'Few directors can write believable female characters'
...says Samantha Akkineni, who talks about the strong characters she plays in two of this week's releases, Irumbu Thirai and Mahanati
Samantha had never worked with a debutant director before she accepted Mithran's Irumbu Thirai. "I have never shown faith in a newcomer before but Mithran's conviction makes him almost an experienced filmmaker." Irumbu Thirai which stars Vishal is an important film for the times, she feels. "You are discussing a travel plan in a group with friends and immediately, you get hit with messages about cheap flights and hotels. Data collection is rampant, and services are locked onto everybody's private information. Even though I personally haven't fallen prey to any phishing scams, my family has," she says. "So I felt people have to be made aware of information theft and Irumbu Thirai does this without preaching."
She plays a psychologist in the film. "Her name is Rathidevi, and she is calm and composed at all times. Unlike the usual bubbly characters that inhibit such commercial films, it was refreshing to get to enact a realistic, smart character for once."
Rumours were rife that Samantha didn't want to dub for the film. She points out that her schedule was pretty cramped. "I have two releases this week, Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam and Irumbu Thirai. The Mahanati schedule was such that I was shooting during the nights and dubbing in the morning with hardly any sleep in between. I didn't even have the luxury of canceling the shoot to dub for my portions in Irumbuthirai. I have dubbed for the Telugu version and would have happily done it in Tamil otherwise."
In Mahanati too, she plays a professional, a journalist. "Infact I am playing a journalist in both Mahanati and the U-Turn remake." She says it was intriguing to play the role of a journalist from the 80s. "This is a Brahmin girl in the 80s, who is not allowed to work, let alone in a field like journalism. She is the only girl at work, and every single day, she has to fight at home to continue to work. She has to promise her mother that she will take care of herself and be back home in time," she says. "In U-Turn, it's quite different. I play a nose stud-wearing bob cut-sporting modern girl who studied to be a doctor but is now a journalist. She hates her mother for prying, and brushes her questions aside."
She has newfound respect for women who used to work in the 80s. "You understand how difficult it would have been to keep marriage at bay, given that would be the only topic at households back then. Now parents don't care as much unless you are nearing 30. That's when they start panicking."
Does she view the character to be a feminist? "If I talk within the framework of the character, I would first have to say that there are very few directors who write believable female characters. Mostly, they are written as a male's assumption of life as a woman," she explains. "The journalist characters I play are at once subtle and hard-hitting. Even Rangasthalam, for that matter, should be commended because these days, the easiest way to show an independent girl is to have her be set in an urban milieu, preferably working an IT job. But here was a character who had had hardly any education, and finds beauty in her strength and not her face. Every character I have played this year is that of a strong woman and that extends to even my most unusual character in Thiagarajan Kumararaja's Super Deluxe."
She views these character choices as a way to change status quo. "I want to break the notion that married women can't be successful top heroines. I need to constantly churn out hits for the mentality to change. I want to take charge and lead this revolution. I might not have the time to see it through because I have my personal life to look after but I want to set the foundation for future heroines so that they are never scared," she says.
This, however, doesn't mean though that she's after only main roles, or is insistent on bring part of song-and-dance routines. "In Mahanati, I am not playing the titular role, for instance. I just am in search of strong content. No one ever asks a male married superstar if their craze will die down after marriage. I wish there comes a time when no one will ask a female actor this question too."