Andrea Jeremiah: I've never done the role of a typical heroine
The actor talks about not being typecast in the Tamil industry, training for stunts in Vishwaroopam 2, and learning from Kamal Haasan
You didn’t learn a whole lot about Andrea Jeremiah’s character — Ashmita Subramaniam — from the first Vishwaroopam film that was released five years ago. There was a hint of steel in her, an assured presence that was enough to ruffle Nirupama, the wife of Wizam (Kamal Haasan), but you didn’t get the origin of that strength. Andrea assures that it’s in the second film that you truly understand more about her character and her motivations. In this conversation, she talks about why she’s eagerly awaited the release of this film for years:
How have the Vishwaroopam films changed you as an artiste?
I think it’s only by doing these films that I have truly understood how to do my job — the ethics of it. It’s not as much about talent, as it is about everything else — the commitment, perseverance, and discipline. I’ve learned all this by being on the same set as Kamal Haasan. Simply by virtue of being associated with him, your profile increases. This happens to everyone who comes into contact with his work.
The first film didn’t let on a lot about your character.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. Kamal Haasan himself has spoken about how people don’t really get Ashmita and her motivations from the first film. Vishwaroopam 2 tells you a lot more about her. It tells you the very reason for her being, if you will.
As the colleague of a RAW agent, surely, you have your fair share of action sequences in this film?
In fact, I trained in the Officers Training Academy for a week. I was amazed at their discipline. As civilians, I think we often live in our own cocoons without any understanding of how there live people in our country who are fearful of their lives.
In this film, we have shot one very cool sequence that we shot five years back. Over the last few years, of course, quite a few films with action sequences for women have been released. If Vishwaroopam 2 had come out earlier as envisioned, it would have been far ahead of its time. Even I have done a stunt sequence in Thupparivalan, in between.
While on Thupparivalan, it seems that you’re the natural choice here for femme fatale characters.
I know, right? I mean, look at me now? I’m wearing a flowery dress, and looking all demure. (laughs)
Is there a concern about being typecast?
I think I’m one of the very few female actors who have not been typecast. If you think about it, I’ve never done the role of a typical heroine. You could probably point out my character in Pachaikili Muthucharam, but even there, the character had a lot of inner strength, and this was unheard of at the time this film was released.
What’s your understanding of why directors approach you for a character?
For one, I am from here. I speak the local language. I know the culture. Directors don’t always get female actors who are equipped with these traits. Perhaps these aspects make directors want to cast me in their films. I’m tall too. So that’s also probably why they come to me with these femme fatale roles.
Is there variety in the roles you’re being offered?
I can tell you that for the last few months, I’ve been getting some fabulous offers. It makes me very happy that such content is being written for women. I’m seeing characters that could have been so easily written for a man, but they’re not. It’s heartening to be a part of this revolution. But of course, it’s not like strong women are just being written in Tamil cinema. Balu Mahendra’s films had some beautiful female characters.
What then explains the sheer number of bad roles written for them?
I think after one point, we began importing our heroines. When you are writing for a woman who can’t speak your language, you don’t want to cause yourself the stress of writing too many local lines. I think female roles got dumbed down for sheer practical reasons. That’s why when I do, say, a Telugu film, I make the effort to learn my lines. When actors make that effort, writers and directors consequently write them better parts. People like Kamal write more for you when they see you being proactive. On the other hand, if you have an actor who’s taking no effort and is content with mouthing gibberish, you’re obviously not motivated to enhance their characters.