'I have always broken rules'
Padmapriya, fresh from the success of Chef, talks to CE about her role in the film and the absence of well etched female roles
I tell Padmapriya that the Hollywood film which her latest release, Chef, is a remake of, is a favourite of mine. She says that the remake "is a bit different from the original" and tells me that it's best that I not walk in with preconceived notions when watching it.
She won't agree that the film marks her comeback to Bollywood. "Honestly speaking, Striker (her first Hindi film) was something I did because it came highly recommended and I couldn't say no to a director like Chandan Arora. I don't think I quite pursued Bollywood then," she says. "And I still am not. Chef, now, has also happened without my looking for a Hindi film." Padmapriya says she was away from the film industry for the last two years so she could do her Masters in Public Administration from the New York University. "After my return, I joined the Center for Policy Research where I was working for almost two years. I was also trying to do films by the side and was dancing full-time," says the actress, who has now left her full-time job so she can concentrate on films once again.
Her popularity as a heroine in the South didn't stop her from playing the role of a mother in the film. "I've always broken rules. I played a mother in both my Tamil (Thavamai Thavamirundhu) and Malayalam (Kaazhcha) debuts. In Tamil, I went on to do Pattiyal. So, yes, I've always worked across genres," she says. "You could say there's a bit of time travel in Chef. You see this girl, Radha (her role in Chef), first in the 90s and 2000s. She's a young mother. It's a benefit that I'm at a stage now where I can play characters belonging to different age groups."
Talking about the differences from the Hollywood film, she says the Hindi version delves more into the relationship of the lead characters. "Though the premise is about food and travel, it's also an emotional film which talks about relationships. It touches upon how important fathering is in today's Twitter generation."
Padmapriya is among the few actresses to have featured across films of all four South Indian languages. She's also done Bengali and Hindi films. "I intend to work in Marathi films too. Though I'm a Pan-Indian actor, I have great love for South Indian films, and partly, it's because I'm a Tamilian. As long as the director has great vision, every film, regardless of language, feels the same. But the South industries are less complicated than Bollywood."
She hopes that Tamil films will push the envelope further. "I've always believed that offbeat films can be hits," she says. I point out that a number of women-centric films are doing well these days. She laments that actresses still don't get great roles. "I think the industry is still biased against women, and that's why I've stayed away from it. We should show the regular women more. That's why I liked Queen. Most of our roles are either modern women who are ready to drink and sleep around or it's the paavam village ponnu."
Men, on the other hand, get more regular roles, she says. "We have stories of regular guys who go to work in a corporate organisation. Even in Malayalam, we have gone from actors going around in mundu to those wearing jeans. I think there's a bit of variation in the male roles, but more should happen for the women."
She says her absence from Tamil cinema is also because "there weren't many Tamil directors who could give me good roles. But, I hope to do more Tamil films now. The industry has opened up to some interesting filmmakers and I feel it's a space where I can do more."