Priya Prakash Varrier would like to outgrow the ‘wink girl’ tag: 'I have a long way to go'
Priya Prakash Varrier talks about how she handled the overnight fame she got from the wink in the Oru Adaar Love song, and her upcoming Bollywood debut.
In the age of internet and social media, very few people can truly claim to be an overnight sensation as much as Priya Prakash Varrier can.
The 19-year-old from Thrissur, Kerala, became the heartthrob of the nation in February, 2018, when she ‘winked’ at her co-star Roshan Abdul Rahoof in the midst of a song, 'Manikya Malaraaya Poovi', in her debut film Oru Adaar Love. Directed by Omar Lulu, the Malayalam film is a love story set in a high school. “It was the second day of the shoot when we filmed that particular wink sequence and none of us could have imagined that it would go viral to that extent,” Priya Varrier says.
In hindsight, it was a moment that captured the imagination of the entire nation and Priya, in particular, was all over the news for days altogether. BBC termed the moment as "The Wink That Stopped India". Celebrities from every nook and corner of the country could not stop gushing about how ‘cute’ the wink was.. It is not a surprise that after the clip went viral, Priya got close to 606,000 followers on Instagram in a single day, which was a new record. Brands flocked to sign her for endorsements; movie offers poured in from other film industries including one with Allu Arjun in Telugu; and she made umpteen appearances at award shows and events.
And then, the backlash, in the form of criminal complaints against her and never-ending trolling on social media, came as a big jolt to Varrier. An FIR was lodged against the makers of the film and Varrier in Telangana and the petitioners went on to claim that the act of winking is blasphemous in Islam. When the issue blew out of proportion, the makers even contemplated dropping the song since they did not want to deal with the controversy. Eventually, Supreme Court of India had to step in to quash the petition and rebuke the petitioners for wasting the court’s time. “Several religious leaders and politicians in Kerala stood by us during that time. The past year has been a huge learning experience. Initially, the negativity bothered me a lot, but now I’ve learnt to handle it. It’s part of the job,” Priya confesses, choosing her words carefully. Her effortless smile and wink might have floored the nation a year ago, but off screen, she is shy, and slowly getting used to finding her place in cinema. “I’ve always wanted to be an actress and I’m hooked to reading about movies. So, when I got the opportunity to play one of the leads in Oru Adaar Love, I didn’t have to think before saying yes.”
Despite all the popularity and recognition that she has gained after the song went viral, Priya says, “Initially, it was hard to accept that something like that had happened, and social media has helped me a lot in terms of gaining popularity, but I would like to outgrow the ‘wink girl’ tag someday. I’m a normal girl. I still love travelling by bus to my college in Thrissur, hang out with my friends. I wouldn’t want to miss out on doing all that.” The first few weeks were, by her own admission, anything but normal. Her parents were so concerned that they did not allow her to use a mobile phone and she was under house arrest for a few days. Every now and then, several journalists would show up at her doorstep hoping to interview her, and curious onlookers in the town flocked to get a selfie. “There were times when I would come back home from college and a journalist would show up for an interview without prior intimation. I have given interviews in my college uniform (laughs). At times, someone would show up asking my father if this is Priya’s house and if they can meet her, and my father would make up some excuses to not let them meet me. The attention was overwhelming and my parents were concerned. We tried to handle it together,” the actress reveals.
She has turned down quite a few acting offers from other languages in the past months since she had to complete the shoot of Oru Adaar Love. And she insists that all those rumours about her hiking her remuneration are a figment of imagination. Rumours were not the only by-product of her fame on social media. In September, when the team of the film released another song, 'Freak Penne Rap', little did they expect that it would set a new record for the ‘most dislikes’ on YouTube. “It was totally absurd because the same people who loved the first song were trolling the second one. Initially, only the song was being targeted, and then it shifted to me. But we did find support from a lot of people who said that the song grows on you,” Priya recalls, adding, “Social media has its pros and cons. It has helped the film find a wider audience. And I’ve people from not just Kerala, but also from North India, following my Instagram. I just try to stay relevant, make content engaging, and entertain them.”
In 2019, apart from Malayalam, the actress will also make her foray into Hindi cinema. Her debut film, Sridevi Bungalow, allegedly follows the rise and fall of a popular actress named Sridevi. As soon as the trailer landed on the internet in mid-January, it ran into major trouble with several people criticising the makers for their insensitivity. Boney Kapoor, husband of late actress Sridevi, slapped a legal notice on the makers. However, Prasanth Mambully, the director of the film, insisted that except the name (Sridevi) and her profession (as an actress), there was nothing in common between the film and the life of popular actress Sridevi.
Amidst all this, Varrier is unperturbed about the repercussions that her debut in Bollywood might have. “When I heard the story, I liked the character and it was a female-centric film. It's also a good suspense thriller, and it gave me an opportunity to make my debut in another language. It was the director’s call to show what he wanted to in the trailer, and if you find any similarities, then it has been used to just create an element of curiosity for people to want to watch the film. Personally, I wouldn’t want to get into any sort of controversy. I would rather stay away from negativity,” she says.
Ask her if she is under a lot of pressure to succeed as an actress too, Priya says, “I’m living my dream and I’m trying to cherish every moment of this. I’m not feeling any pressure. To be honest, things have been quite normal back home. All my teachers have been very supportive and they want me to focus on my academics too. My friends haven’t changed and they treat me the same way. Whenever I go on stage to sing or perform, there’s a loud cheer from the audience. That gives me a lot of strength. I’m enjoying all of it. I’m still quite young and I’ve a long way to go.”
But before she can spread her wings to fly higher, there is one more thing that she has to finish. “My parents have always stressed on the importance of education. I’ve to complete my commerce degree.... somehow,” she says.
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