Priya Bhavani Shankar: I will never go back to television ever again
The actor, whose third film, Monster, has released to largely positive reviews, talks about working with SJ Suryah, why she won't go back to television and more
Priya Bhavani Shankar opens the conversation by candidly admitting that she didn’t quite put in the necessary effort for her first film, Meyaadha Maan. “For a first-time actor, I didn’t embrace it as much as one may have imagined. I do think I should have been more dedicated, which I think I am today,” says Priya, as she moves on to her latest release, Monster.
Excerpts from a chat:
In a previous interview with us, you mentioned that director Pandiraj had not seen your performance in Meyaadha Maan before roping you for Kadaikutty Singam. How were things with Monster?
I haven’t asked Nelson about it. Now that you have put the thought in my head, I will ask him (smiles). In one of his interviews though, he mentioned that he needed a family-friendly face that the audience could relate to.
You have worked with a rat for this film.
My character doesn’t interact directly with the rat; it deals with the aftereffects. SJ Suryah sir is the one who had to work with the rat, and spent around 25 days to shoot with the rat. Director Nelson often says that the rat was the most obedient artiste. He would joke that he could manage all of us — SJ Suryah, Karunakaran and me — as individuals, but as a group, it was impossible to contain us. The rat walked away with all the praise from him.
From what you say, Nelson Venkatesan comes across as a demanding director.
He is very specific about what he wants. He writes everything down and translates it beautifully on screen. He gets the right performances from us, and never loses his cool even when we go for multiple takes. His composure actually makes us feel guilty. Iruvathu take vaangurome, evalo mosam nambanu thonum (laughs).
Acting is different from reacting and he doesn’t like us to do the former. He would ask us to react as we would if we were home. Doing that in front of a camera, after donning makeup, is actually hard. I ended up causing a lot of retakes; SJ Suryah sir and Karunakaran told me that they had begun work much earlier, and so it was easier for them.
In comparison with Kadaikutty Singam, Monster has a more contained cast.
Monster was more comfortable because of that; it was an easier project to coordinate for. In Kadaikutty Singam, we were almost twenty of us. While doing the film, I wondered what the reviewers would say about me.
Did you get the chance to discuss SJ Suryah’s old films with him?
Of course. He’s jovial and sportive, and spoke with me about New, Anbe Aaruyire… Sometimes, I would even troll him. He even shared that his assistant directors laughed at him behind his back when he first played the lead in New. He believes one has to work hard for what they want.
Let’s move on to the characters you have done so far. They all seem relatable, as if from the neighbourhood.
I want to break that image actually. I don’t even know what ‘girl next door’ is actually supposed to mean. Just like everyone, I have different shades too, and those who follow me on Instagram know that these characters aren’t who I actually am. I think this image has carried on from my television work.
Tell us about the transformation from a newsreader to an actor?
Newsreading, then soaps… and now films — it has been a long route. I spent five years doing television. Even while doing engineering, I was clear I wanted to be in the media. Being an anchor was fun, but being a television artiste was something I wasn’t comfortable with. It was hectic. Also, I don’t think I can get back to being a news anchor. I don’t think I have the credibility required to read news anymore, now that I have stepped into entertainment. I don’t want to get back to television. Acting for television is harder than for films. My body and brain struggle to handle as much pressure.
There aren’t a whole lot of Tamil-speaking female actors in the industry.
Films are made to do business, so producers and filmmakers try to give what the mass audience wants. I don’t think anybody should be blamed here. I think our audience prefers a fair-skinned actor from a different state, who’s trying to learn our language.
Yes, I’ve got Atharvaa’s Kuruthi Aattam and Jiiva-Arulnithi’s multistarrer. I’m also doing a web-series for Amazon with Bharath. There’s also Vaan with Dulquer Salmaan. I’m also waiting for the official announcement of my Telugu debut.