Netflix, which has a niche, and is a little more expensive. MX Player has a good mix. There was Queen before, and I’m presuming that all those who watched Queen will probably also watch Vadham because the language is the same and it’s about strong women.
Observing releases on OTT, we see that a lot of female-centric content is coming up. Do you think there is going to be a dichotomy, where the mainstream theatre space will be led by male stars and OTT by female stars?
It’s an interesting thought. You probably might be right. I can’t give you any factual analysis on that, but considering releases on OTT — Miss India, Queen, Ponmagal Vandhal, Sir or Delhi crime — all of these have female protagonists at the forefront. On the contrary, the films that release in theatres, I don’t see the same happening. But we still have Nayanthara or Deepika Padukone, who draw in theatrical crowds. So I’m hoping there’d be a balance soon. Honestly, even if there is not, I have no complaints. At the end of the day, we are doing our work, we’re telling the stories we want to say, and we’re making our money. I’m happy.
Vadham delves into the details and gives each character the time and space needed. Also, the female lead is a police officer, vested with more responsibility than the male lead, who plays an underdog cricket coach. Do you think these kind of characters were explored as this is on OTT? The same might not be possible in cinema?
Absolutely! As you rightly said, each character can carve his/her own space and create an impact in the audience’s mind. That’s the kind of freedom we have with the OTT format, unlike in films where you’re quickly jumping into the story. Having said that, I love the fact that people are actually registering each character.
Again, in today’s modern relationships, I don’t think we share an ego problem based on the careers the partners pursue. There is camaraderie and equality in relationships, irrespective of who brings more money back home or who is the breadwinner. It doesn’t matter anymore. I think that’s what Vadham is also trying to represent.
You play a kickass cop who has her ‘heroic’ shots. How do you look at the action element in the series?
Honestly speaking, except for Charlie’s Angels, I don’t think I’ve watched any other female action film. But once Vadham came my way, I actually saw the work of Angelina Jolie, Gal Gadot — all of these people are doing kickass action sequences and they train for it. So, the moment I heard the script, the first thing I told the director was that I need to do a lot of work on my fitness and technique. Hats off to our superstars, because though there is cinematic liberty in action sequences, there is also the technical skill that the actors have to execute. Whether it’s a punch or running in the police uniform, there is a way to do it and it looks good only when it’s complemented with fitness. All of this was super difficult. There is an action sequence at the end, and I’m hoping I’ve redeemed myself through the series.
Even the idea of slow motion is so different…
I had so much testosterone in my body! It’s about being brave and courageous, and the body language is different. It’s about the style. I was almost invoking Vijay Sir, because the director’s perspective was to make it a little massy and probably cater to that kind of audience. For instance, in Delhi Crime, there is a female cop but she does not have any kind of macho moments or slow motion shorts, but this is not in that zone. There is a fictional/fantastical element and it nicely balances between parallel cinema and commercial cinema, I guess.
Do you think the action-genre with female leads will slowly enter the mainstream space or will it remain a niche to be explored in OTT?
There are female actors who are capable of doing action-packed films. Think, a Wonder Woman in Tamil, and why not! There are women who are extremely fit, and who can pull off something like this. So, I think it takes a bit of extra money and guts from the producer and writer. It’ll be a very interesting space to actually explore, and it’s an opportunity.
Tell us a little about the team of Vadham. How was it working with them?
Gopalakrishnan, the executive producer of Vadham, approached me, and I met with director Venkatesh Babu. He is a fantastic narrator, and I found it very interesting. I started training by learning a bit of kalari, boxing and had 4 am workout schedules. Later I met the rest of the cast in the workshop. We rehearsed most of the scenes, except for the action sequences. It was a very nice experience, because the three other lead actresses are fabulous. They are extremely passionate about cinema. They have very distinct life experiences, which helped them be the character they were given.
We finished the film in about 36 days, and I think we almost worked 24 hours every day. I think the entire team believed in Vadham. So, when you actually get down to watching the series, it is about justice, law and the system. Most importantly, I think it is about the thought that — “If the system doesn’t let you do things right, would you still go against the system to do things right?” The aspects of morality, righteousness and conscience really struck me hard.