I am yet to get over Paava Kadhaigal; it's an intense film and I fully became my character: Sai Pallavi
Sai Pallavi, who plays the lead in the segment directed by Vetri Maaran for Netflix anthology Paava Kadhaigal, speaks about her acting process, still being surprised by audience acceptance and the awe Prakash Raj’s performances elicit.
About a month ago, ‘Rowdy Baby’, the song from Balaji Mohan’s Maari 2, featuring Danush and Sai Pallavi, clocked one billion hits on YouTube. The common display picture tweeted by the production house and Dhanush had just his photo. There was a wave of protest online from fans of Sai Pallavi. Even fans of Danush stepped in, asking why she’d not been given her rightful place, because that song is nothing without her graceful moves, choreographed by Prabhu Deva.
Not often does an actress generate this kind of goodwill, where her fans bat for her, despite the fact that she’s done just three films in Tamil. Most of her critically acclaimed works and commercial successes have been in Malayalam and Telugu. What explains the sway Pallavi has over audiences in three Southern industries — Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil? As her Netflix anthology with Vetri Maaran, Paava Kadhaigal, releases today on 18 December, we spoke to the doctor-turned-actress about learning on the job and why it is important to stay neutral emotionally before a shot. Excerpts:
After five years of dizzying popularity, have you come to terms with it and public perception of you?
I don’t really know (laughs). I am still work in progress and have still not figured out who I am. I still surprise and even disappoint myself sometimes. So, I don’t know don’t know myself yet enough to understand people’s perception of me. That said, it is very moving when you see them appreciate a version of you they see on screen, and consider you one of their own.
How did you think this audience connect happened?
Well, some think I am choosy and picky with roles, but I think the same roles have helped me earn a place in people’s hearts. I think they helped the fans relate to me as a person too, even when a film did not click. I’ve not analysed this much, I am just happy it’s there. I’m still young in the industry and the focus is on bettering myself and being in tune with the process.
You admit you are a deeply sensitive person. How long does it take to snap out of characters? How did you cope with your segment in Paava Kadhaigal?
I tend to allow my character to affect me as a person too, and it takes a long while for the impact to fade. Some films always rankle. I am yet to get over Paava Kadhaigal. It is a very intense film and, at some stage, I think I became my character. I rarely took off the prosthetic stomach and I realised my gait had changed, I was walking differently even when there was no shot. It was only when I was dubbing did I relieve the entire trauma again.
I wept a lot. The mental violence was a lot to handle. Plus, in my head, the film was about a girl beseeching her father to let her protect her child. I could not process the violence in that bond, because I come from a space where my father is a very tender person. He could not handle my suffering on screen. My mother, on the other hand, did not shed a tear. She said she’s used to seeing me cry. (laughs)
In Virata Parvam with Rana Daggubati, your name leads the credits. You mentioned it was Rana’s idea. Do such ‘equal’ sets make your job easier?
I have a different need or want from films. That said, when I saw the poster of Virata Parvam, I went: “This looks different. Ah, my name is first”, and then moved on. I did ask Rana why he did that. He told me that this is your film and you deserve to have your name there. It’s a different issue if you have to fight for your place. It makes you feel respected when it is granted to you, on merit. And, we always complain about the negative things. I think Rana’s attitude must be spoken about, because it comes from a place of security — in himself and his craft. He’s breaking the mould, and I felt I should speak about it — it might encourage others.
You team again with Sekhar Kammula after Fidaa for Love Story with Naga Chaitanya...
Yes, Love Story is another happy set, and Sekhar garu knows me and gives me a meter to perform to — I want this much and no further. This film is also set in Telangana, like Fidaa, and he ensured there was no trace of Fidaa’s Bhanumathi in this film. This is in a different space, and I enjoyed the process.
What’s your acting process like? Do things happening around you on set bother you?
Things on set do have an impact on me. Which is why when I enter the shoot spot, I mediate and bring myself to a neutral space. If you’re too sad or happy, both can affect your performance. I like to stay grounded, because when you work from a position of neutrality of emotions, you are able to be intense across takes. Also, sometimes, when something upsets me a lot, I always let the other person know it has affected me, and have a conversation. That always helps.
This acting process you speak of, it’s something you’ve picked up in these five years?
Yes, this I did after observing other good artistes and figuring out what works best for me. The best part is that you are constantly learning. In Paava Kadhaigal, my co-star was Prakash Raj Sir, and I was amazed at the multiple layers he lent his character at any given time. It’s so difficult to understand his character; and it translates on screen because his face is inscrutable and always shifting. I was fascinated, because you can read my mind on my face. You can’t attempt anything like that with Prakash Sir. Someday, I hope to ask him about his process.
You’re known to switch off from your star identity at will, even for award functions. Where does that come from?
I enjoy acting, I love it. But, off-screen, I like to be myself. I like to stick to simple outfits that I like and be real. Other than for the camera, I do not like to put on an act. It’s not that I hate dressing up, but sometimes, this is all I want to do. I am glad I am not being judged for that.
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