Q. A Bollywood debut in 2004 but soon you went on to become the highest paid actress in the Telugu film industry.
A. I don’t consider 2004 as my debut because I was still back in school then. (Laughs) I did the movie (Kyun...! Ho Gaya Na) for fun. I didn’t think of acting as a career then, I had other goals in mind. It was after graduation when I took it up and I’ve worked very hard. It’s been a difficult journey and I have had to sacrifice a lot in terms of a personal life, no time for family or friends. I was doing about seven or eight films a year initially. Now, it’s a lot more balanced and I’m far more selective about the films I do. I do about three to four films a year now. Once you reach a certain stage, things change. At that point of time, it was difficult no doubt, but I’m glad it was difficult because it was a fabulous learning experience.
Q. Singham and Special 26 in Bollywood were hits. Why didn’t you look at full-fledged career in Bollywood?
A. It’s very difficult to balance out three languages. At the same time, when I’m getting such fabulous offers in the languages I started with (Tamil and Telugu), I don’t feel the need to try and prove a point in another language. If I had gotten extremely interesting scripts in Hindi, I would’ve taken it up. But in comparison, I got far better offers in Telugu and Tamil. It’s just a matter of making a logical choice.
Q. A decade in films in south cinema and you are one of the top actresses today. Are you satisfied and happy?
A. That’s a subjective question. As human beings, I don’t think we are ever satisfied and if I was, I don’t think I’d be able survive here in the first place. I’m content with the way life has been so far but as for satisfaction, I feel there’s a lot more to achieve in all spheres of life, not just work. I still have a lot more growth that I’m looking at and satisfaction keeps changing with every step you take.
Q. Commercial success versus awards: how does it weigh out for you?
A. Commercial success is far more important to me than awards—awards feel good and they look great on your cabinet but commercial success is far more solid in my mind.
Q. You are essaying Kangana Ranaut’s role in the Tamil remake of Queen being directed by Ramesh Arvind. Do you feel any pressure?
A. We all know that Kangana did a fabulous job in Queen and there’s no denying that. But there’s no comparison actually—we are not trying to compete with each other or with the original. We are all doing it in our own way. I think the role is fabulous and it’s a story that should be told. The story is relatable universally and it can definitely strike a chord in your life. I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure, but we want to do our best and we are doing it in our way. There have been changes made to the script keeping in mind language sensibilities and the culture.
Q. Like all actors, you’ve seen hits and flips. When films fail, does it affect you?
A. I’ve always been a strong believer in not taking success to my head and failure to my heart. I’ve learnt that from my parents. I believe in consistent effort and hard work. Do your best and leave the rest to fate. You can’t really control how things are going to shape up so there’s no point in getting attached to the results of it. Of course, I feel bad but I snap out of it quite quickly.
Q. Given that the film industry is male-dominated, what’s your perspective on this talk of sexism there?
A. Masochistic, I agree. I can only talk from my personal experience and my experience here has been normal like it would be in any other industry. I’ve never experienced it. Sexism is everywhere, not just the film industry. And women need to stand up for their rights and empowerment and empower one another. Having said that, sexism in the film industry is more publicised because this is a field that’s in the media glare all the time. Sexism exists in all industries.
Q. Recently, a south film director stated that an actress is required just for glamour.
A. I heard about that and I think that is disgusting. That is not acceptable at all. I think people need to realise that they are in 2017—I don’t know which era that man belongs to. He needs to realise that if those are the kind of scripts he’s making, he needs to revise them. Because the world has progressed and so have women.
Q. Do you think we need see more women-oriented scripts rather than just hero worship?
A. Yes, absolutely. I’m very happy to represent women in different stories. Personally, I’ve not found scripts which are interesting enough. When one talks about ‘women-oriented stories’, they talk about horror stories or some bizarre story. Why can’t we have women protagonists in normal stories like Queen? I found the story highly relatable even on a personal level. It’s such a normal story to tell. I don’t feel the need to act in a woman-oriented film where I play a ghost or a queen from some other era. Why not make normal films which represent women in a normal light? I think stories like this need to be written.
Q. There are very few women directors in the Indian film industry. Do you think it’s lack of opportunities?
A. I don’t think it’s a man versus woman thing. I think men or women have to work very hard when they are learning the craft. They also need to write original stories. It’s a lot of perseverance and requires many years of your life. Women directors who have made it have probably figured out how to strike a balance and have proved themselves.