I choose roles that daunt me: Tamannaah Bhatia

...says actor Tamannaah Bhatia, as she reflects on her 20-year journey in cinema, playing roles her age, and making braver choices
I choose roles that daunt me: Tamannaah Bhatia

Odds were stacked against the teenage Tamannaah when she shifted base to the South in search of an acting career. Among the barriers were those related to language, culture, and of course, the pressures of age, as she was playing complex characters far beyond her age (in films like Kalloori, Konchem Ishtam Konchem Kashtam, Ananda Thandavam and Kanden Kadhalai). Two decades later, Tamannaah can lay claim to being a bonafide pan-Indian actor, having featured in the mother of all pan-Indian films, Baahubali, and enjoying a footprint across many languages including Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Her career, predominantly filled with mass masala entertainers, occasionally veered into offbeat spaces—like playing a villain in Kedi, a character of grey shades in Ananda Thandavam, and a deglam role in Kalloori that few can imagine her playing now. And now, she is on a resurgent spree, both with her big-ticket theatre releases (the Tamil film, Jailer; the Telugu film, Bholaa Shankar; and the Malayalam film, Bandra) and OTT releases, (Jee Karda, Lust Stories 2).

“When I began working, it was all about the theatre,” remembers Tamannaah. “Today, however, it’s beautiful that there are so many avenues catering to different types of cinema—which gives us, actors, the opportunity to play different characters. This perhaps explains how Tamannaah is, even after 20 years, getting to play such unique characters. Might she have imagined playing a woman bouncer (Babli Bouncer)? Or how about a character who wears her vulnerabilities on her sleeve and is unafraid to solve her problems without waiting for a chivalrous gentleman (Jee Karda)? The actor, initially averse to playing risque roles, has even pushed self-imposed boundaries (like a no-kissing onscreen rule), with her recent releases, Jee Karda and Lust Stories 2. “With every character, in say Jee Karda, we knew that the subtext had to be louder than our dialogues. All the characters have imperfections, and they are all dealing with pressure of different kinds, including their career, relationships, and marriage. Director Arunima Sharma didn't judge these characters and allowed them to be confused and messy. That’s important,” she says.

On losing the reluctance to be part of onscreen intimacy (Jee Karda and Lust Stories 2), Tamannaah speaks of how it has opened new doors of opportunity to her. “It’s aimed at playing out my vulnerabilities," says the actor, who is thankful that these characters allow her to play her age. “Playing flawed characters is a cathartic experience. This was all new territory for me, as most of my characters in commercial cinema have had me playing a typical heroine. I was happy to embrace these new characters I was being offered.” Among recent films she’s quite proud of are Jee Karda in which she played a 30-year-old woman yet to get ‘settled’, and Babli Bouncer, in which she played a woman bouncer.

Even before the pan-India label became a sought-after phenomenon across the country, Tamannaah has been part of it, and the Baahubali films, she acknowledges, are so vital in her career. “India has many languages and cultures and I understand the importance of what each brings to the table. When Baahubali, essentially a Telugu film, got dubbed, it blurred lines across the country. In the quest of making pan-Indian cinema, I feel the industry, and even actors should focus on making films in their language and ethos. That’s how they can truly reach everyone else. The more we try to curate it keeping in mind audiences we don’t really know too much of, the more we fail. If we are authentic and make a good film for the local audience, then it could reach new markets organically." To this end, she hopes to concentrate on rooted Indian stories like Kantara that tap into our rich culture and folklore.

As she gets closer to completing 20 years in cinema, the actor is more confident now than ever that her path ahead will be filled with newer challenges. “I have moved past my comfort zone. I am choosing parts that daunt and surprise me, like in Lust Stories or Jee Karda.  I want to feel challenged, and do something different each time, and discover newer versions of myself.” Up next, Tamannaah will be next seen in Tamil alongside Rajinikanth in Jailer, which is scheduled to hit the theatres on August 10. The actor also has Chiranjeevi’s Bholaa Shankar in Telugu and Bandra in Malayalam in the pipeline.

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