Tamannaah Bhatia, a prominent face in Telugu and Tamil cinema, is also known for her roles in Hindi films like Himmatwala (2013), Entertainment (2014) and others. The 28-year-old actress speaks to Guardian 20 about her Baahubali experience and how the franchise opened up her “universe”. She also shares details on her upcoming projects that would largely be female-centric films.
Q. You made your acting debut with the Hindi film industry, but now you are a leading star in Telugu and Tamil cinema. How did that happen?
A. For me it was only about acting and not about the industry. Intrinsically, I was passionate about the 70mm screen and the stardom and riches were just the by-products. It just happened that luck favoured me better in the South than in Bollywood and I took up projects there because for me language wasn’t a barrier. The only thing I wanted to do was work and excel in the entertainment industry. That thirst for perfection and excellence had to be quenched and the South accepted me well.
Q. You started out quite young. In fact, you were a teenager when you ventured out to make a career in acting. Why did you choose acting?
A. I hail from a family of doctors. So medicine was a natural preference. I feel acting was destined. The profession chose me because I never intentionally planned for it.
Q. You have also been a part of Prithvi Theatre for some time. How do you look back at that experience? And is there any particular lessons that you still find useful from your theatre days?
A. Theatre was a training ground and moulded me into the person I am today. It gave me the technical know-how and taught me how to be a method actor in my formative years. One lesson I learnt from theatre was that being real with your audience is of prime importance.
Q. Being a part of the film industry is not easy and comes with a lot of drawbacks, being criticised being one. So, how do you generally take criticism, and does it affect you?
A. Criticism is part of human nature and whether it’s the film industry or otherwise it’s something you need to take in your stride. Everyone has a perspective and I respect that. I don’t see why I should be losing my sleep over somebody’s point of view , especially if they aren’t immediate kith and kin. The film industry is not the kindest and if you give in then you’re constantly in a state of negativity and that’s something I don’t want to get embroiled in. It’s easy to be targeted when you are a public figure and that’s something I made peace with 15 years ago.
Q. What according to you was the turning point in your career?
A. There was a Tamil film called Devi which was called Tutak Tutak Tutiya in Hindi and Abhinetri in Telugu. These films helped me mould myself as an actor.
Q. You have done a variety of roles in the South film industry but do you feel that your potential has been underutilised in the Hindi film industry?
A. It was never a conscious decision to enter Bollywood. Generally, I’m working 365 days in a year and hence I couldn’t shuffle between the two industries. I like to put in my 100% in whatever I do. Even if you have done 10 good films, you’re as good as your last film. I am still in search of excellence and perfection, but I’m not part of the rat race. I don’t want to prove a point to anyone really. I want to make my mark on my own terms. Bollywood is a highly competitive platform and there’s some new talent springing up every second day so the key is to find your place and polish your talent every single day.
Q. Since you have acted both as a single female lead and in a multi-starrer film, what do you enjoy doing more?
A. A single female lead is definitely more enriching and challenging because the entire film rests on you and you get to experiment a lot. Having said that I also enjoy multi-starrers because there is more interactivity on sets and you’re spending more time outside your vanity van. It’s like one big party.
Q. Any particular genre of film you would like to explore in the Hindi film industry?
A. I definitely want to be part of a dance-based film with professional dancers, something like ABCD or So You Think You Can Dance. I have always been very inclined towards dance.
Q. Coming from a non-film background, do you think entering the film industry and then making a mark was slightly difficult for you? And do you think star kids have an advantage over those coming from a non-film background?
A. I never faced any difficulty. A lot of opportunities came my way and I acted on them at the right time. When you do good work people notice you, and everyone gets the same privileges today. It all depends on how committed and ambitious you are really. Star kids may have an upper hand but talent is key for sustenance in a day and age where there is a new star created by the hour.
Q. The Baahubali franchise was a massive hit and your role got a lot of accolades too. So what really made you sign up for the project? And how do you look back at your Baahubali experience?
A. It opened up my universe and made me experiment with my choice of cinema. I am not sticking to one kind of genre and I want to diversify in my role portrayals. It made me more aware of and responsible about delivering quality cinema that my audiences could consume. It definitely had a positive impact and I’m grateful that it happened.
Q. Do you have any special criteria for signing projects? If yes, what are those?
A. The script needs to move me in some way. It’s not always about the commercials. For my first Tamil film, I had an option to choose between the antagonist and the protagonist and I chose the former. I wanted to take that risk and challenge myself. In the film industry people don’t really take on a negative role as their first outing because it sets the tone for future work but I was so passionate about wanting to break conventions and the art of acting, that I did it. I chose films where the script excited me and my role was beyond someone prancing around trees in the rain.
Q. Who are the actors/artistes you look up to? And the directors you would want to work with in the near future?
A. I’d love to do something with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Karan Johar and Shekhar Kapur. I look up to Amitabh Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit.
Q. What apart from acting keeps you busy?
A. I have started writing. I always maintained a personal journal, but these days I write a lot of poetry. Actually I have always written since the age of 12. I have also started taking lessons in driving since I like to be self-reliant and funnily enough I don’t know how to drive yet.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming projects?
A. I have signed up for a couple of films recently, one of them being a Telugu movie called Naa Nuvve with Nandamuri Kalyan Ram. I am also there in the Telugu remake of Queen. I have signed a project with Seenu Ramaswamy starring Udayanidhi Stalin. More than the upcoming projects I have a series of releases coming up this year, of a number of movies I worked in last year. Kunal Kohli’s film with Sundeep Kishan is the prominent among them. I’m doing a lot of strong female-centric films which I’m quite happy about.