At the decade’s turn, and as we move towards 2020, we looked back, and published a list of the 100 Greatest Performances of this Decade. Agnostic of industry, we had actors from Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Punjabi cinema listed. We tried to get 8 of the actors who featured in this list together, under one roof, for our annual Actors Adda.
Representing the South, we had Vijay Sethupathi, Vijay Deverakonda and Parvathy Thiruvothu. All of them have either made the entrance into the Bollywood Cinematic Universe, or are intending to. When asked about their fears and reservations as they enter this new phase of their career, in this new city, some spoke about the famous “Bombay rains”, for others it was the culture, the mad blend of cinema worship, and paparazzi shots:
Anupama Chopra: Post Baahubali it is fair to say that regional is the new national. Parvathy has already done a Hindi film, Vijay Sethupathi is working with Aamir on Laal Singh Chaddha, Vijay Deverakonda is being wooed by everybody from Karan Johar down. What are your biggest concerns or fear of Hindi cinema? What feels unsettling of this space?
Vijay Sethupathi: Language is the first. Then, (the fact that) I don’t know much about this culture, and I don’t watch many Hindi films. I believe language is something people can easily learn, but the culture is very important. We can only connect with the audience through that culture. See, if you go to Saudi and you work for six months, you could learn Arabic, language is not the big barrier. The main thing is to know the culture properly.
Alia Bhatt: What do you mean culture, sir? Body language?
Vijay Sethupathi: Not the body language. You guys may think in a different way, and we may think in a different way. Maybe family wise, friendships or the way you maintain your financial status and friendships. Every city has an energy and every state has an energy, and they maintain themselves in a different way. So, I should know about that. Only then will I be able to play the character. I can connect with South India – maybe Tamil or Telugu or Malayalam – easily because we have similar cultures. When I come to Hindi (cinema), knowing the culture is important.
Language is easy. I was working in Dubai for three years, I used to speak Hindi fluently. Now it has been sixteen years and I can still understand Hindi. The main thing is to know the culture so you can connect with the audience wherever you go. In South India, wherever I go people, connect with me. If you really know the culture and care for the people, if you know the society well, through your art form you can touch everybody. If you have pure love for the people, and the innocence, if you just move a cup from here to there, you can connect. In every character there is a nuance to connect with the audience – whether it is (as) the good or bad guy.
Anupama Chopra: Vijay Deverakonda, what are your concerns?
Vijay Deverakonda: The first thing is, of course language, but coming from Hyderabad, there’s a lot more Hindi, you hear it a lot, you speak it a lot, but you speak a different dialect – Deccani. I know I can figure it out but definitely, to be born in a place and brought up there, to be social…I can’t play a Delhiwallah for example. I don’t even know whether to say ‘Delhi’ or ‘Dilli’. Definitely, the kind of cinema – if I do Hindi – will be restricted to some kind of neutral cinema that will work across cities. One that is not very rooted culturally. The traffic and the rains are also very bothersome.
Parvathy Thiruvothu: When I did that movie with Tanuja Chandra (Qarib Qarib Singlle), I still struggled. I still had the south Indian accent coming, the nasal twang. But I do have a habit of mimicking. Like if I spend half an hour with you I will probably start laughing like you. My mom used to find out mein kiske saath hoon…
Alia Bhatt: Same thing! That sponge thing!
Parvathy Thiruvothu: That’s great for the job, but in real life you almost come across as fake. I get an accent if I spend time with an American. Language is great, I love learning languages. I’ve done Kannada and Tamil films. My first Tamil film, I used to make the director speak to me in Tamil so I could start mimicking him. It’s like a little baby learning to walk. You’ll keep emulating what the other person is doing and you’ll make mistakes. Language is the thought in which a character thinks. I can’t think in Malayalam and then perform in Telugu or Kannada. Spot boys and everyone are a great help. Just to ask for water I make the effort to learn the language and I beg to dub. Please make me dub. And if I do a bad job, please save the character from me, and find the right person. Otherwise it gets really fucked up. I would love to use my voice; language is a great thing.
Bombay mein I have one concern – the actor is very exposed, a lot more than in South India. Like (there are) paps. There is a certain culture of that here which overwhelms me. If I walk around Kerala, I have the resting bitch face, so people don’t generally come up to me. Here, if somebody does that, I’ll freeze. In front of the camera, or on a film set I am completely naked. But in front of other people, I am like, ‘I am not yours…Humare beech contract hai, that’s the film. That’s our give and take.’ That’s kind of scary, to be honest. It’s not regarding the craft. Craft-wise I’ll just dive in.