Priya Bhavani Shankar: Our audience has a fetish for fair skin
The actor, who recently played the heroine in Kalathil Santhippom, talks about shooting during a pandemic, her lock down experience, the inherent colourism among the audience and more
Priya Bhavani Shankar was one of the earliest actors to begin shooting after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. She admits to shooting almost every day since then and has completed as many as three films after the curfew. You might expect her to be fatigued or not over-enthusiastic about promotions, but the infectious cheer she brings to this conversation, her tenth interview of the day, surprised me. After the cursory fist bump, she begins, “I am happy to be busy. I see this as a blessing. I feel motivated to shoot non-stop because of the great teams that I have been a part of.” She values this rapport she has with crew and cast members as her biggest asset. “I am not from an affluent family and I don't have the conventional glamourous image. My hard work and my bond with my colleagues is my portfolio.”
You have about a dozen projects in the lineup. How do you ensure that your characters don’t get repetitive?
I guess this pressure is on the directors. I had the fear of being typecast when I started as I come with the image of being a television actor. Though that work took me to every Tamil home, it also affixed a tag on me. So, I am extremely careful from my end to make sure that all the roles I play are different in some way.
You had mentioned previously that you were working on a book. Did the lockdown accelerate this process?
I did write, but I wasn't able to make significant progress. The urge to read is still intact, but somehow, I seem to have lost the drive to write. I guess I have a long way to go in terms of writing as whatever I have written so far feels amateurish now.
You have never shied away from speaking your mind. Have you ever been asked to be cautious on that front?
(laughs) Yes. People have asked me to go easy on my opinions. When an upcoming star has a view, it irks people; they believe that only a star has the agency to express themselves without inhibition. But I disagree. I don’t think you need to be a star to hold on to your integrity.
Not too many Tamil-speaking heroines have enjoyed a successful run in our cinema, without doing work in other languages as well. What is your take on this?
You can spot women like me everywhere, but it seems that our audience wants heroines to be dreamy and out of touch with reality. We still seem to prefer fair-skinned heroines and look up to that skin tone. Nobody can deny that we have a fetish for the fair-skinned. But on the flip side, when it comes to heroes, we want them to be relatable, representing the men we see around us.
There is another side to this too. I have three films in Telugu, out of which two are with big stars there. This was possible because I am a fresh face there and they cannot slot me into an existing category. I guess the same works in Tamil cinema too; perhaps that is why more North Indian actors seem to be getting chances here.
A recent film of yours(Mafia), marketed with your name, had very little to offer in terms of your character. Any worries that it could cause the audience to get disillusioned?
I believe that the audience doesn't come to the theatres to see me, or just for my name. I am not a star yet; I am just a familiar face. The Instagram followers an actor has plays no part in making a star. I want people to see me as a five-film old actor and forget the mileage TV gave me. I did this particular film you speak of because it gave me the chance to try out a different look. Also, my character had a purpose though the film was a male-centric thriller. I would never accept a purposeless character.
But we must understand that if a film is not a rom-com or a family drama, even top heroines get only limited space in a commercial film. I think I am making progress in terms of the characters I do. I am thankful that today, I am in a better position to demand roles that are given more importance.