Nobody can say I am a bad actor: Varalaxmi Sarathkumar
The actor played the villain in Vishal-starrer Sandakozhi 2 which was released last Thursday
If there is one thing Varalaxmi Sarathkumar cannot be faulted for, it is for trying to do interesting cinema. She can lay claim to possibly being the most experimental in the industry right now. Her latest role in Sandakozhi 2, the sequel to the 2005 hit, Sandakozhi, sees her play Pechi, a loud brash villain, a character she claims hasn't been done before. "While it might evoke memories of Neelambari (Padayappa) or Eswari (Thimiru), Pechi is incomparable. There is a climax sequence that no one has done before and when the film ends, you will not see anyone else's influence in Pechi. Not even mine."
The actor is proud of the characters she's been playing. "In all the films I've done, my character never goes unnoticed. That is my biggest victory." She doesn't go in search of these roles. Directors, she says, come to her for two reasons. "One is that, unlike others, I don't have insecurities. Most aren't secure if they don't have a song/dance in the film. Secondly, all these roles need a strong actor. Only few people fit into that slot and I am one."
The industry sees her as a rule-breaker and she is proud to be seen as one as well. "I go after roles and characters that others say no to. I pick them up and make them a success. I don't go after what's normal. You can see that in Pechi too. Maybe I am a bit crazy that way."
But she does not think less of actors who go the trodden path. "To be a heroine in Tamil cinema is a dream to many. Even I am playing the quintessential Tamil heroine in my next film, Kanni Raasi, with Vemal. It is just that I can't keep playing the same role over and over again. As an actor, I have to bring something to the table. I don't want to go to sleep, complaining."
Varalaxmi's last release was Echarikkai, which she believes to have had a challenging role. But the film did not get the reception she expected it to. The actor had put up a scathing message on her Twitter account, calling out 'paid reviewers' for having an agenda to bring the film down.
"I felt that the public opinion for the film was good and I did get some good reviews. But the problem is two-fold. I addressed a particular section of reviewers who did not review it in the right spirit. I was also angry with the distributors and producers who didn't promote the film as much as they promised to." She says she can take criticism of her performances but she always knows when she hasn't done a bad job. "Nobody can call me a bad actor. Which is why I found it funny when such reviews came in."
Acting comes naturally to her, she says, adding that even though she doesn't prepare for her roles, it doesn't take her more than two takes to get any scene right. "In fact, some of my staff complained they lost out on daily wages since I finish 10-day schedules in five days. For one particular film, I did five or six takes just for them."
Occasionally, she relaxes her film choices. "Neeya 2, which I completed a year and a half back, is my guilty pleasure. I did it just for the kicks." She likes to balance such films with full-fledged female centric roles like in films like Velvet Nagaram in which she plays a female journalist and Rajapaarvai (not to be confused with the yesteryear Kamal Haasan flick) in which she plays a blind girl. She sees such roles as a positive step forward in an industry that still reeks of male chauvinism.
Her own Malayalam debut Kasaba (2016) was called out for misogyny. "When you are a female actor in Indian films, you don't get a say on what is going on in the rest of the film. You come, shoot for your portions and leave. You don't even know what is happening in the rest of the film. Also as a sentiment, I don't watch any of my films before release and watch it only in the theatres. So I didn't get to know any of this at the time." Even if she knew, she says there are two things to be considered. "At the end of the day, it is a filmmaker's point of view and if you feel it is problematic, question it. You also have to realise that the filmmaker has a democratic right to show what he did. I think it is healthy to have a conversation about it." She clearly states that she has no regrets or guilt being part of the project. "I will stand up for my rights but work is work and I draw a line perfectly well between the two."
Varalaxmi is one of the few actors who has openly supported the #MeToo movement, standing in solidarity with the women who have spoken up. "I am extremely shocked by the silence exhibited in Kollywood. Either they are afraid some story of theirs might come out and that fear is driving their silence or maybe they just don't want to raise their voices for things that actually matter. Some yesteryear actresses say they have never faced any of this which is a big fat lie. When you have such women, what can you do?"
However, the actor believes that something has to be done and will use her TV series called Unnai Arindhaal that addresses social issues, as a conduit. "It is an extension of my Twitter life. I have had offers before but felt that this was the right show and the right time. The first was about child abuse and we have lined 26 such episodes. I believe that if we as individuals realise what we can do to change ourselves, slowly, we can change the system. I am a firm believer in small changes leading to bigger changes."