Varalaxmi Sarathkumar: I think the universe wants me to do female-centric cinema
Varalaxmi, whose latest release Danny premiered directly on Zee5, talks about her film, her upcoming projects, nepotism, the MeToo movement, and more
Varalaxmi Sarathkumar is a bundle of energy. She’s visibly active as we connect over a video chat, and this isn't surprising if you are aware that her activities during the lockdown include helping migrants, collecting support for animals, starting a baking business, and of course, listening to scripts. "I have been busy," she admits with a laugh. "I have to be useful or I won't be able to sleep at night. I haven’t been so tired even when I was shooting.”
Danny isn't your first film as a cop. How was this different?
This is the first time I am wearing the khaki though. Danny is different because it is set in Thanjavur. I am not playing a city cop here. And this film's hero is Danny, a dog. This excited me as I love animals. Her actual name is Pinky. She was well-behaved, and a total cutie-pie. I became friends with her instantly. I played with her so much that the khaki of my dress was often a lot of dirt (laughs).
Your off-screen persona is that of a woman who doesn't mince words. Most characters you play are also of women with agency.
There's one film called Kanni Raasi which hasn't been released yet; in that film, I play the sweet, bubbly girl. I play a conventional heroine in Madha Gadha Raja, which hasn't been released as well. Maybe the universe wants me to do more female-oriented cinema (laughs).
But I am looking for a good comedy. I am a fun person in real life. Eppo da oru nalla comedy script varum, panlaam nu thonum. So, please if anyone has a good script in the genre, do approach me.
But do you believe you are caught in an image trap?
I haven’t created any image. My fans have been amazing. They don't question my choices; in fact, they appreciate them. I am happy I have broken all stereotypes. My audience has accepted me for who I am; they know I will keep doing different roles for the rest of my life.
That has reflected in your choices. Is uniqueness of character or project your main criterion to pick a project?
I don't go by how big or small the roles are, but rather by how good the script is and what difference my character makes to the story. The script is the biggest hero, but I should enhance it. Both are important to me.
With several women-centric films now opting for digital releases, do you think this could become the new normal?
In our industry, we still don't have an 'opening' for women-centric cinema. Thus, the budget of these films becomes smaller. Not every producer can wait for theatres to reopen. The producers need a release to get their money back, and when theatres aren't possible, OTT becomes our next option.
As for the new normal, we have to learn to live in harmony. Just because someone is doing cinema for the big screen, doesn't mean that they should shy away from OTT. Don't we accept TV serials? This is the next step. Everyone's ultimate goal is to reach people. The means and modus operandi changes for each person. If someone can get theatres, great. If not, we now have an option. South India has been a bit slow in catching up, but we will eventually.
How do you perceive the evolution of women-centric cinema?
It is great… better late than never. It is good scripts are being written for us. The scripts I am hearing have so much 'mass'. Namma heroism panlaam ma’am nu ezhuthirkaanga. My upcoming film, Chasing, for example, has seven fights. In fact, I was told there’s a belief that I don't accept scripts that don’t have fights (laughs). People are opening up to different kinds of scripts, and it is happening slowly but surely. Why should boys have all the fun?
After Sushanth Singh Rajput's demise, the outsider-insider debate has been huge in Bollywood. Do you see there being a necessity for this debate in Tamil cinema, your father being an actor, even if he has openly regretted not helping you our during your Poda Podi days?
I don't think there is a need to have that debate here. The great thing about Tamil people is, they appreciate talent. Nee nalla nadicha, nalla nadicha nu soliduvanga. Sethu (Vijay Sethupathy) sir has come to where he is, from being a third-junior artist, through his talent. If you have the skill, you will go anywhere, no matter which industry.
However, luck also plays a major role in our industry. If you get the right opportunities, and you have talent, you will reach great heights.
You have been an active supporter of the MeToo movement. However, things have not progressed legally. There is still no update on having an ICC or enforcement of Vishaka guidelines.
When something needs to change, it has to come from all sides. It has to be a unanimous effort and that will happen only when everyone realises that something is wrong. It is not enough that we talk about it only on social media. Change will not happen if just one person keeps speaking about it. The system has to realise that something is wrong. We should have laws in place, that's why we have governing bodies. The system needs to change.