After establishing herself as a popular commercial heroine in the South, Keerthy Suresh has made giant strides as a performer with the Savitri biopic, Mahanati. From being occasionally trolled to getting unanimous praise for her performance, it has been a busy week for the young actress. Keerthy is now shooting for a dance number with Vijay for Thalapathy 62. We speak to the actress about the success of Mahanati and the pressure that comes along with it. Excerpts from a phone interview – 

The overwhelmingly positive way in which Mahanati has been received comes with the pressure of responsibility too. How do you see all this post-release love?

Yes, this success comes with its share of responsibility and expectations. People are already curious to know what I’m doing next. I’ve to be careful and choosy about my next moves. I have to see to it that my roles have substance.

You recently met stalwarts like Kamal Haasan and Allu Arjun. What did they say about the film?

Kamal sir hasn’t seen the film yet due to his busy schedule. He intends to see it after the 20th. Allu Aravind garu and Allu Arjun really liked the film and felt that it was a moment of pride for the Telugu industry. They also generously hosted a party for our team.

In Mahanati, what were the most demanding scenes to shoot?

The ‘Mayabazaar’ sequence was mentally very stressful to shoot. It was a huge responsibility on me to try and match the original. I was driven by a sort of fear to do complete justice to this memorable sequence. I was very particular about the timing, hand gestures, facial expressions and hair. We took 3 days to shoot this sequence and sometimes, I took 20 – 30 takes to perfect even the minor things. We took our time and went about it very carefully. It feels great that people are really enjoying this sequence in theatres.

The scenes with prosthetic makeup were physically stressful. The make-up technicians told me that generally heroines don’t go for prosthetic makeup as the process of building a face mask (mould) takes close to 30 minutes and is really suffocating. I sported this face mask for 7 to 8 hours – it used to sweat, feel itchy and I got pimples. The result looks great on screen now and is worth all the pimples (laughs). 

Viewers have appreciated these scenes. We didn’t overdo the portions when Savitri amma had to look heavy in the face and overall. It could’ve worked adversely if we had pushed too far with my weight and the prosthetic makeup.

You hog all the limelight with the titular role. But Samantha and Dulquer Salmaan too have been generous by accepting support parts. 

Yes, indeed. Dulquer, despite being a big star, took on a role with grey shades in a language which is new to him. It must’ve been a fresh experience for him and he took it up boldly.

Coming to Samantha, I would’ve thought twice, if I were in her shoes, to take up a role in a film dominated by another heroine. Again, she was very bold and generous to take it up. She actually signed on for this project before me. The film became bigger due to her, as she’s a star. A star like her driving the story ahead became an added advantage for the film. She did a fine job.

The scenes with prosthetic makeup were physically stressful. The make-up technicians told me that generally heroines don’t go for prosthetic makeup as the process of building a face mask (mould) takes close to 30 minutes and is really suffocating. I sported this face mask for 7 to 8 hours – it used to sweat, feel itchy and I got pimples.  

Are you now more comfortable speaking in Telugu? 

I can’t speak in full flow like how I do Tamil, but I can manage conversations while shooting and also dubbing. I took 10 to 11 days to dub for Mahanati as it was quite a challenging task to pull off pure Telugu (due to Savitri’s Telugu roots). I was very particular about my diction. With the confidence that this project has given me, I can easily handle any kind of dubbing in the future (laughs). 

By the time I started dubbing for the Tamil version (Nadigaiyar Thilagam), I knew the lines and the modulation by-heart. Though it was challenging too, it was comparatively easier. I was actually wondering if they were going to reverse the story for the Tamil version (with the character traveling from TN to Andhra) but director Nag Ashwin stuck to the core story and handled it beautifully. There were some Telugu words inserted in my Tamil lines and the lip sync also looked fairly good. My job was made easier by the director and the Tamil dialogue writer Madhan Karky.

Will you be game to take up more biopics – say of someone like Jayalalitha or Sridevi?

Biopics are a risky proposition. In the immediate future, I don’t want to overdo and push myself too far in this space. I want to enjoy this attention and reception that people are giving me; they feel that they are able to see Savitri amma through me. I don’t want to spoil that feeling, let it be!

Seeing the Sandakozhi 2 trailer, it seems like you’ll be back in the Rajini Murugan, Bairavaa space?

My role will have more meat than Rajini Murugan. Meera Jasmine was extremely energetic and charming in the first part. Lingusamy sir is trying something like that again. I get to be crazy, energetic and smart in the sequel.

Finally, will Thalapathy 62 have more of Keerthy, compared to Bairavaa? And, have Vijay and director Murugadoss seen Mahanati?

Yes, it’ll be a full-fledged part this time around. Both of them are yet to see the film but they congratulated me on the film’s success. All the ADs in the unit saw the film and raved about it. It was a happy moment!

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