There seemed to be a point where, at least in terms of a filmgoer’s point of view, that you were everywhere…you were doing Tamil cinema, Telugu cinema, and also the odd Hindi film. And then, you seemed to have disappeared from the screens…
Not completely disappear. You don’t have to make it sound so morbid (laughs).
But now you seem to be back with a Vijay Sethupathi film, and there’s news that you’re doing Treadestone. What is the phase you’re in now?
I’m also doing music. I will be exploring the independent music scene in India. But the thing is, as a musician, my language of communication with ease is English. That’s what I grew up listening to. Not to say that I didn’t listen to Tamil or Hindi. I also learnt Hindustani music. But my expressions come through strongest in English.
I had realised that there were films I was doing, some of which I enjoyed doing, but some of them were just…films. They were part of a roster. They were building blocks of this “perceived” building that you’re building. I realised that that’s not a building I want to live in. That’s not how I want to construct things. I don’t think that as an artiste, you can be too strategic. I just felt like I needed to reassess and re-invent to give myself the time I need for my music. This is also the result of the personal conversations my dad and I had, where he kind of told me that I was going to burn out at the rate at which I was going.
But he’s a man who was doing 15 or 16 films a year…
I think his was a very different kind of career trajectory and a very different time. And also, he’s a man.
It’s not just about me. It’s something I’ve seen with others as well. For women it’s “I had to do all this, and now I can do what I want”. That’s kind of like the standard trajectory of the female arc, whether you like it or not. I think the roles or the characters are very different now, but we all go through the same. It’s like a carrot being put through the juicer and we rebuild ourselves from the fibres that have already been shredded. I think that was also the journey for me because I wasn’t doing stuff that was particularly representative of me. And when people come to me and ask why I’m not doing a certain kind of cinema, I’d tell them that “they were not calling me”. So why weren’t they calling me for films like that? It was a whole period of self-assessment.
Now, when Kamal Haasan has entered the world of TV and politics, he’s done that after years and years of stardom. After living in that building you’d just mentioned. Now he’s come out of that building and doing these new things. But isn’t there a danger of people thinking that Shruti is no longer available?
I don’t have FOMO. I don’t have a fear of missing out on the rat race. I believe that if you have an artistic intention, you have a good intention, and you want to stay, not just to grab the chair, you will find a way. And I think that the lack of calm and clarity or confidence in my own abilities, in fact, had taken me away from these intentions and taken me closer to what I should be and I what I should be doing in terms of the industry. I realised that I was creating a caricature of myself. Those roles don’t really apply to me.
Taking another example of your father, he spent a long time doing things he didn’t like to create that permanence, before he started doing things exactly the way he wanted. Don’t you think putting yourself through the rat race for a while might enable something like that?
First of all, I think it’s unfair to use my father an example for me or anybody because he has a very unique career and choices, as both a human being and an artiste. What I take from him is his courage. Now that he is successful, it’s easy to go back and say, ‘Oh wow, that was lovely’. But there was a very high chance of all that failing.
I’m not trying to say that that’s what he did and why aren’t you? What I meant was if you considered the option?
I have run the rat race. And I’ve done it well. But it wasn’t the pressure for the ultimate end. So when I couldn’t answer what this ultimate end was going to be, I had to backtrack a little. When I’ve come back, the kind of films that have come my way, even in the commercial space, have been great. But where were these guys earlier? I have never been great at the strategies or the smooshing. All I could have done was just get better at what I was doing and work harder.
Again, do you really have to do all this smooshing given that you’ve come from a film family?
Yes. I think I need to do it particularly because there’s a preconceived notion about me. I don’t want to give you a sob story. I know that doors have opened because I’m so-and-so’s daughter and I’m thankful for that. But there were these notions about me. If a person is genuine and wants to vibe with me, it will happen automatically. But that’s not how this place works. I now make the effort to say, ‘I like this person’s work’ and I’d like them to know that I like that kind of work. I would not even make that effort earlier. And it always came across like I was arrogant or disinterested. I was just being socially awkward. I still am. That smooshing skill I didn’t have, and I was always amused at how others could do it so easily. Also, it was amazing for me to go out of India, where the Haasan name is just a surname. For them, I’m just another actor from Bollywood, where all languages are just a part of this one big bundle. In a way, that was really freeing for me, because I could go to this new place and find the person and the artiste that I am, with no preconceived notions, and also assess my strengths and my weaknesses.
I think my strength is a certain level of clarity in terms of how I want to portray certain intentions from within. But I’m also very malleable and adaptable. So it gives me a great sense of where I want to go and let me go there anyway.
So the music you were doing in the UK. Would you call that your sabbatical from cinema?
No. That was an extension of my artistic personality. I think people know me first as a singer. Acting was never a part of my agenda. I felt I had given the rat race a good eight years run of doing six or seven films at a time. But I felt like something was missing and I was not able to put my finger on it. I realised that this was because I wasn’t really “creating”. I was creating characters other people had written. I wasn’t making anything that was ephemeral for me as an artiste. This only happened with me writing my own music. But that led to a backlash of regressed memories of the teenage Shruti or the young Sruthi that just had to find an outlet. And in the world of cinema and celebrity, there’s no place for that. That’s also why I had to take a break.
But isn’t cinema essentially going to someone else’s creation that you pour yourself into?
Yes, of course. That’s fine if that’s how you’re wired. But if you’ve been given the gift of writing music, and you’re not doing it, it can really be frustrating.