Kalyani Priyadarshan: I am scared to take risks as an actor
The actor, who made her Tamil debut with Hero, talks about the film, Chinmayi dubbing for her, the nepotism debate, and more
When superhero films are discussed, it is often the men in the titular roles who get idolised or adored. Think of Superman posters, Spider-Man bumper stickers, and whatnot. What about the Lois Lanes and Mary Janes? Unless extremely fleshed out, which is often not the case, the romantic interest in a superhero film isn’t exactly the best platform for an actor to make a mark, especially for a debutante. Kalyani Priyadarshan, the daughter of veteran director Priyadarshan and actor Lissy, who has made her Tamil debut in Hero, says, “My father's advice was to not worry about my screentime in a film. He asked me to concentrate on being part of good films. Hero is such a project.”
Hero, which was released this past Friday, doesn’t exactly have Kalyani in a role that exists through the film. “What is nice about Hero is that I have a purpose in this film, and I appear on screen to serve it. There is no separate love track and there are no unnecessary songs. Mithran sir has made a film, hoping that the commercial value of the story will be enough,” says the actor, who plays Meera, a motivational speaker/counsellor in Hero.
Kalyani, who made her film debut in the Telugu film, Hello (2017), as a college-going girl, was almost not cast in Hero due to her “not-so-mature” looks. “Mithran sir had only seen me in Hello, and he felt I looked too young to play the part of Meera. I didn’t fit the character profile in his head. In an interesting turn of events, that same week when I was being considered for Hero, I had put up a photo on social media sporting a pottu. It might have lent the sense of maturity Mithran sir was looking for,” says Kalyani with a hearty laugh.
Despite being from Chennai, and knowing Tamil, dubbing for her character was done by singer-voice artist Chinmayi. Incidentally, this was Chinmayi’s first dubbing opportunity in Tamil in over a year following the Dubbing Union trying to oust her over her involvement in the MeToo movement. “Meera is someone who acts as a guide in this film. The role demanded a brave and unwavering voice. So we went with Chinmayi ma’am. Though she urged me to give it a shot, I had a sense of nervousness, and Meera is a character that shouldn’t express any fear. We didn’t want to compromise on the character,” says Kalyani, and adds that she’s a big fan of her co-star, Sivakarthikeyan.
Kalyani reveals the actor assuaged her nerves and helped her a lot on the sets. “He taught me the importance of a pause while delivering dialogues, the importance of timing, etc… I like his charm, and this facet of Sivakarthikeyan is what you will see in the first half-hour of Hero,” says Kalyani. She seems to have found a latent talent in Sivakarthikeyan, who is already dabbling in various departments of cinema, including writing and producing. “He has the qualities of a good director too. I really hope he makes a film one day.”
Being the daughter of Priyadarshan, one of the most successful directors in India, it is but natural to ask if there were plans for Kalyani to be launched by him. “I recently worked with him in Marakkar, and I have decided not to work with him again. There is just added pressure, an extra fear. For example, I had just two dialogues on the first day of the shoot, and I was so petrified that I couldn’t do it properly,” says Kalyani. Priyadarshan, in fact, is known for being a soft-spoken filmmaker. “Enna thittinaaru. Nallaave thittinaaru. He knew that if he didn’t, people would think he is lenient about his daughter. Nepotism is always a talking subject in the industry. That’s also a reason why I was happy in making my debut in Telugu where my father isn’t as established as he is in Malayalam and Tamil cinema.”
While not making a debut in her father’s film might seem like a way around the nepotism debate, it is not a problem that can be sidestepped that easily. And this is something Kalyani says she is aware of. “Yes, you do get opportunities at the beginning that nobody else will get. However, the con is that I am in a place where I can’t afford to take a risk. I am scared that one wrong move or one bad decision can tarnish the reputation of my parents, a reputation that took them decades to build. Though they are not directly involved in my film choices, this pressure has made me an actor who is forced to take the safe route so far,” says the actor, who will soon make her full-fledged Malayalam debut with the yet-to-be-titled Anoop Sathyan (veteran director Sathyan Anthikkad’s son) project, opposite Dulquer Salmaan. “The role is worthy of my parents’ name.”
Meanwhile, she is also in Vineeth Sreenivasan’s next, opposite Pranav Mohanlal. “I know both these projects are with second-generation actors and technicians. But it is important to remember that although they might be following in the footsteps of their illustrious fathers, people like Dulquer and Vineeth cheta have earned a name for themselves. The thing is, we grew up with a passion for cinema because that's all we saw. That passion will not go, and because of that, we will work hard. And the ones that don't work hard, will disappear for sure. I do hope people see me as more than just Priyadarshan's daughter,” says Kalyani, who is also excited about her upcoming film, Maanaadu, directed by Venkat Prabhu and starring Simbu. “It is a superb script, and I am in awe of how the director envisioned it. I am waiting for people to see it.”
For someone wanting to carve her own identity, will safe choices help Kalyani? Wouldn’t being part of heroine-oriented scripts work better? “If they approach me with one, of course. But I do believe, at this stage of my career, if I do a film like that, it wouldn’t influence a lot of people. Someone like Deepika Padukone ma'am can do a film like Chappaak. When she does it, there's reach. I am not there yet,” says Kalyani, who adds that her idea of progress is drawn from what she watched her father do. “I have seen appa writing scripts because a particular actor influenced him. Sometimes, it is Shobana ma’am; sometimes, it is Mohanlal sir. They inspired appa to write a script around a character that these actors can bring to life. I too want to get to a point where writers and directors write a script for me. I should inspire a story in their heads. That is my ultimate goal in cinema,” she signs off.