Holiday Inn, Chennai OMR, IT Expressway, was gracious enough to host a few differently-abled footballers and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar as we shot the cover for this edition that celebrates freedom. This was also our 50th Edition and so we were happy that we could shift focus to something as wonderful as The Special Olympics International Football Championship in Chennai. Here are few excerpts from the lively interview with the talented actor:
What does your association with the Special Olympics International Football Championship mean to you?
First of all the opportunity to create awareness around the differently-abled — I am very aware of how people think having a disability is something to be ashamed of — look at the language we use: disabled. People need to understand that they are not disabled, but differently-abled. I actually think such individuals are blessed. It’s not something that needs to be thought of in such a negative sense. I am just so happy that we can support children with these amazing abilities by creating inclusive spaces for them. Being differently-abled is definitely
something to celebrate!
You’re known for portraying the role of an angry young woman in recent Tamil films — are you okay with this stereotyping? What would you say are the kind of roles you prefer?
I think there was a requirement for a niche for the angry young woman in Tamil cinema, so I created it. But my upcoming films feature me just as a ‘regular’ woman. I think I have been blessed, as I have been able to explore a different graph with each of my films. Yes, I have been playing the angry young woman quite often, but it has been different in each film — for example, in Sarkar it was very subtle and in Sandakozhi 2 it was absolutely out there and really loud! So, as an actor I am pretty satiated and I don’t think I’ve been necessarily stereotyped. When you enter the industry as a young actor, you often assume that the only option is to be the hero-romancing heroine who appears in five songs. I made that same mistake. People keep advising you to accept these roles, but I decided to break the rules and do interesting roles — a supporting role, a negative role and a heroine role — all at the same time. That’s when you actually realise that acting is acting no matter what role you do.
Kollywood isn’t famous for film families getting into the same industry, unlike Bollywood… so, how did you decide to become an actor?
I actually never wanted to become an actor at all. For most of my life I was running in the opposite direction. I am a graduate in microbiology from Hindustan Arts and Science College, Chennai and I also have a master’s in business management from the University of Edinburgh, and I was studying for a diploma in forensic sciences — as you can see, pretty far from the world of films. But, I was interested in theatre and dancing. That led me to Anupam Kher’s acting school in Mumbai and Anupam sir told me I was born to be an actor. One thing led to another and then Vignesh Sivan approached me for Podaa Podi and I said yes. Post that film, I realised I enjoy behind in front of the camera and that’s how
it all began.
If you weren’t an actor,
what would you have been?
I would have been a brain surgeon. I am not kidding. I wanted to study medicine and my parents refused to let me study it. I have very dexterous hands, so brain surgeon
seemed pretty apt.
You’re one of the few voices who spoke openly about #MeToo… your take on the movement?
As usual, in India, we catch up with everything later than the rest of the world. The movement began quite a while ago, but it took time to make a noise in India. There’s still a lot to be done here and I will not deny how important this movement is in India. That said, there are two sides to the same coin and while there are several genuine cases, we also have to be wary about a few people using the movement to harass other people unfairly. I am all for the supporting of women who are accusing people who have actually misused their positions of power, but I also vehemently oppose those women who are misusing the potency of the movement for their own unfair gain.
With Kollywood slowly opening its doors to female-oriented films… are there any roles that you would like to see portrayed or you would like to portray?
I really want to do a biopic of amma (late chief minister J Jayalalitha); it would be amazing, though nobody has offered me that role, yet. That said, I have six films in the pipeline that have me as a female protagonist and are female-centric, so I can’t really complain and yes, the trends are favouring women these days and thank god for that! I’m also open to a doing a role in a period film.
Tamil Nadu as a whole has become more accepting of the trans community, but the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual community still face stigma and are usually ridiculed
in cinema too —
It doesn’t happen in my movies. I ensure that if I am a part of the film that no such nonsense occurs. I do remember being a part of a project that had something like that which portrayed the LGBTQIA+ community poorly and I stood my ground till it was removed. But I also believe that each individual filmmaker needs to ensure such transphobia and homophobia is not given any place in their work. I remember how much I was affected by the trials and tribulations suffered by the community when I interacted with a few LGBTQIA+ individuals on one of the episodes of my show Unnai Arindhaal on Jaya TV. It irritated me so much to see that they were treated as social outcasts when they are very much a part of our society. We’re all created the same and we all have the right to love whomever we
want to love.
Tamil culture is inherently patriarchal, as a strong and independent woman, what do you think needs to change first to ensure equality between the genders?
Women need to start saying ‘NO’. Half the problems occur because we don’t stand up for ourselves. Let’s look at the biggest problems for women in Tamil Nadu: husbands having affairs — two women involved; mother-in-law and daughter-in-law tensions — two women involved; #MeToo — the woman couldn’t muster up enough courage to say ‘no’ the first time and therefore the abuse becomes a habit… it all starts with us. It’s cyclical. If you are a woman who is being abused or beaten in front of your children, your children are going to normalise such behaviour; or even the over-doting on sons by mothers — we really have to sort ourselves out first. Sometimes we want to be feminists, and then sometimes we’re absolutely okay with patriarchal behaviour that pampers us. Saying no and walking away to ensure your dignity and respect is intact — is a great place to start. If men are behaving like jackasses, just walk away from such toxic behaviour.
Something about you we’re absolutely unaware about?
I have no filter and I am a rowdy and I stand up for all the right things. But I think everybody already knows that.
What can we see you next?
I have six films coming up. Velvet Nagaram is up first, where I play a journalist; then there’s Danny which is a thriller; then there’s Chase/Chasing which we’re shooting in Malaysia and Tamil Nadu, where I play an undercover cop and a few more…
Where do you see yourself ten years
I can’t see myself tomorrow, so ten years is too far away! There’s a backstory to this though. I entered the industry when I was 23/24, I wanted to be a superstar by 28, married by 30, a mother by 32 — but I am 34 now and I have just about started acting. So my point is: you can’t really plan anything. Life just does what it wants to; I just take life each day as it comes. I do have goals — I do want to get into politics and be a voice for women who don’t have a voice and work towards ensuring that all women have
a voice someday.
How would you define freedom?
Freedom is something that you should enjoy, something that you have every right to — just don’t hurt someone else in the process. That said, don’t worry too much about what others have to say — you do you. Live your life on your own terms.
If you could end one world problem in the blink of an eye, what would it be?
Poverty. 80% of our country is poor. Just imagine that.
I’d really like to solve that.
One word of advice to actors who are still making their way into the industry?
Make your own rules. Don’t listen to anyone. Act because you like to act.
Advice to girls growing up around you — from woman to woman — a life experience that you believe can help women
First of all, be strong! Do not back out. Do not depend on anyone but yourself. Love yourself.
write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch the interview on ProvokeTV
PHOTOGRAPHER: Sneha Nair | @snehanair_photog
STYLING: Jayalakshmi Sundaresan | @jayalakshmisundaresan
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LOCATION: Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway | @holidayinnchennai