Samantha on playing the lead in 96 Telugu remake Jaanu: Had to find my own voice so that I don't copy Trisha
Samantha opens up on the Telugu remake of 96, and the pressure she faced to recreate Trisha’s acclaimed performance, and how she almost said no to the film.
96, starring Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha, was one of the most acclaimed Tamil films in 2018. The lead actors earned rave reviews for their performances. The film, directed by C Prem Kumar, was hailed as poetry on screen. The music, composed by Govind Vasantha, ruled the charts for several months altogether.
Even before the film hit the theatres, rumours were abuzz it was going to be remade in Telugu, and Dil Raju, who was going to produce the film, was eager to cast Samantha to reprise Trisha’s role in the Telugu remake. Yet, the actress, by her own admission, was reluctant to do the film initially.
“When I saw the original version 96, I didn’t know that there were plans to remake the film in Telugu. Both Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha were superlative in the film. A lot of people kept talking about Vijay’s performance, but I felt that it was Trisha’s film. It was one of the best films I had seen in a long time, and I genuinely felt that it shouldn’t be remade. So, when I was approached initially to play the lead role in the Telugu version, I kept avoiding the topic because I knew that if I sat across the table with Dil Raju, I can’t say no to him. Eventually, I did meet him and Prem Kumar, and agreed to do the film. Now, in hindsight, it feels like the right decision. Jaanu is one of the most special films in my career so far,” Samantha confesses.
Her most recent film, Oh! Baby, was also a remake, of a Korean film. However, Samantha avers remaking a film like 96 throws up a different sets of challenges. “I’m sure a lot of people would have already seen the Tamil version, and it’s quite a difficult film to pull off if it’s not done the right way. I’m glad that Prem Kumar was onboard to direct the remake because he understands the story better than anyone else. My biggest challenge was to avoid comparisons with Trisha’s performance, and it was so important to find my own voice to play the role. So even though the scenes are similar, it’s treated differently in the Telugu version,” Samantha adds.
From not revisiting 96 prior to the shoot to building an elaborate backstory to her character, Samantha recalls breaking her head over trying to find a different version of Jaanu. “I must have bombarded Prem Kumar with 1,000 questions about Jaanu’s backstory, like what does her husband do? What is she like as a person when she’s alone? I was adamant on not copying or imitating anything which Trisha had done, and Prem Kumar was quite patient throughout this process. I’ll leave it to the audience to decide whether I was good in the role or not, but I can confidently say that I didn’t copy anything from the original,” Samantha smiles.
She is all praise for her co-star, Sharwanand, who reprised Sethupathi’s role. The latter went on record to say, “Samantha is a ‘dangerous actor,’ and if an actor isn’t alert while sharing screen space with her, she’ll take away all the attention.” Samantha bursts out laughing at this compliment, and says, “He was being quite generous. On a serious note, it was quite important to find a rhythm with the co-star because a significant part of the film has just two characters, Ram and Jaanu, and we had to find a good vibe to live the characters. Sharwanand is brilliant in the film, and I couldn’t have found a better co-star to play this role.”
It is her 10th year in the industry, and Samantha is elated with how things have unfolded for her in the past three years. Her recent films like Oh! Baby, Rangasthalam, and Mahanati have earned her a lot of accolades although the actress has a different take on her choices. “Sometimes, you just go with your gut feeling, whether it’s your faith in the director or the script. I had no clue that Rangasthalam would go on to become such a huge blockbuster. For that matter, I didn’t even know the full script of the film. So when people started saying that my choices have become so good that I can’t do anything wrong, I kept wondering if there’s enough truth in it (laughs). However, I must add that it takes a lot out of me. Right from the preparation to the promotions, I put in my best effort. And when it’s up for release, I freak out so much that I feel that if the film doesn’t work then my career will go back to square one. But once I hear the film is doing well, I completely disconnect myself from the film. The whole process drains me out but it’s the challenge that keeps me going,” she says.
Later this year, she is all set to make her digital debut with The Family Man Season 2, which also stars Manoj Bajpayee and Priyamani. “I’m not allowed to reveal much about the project but for the first time in my career, I have done action sequences on my own. We had a stunt trainer on board to teach me Krav Maga, and there are a lot of hand-to-hand combat sequences in the series. I have a lot of respect for actors who do stunts in all their films (laughs). But no matter how difficult it was, I enjoyed every moment of the shoot. After doing comedy in Oh! Baby, and playing a serious role in Jaanu, The Family Man challenged me in a different way, and I can’t wait to see how the audience reacts to it,” Samantha signs off.
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