Catherine Tresa: Heroines are valued for their talent rather than complexion
The actor, who recently played a character suffering from anosmia in the supernatural drama, Aruvam, talks about the challenges of working in commercial entertainers
Aruvam's Jyothi is arguably Catherine Tresa's biggest role yet in Tamil. Her character is so prominent that director Sai Sekhar initially planned to name the film 'Jagajyothi' — an amalgamation of the names of Siddharth and Catherine's characters: Jagan and Jyothi. Catherine calls it an "amazing experience" to shoulder such a responsibility. "I believe such challenges bring out the best of a person. Life would be boring otherwise," she says.
Her character in the film suffers from a condition called anosmia (the inability to smell) — one with hardly any references in cinema. Catherine, therefore, read the script multiple times and asked for the backstory of her character, which was not shown in the film, as a part of her preparation. "It was important for me to think and emote like Jyothi. So, I made sure that I was aware of the character's entire life story."
Catherine has an unusual body of work behind her. She played Upendra's mother in Godfather (the Kannada remake of Ajith's Varalaru) during her early twenties, and two years later, went on to make a memorable Tamil debut in Madras. Despite the variety in her roles, all the films she's been part of have been commercial entertainers. Asked if this was a conscious decision meant to establish her as a commercially-viable heroine, she says, "I am a big fan of wholesome entertainers, and I enjoy performing dance numbers as much as I enjoy watching them. That said, I just pick the interesting scripts that come my way and strive to be versatile. So, no, I wouldn't call it a calculated decision, but I really like the place I am in right now."
She maintains, however, that 'masala' entertainers are not easier than genre-centric films. "We are expected to look a certain way and maintain the body language for a role regardless of the genre. Many assume that acting in comedies is a piece of cake and doesn't require the kind of effort that emotional scenes demand. But that is definitely not the case," says the actor, who admits to having made some bad choices. "I believe it is an unavoidable phase for everyone. There have been a couple of projects that made me feel uninspired."
Catherine starred in Madras and Kadamban, both of which featured predominantly dark-complexioned actors, and there was considerable debate over her casting, particularly in the latter film. Asked if this affected her, the actor says, "Not at all. I strongly believe heroines like me are valued for their talent rather than complexion. I played an MLA in Nene Raju Nene Mantri and a girl from North Madras in Pa Ranjith's film — roles that are at two extremes — and I pulled off both. That's what matters."
Catherine, who is yet to dub for herself in Tamil, agrees that dubbing for a role completes a performance. "I usually make it a point to do a trial dubbing track for my Telugu films and let the director take the call. I do want to dub for myself in Tamil, but the challenges of mastering the accent have kept me away from it thus far. Very soon I will start dubbing for my Tamil films," she asserts.
All her recent films, like Neeya 2, Vantha Rajavathaan Varuven, and Kalakalappu 2, have been multi-starrers. Catherine, who clearly has no qualms sharing screen space with other actors, says, "The more the merrier. I approach multi-starrers the same way I do a single-heroine film. If I feel a character gives me a kick as an actor, I'll definitely do it."
What Catherine wants though is for the audience to remember her as an actor who gave her fullest. "I want every single audience member to feel that I've done complete justice to my roles. I don't want them to wonder if someone else would have done a better job. That is something I can't live with."