Q. In 2011, you took part in Miss India. Is that where your journey in films began?
A. I did my first film before I entered Miss India. It was the Kannada remake of Tamil director Selvaraghavan’s 7G Rainbow Colony. I had started modelling at 18 when I got this offer and since it offered me more pocket money I thought, why not? I didn’t grow up watching films but I knew I wanted to be an actress. As a Delhi girl, I knew the south states were different, but I didn’t realise that the film industries were all different. After Miss India, I started working full-time in films. I am glad my first few films didn’t work because it taught me how badly I wanted it. I was too young then and I don’t think I would’ve handled success well if they’d worked.
Q. Yaariyan in 2014 was your Bollywood debut.
A. I completed this film and then went on to do my first Telugu film Venkatadri Express, which was released before Yaariyan and was a big hit. My career in the Telugu film industry took off from there.
Q. Didn’t you feel like continuing to work in Hindi films?
A. To be honest, no. I was much younger then and Mumbai was too competitive for me. I give my 100% but I want that comfort in my head. I wanted to compete but with myself, not with others. This has always been my approach in life—healthy competition is great but I’m not going to backbite to succeed. When I came to Hyderabad, I felt the film industry here gives you so much respect and puts you up on a pedestal right from the first film. I didn’t miss Mumbai. I thought, let me make my mark in the Telugu film industry and then look at Bollywood. Now, I have my second Hindi film Aiyaary with director Neeraj Pandey.
Q. You must have got other Hindi film offers, but what made you sign Aiyaary?
A. I had signed Neeraj Pandey’s M.S. Dhoni and was all set to shoot but the film’s schedule got pushed and my dates clashed with Ram Charan’s Bruce Lee. I had to opt out. They reached out to me again and I said yes to Aiyaary. I am big fan of Neeraj Pandey’s work. In this film, I play an IT expert and it’s an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
Q. The Telugu film industry seems to be home for you now. You’ve learned Telugu and even dubbed for yourself.
A. I feel Hyderabad is home. The kind of welcome and love I got since my first film is unbelievable. I feel I owe the people here a lot. When the industry gives you so much respect, the least you can do is learn the language. Having said that, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to work in other industries. I love films and language is not a barrier, but my heart will be with the Telugu film industry. In fact, I speak more Telugu than I do Hindi [laughs].
Q. Currently, you’re the numero uno in the Telugu film industry, having worked with everyone from Mahesh Babu and Jr. NTR to Ram Charan and Allu Arjun. How satisfied are you?
A. I’m extremely happy and grateful but I’m not satisfied. This is not the end of my journey. I don’t set a bar because I feel like I’m limiting myself. I’m a workaholic—being on set everyday gives me a high. And for me it’s always about what next. My only wish is that I continue to work this way—till people get bored of me [laughs].
Q. Now that you are set in Telugu and Tamil films, are you going to look at getting a foothold in Bollywood?
A. I don’t look at it like that. I feel I’m happy and content as long as I’m doing great films irrespective of the language. I feel a part of me belongs here in the South. My idea of doing Aiyaary is not to sign on other big films—if something great comes my way in Hindi, that’s fine. And if something doesn’t, I’m still happy. I work because it gives me a high.
Q. Do you think that there’s sexism in the film industry?
A. In the South, there is a lot of respect for women but it’s a male-dominated world and we need to accept that fact first. Films are riding on star value and in this case, the actor. So they’re calling the shots and stories revolve around them. But that’s not the case here—Nayanthara gets the same respect as a male hero and films are riding on her star value too. Yes, there’s more content based on men and less on women. This aspect is what I think the filmmakers should look at—more stories revolving around women and good roles for them should be written.
“I’m extremely happy and grateful but I’m not satisfied. This is not the end of my journey. I don’t set a bar because I feel like I’m limiting myself.”
Q. How did you get into the fitness space as an entrepreneur?
A. I used to work out at F-45 [Australian brand of gyms], and I heard about their expansion plans in India. I wanted to be involved in something else and since I am passionate about fitness, I decided to invest in this. I don’t have the best body in the business but I believe that it’s important to be fit. I have three F-45 gyms currently and they’re doing well.
Q. Miss India Manushi Chillar is now Miss World 2017. Any comments?
A. I think it’s great! I think it’s high time that India got a title. People had forgotten that India had a lot of beauty queens earlier.