Priya Bhavani Shankar: The image trap does get suffocating
The happening Priya Bhavani Shankar on her upcoming list of releases, her recent film, Blood Money, and social media criticism
Kuruthi Aattam, Bommai, Hostel, Yaanai, Rudhran, Thiruchitrambalam… the list of upcoming projects for Priya Bhavani Shankar goes on. The actor has a logical explanation for this pile-up. “The truth is we haven’t had many releases in the past two years, and I had completed shooting for many of these projects long ago. Right now, I am shooting for two films: one with Jayam Ravi, and Pathu Thala. People may think I’m really busy, but I am actually quite relaxed at home.” Here’s Priya taking questions about her recent release, Blood Money, social media trolls, and more.
You play a journalist in your recent release, Blood Money. Did your experience being a news presenter help you play this character?
I was not just a presenter; I was on the field as well. This grass-roots experience means that I know what goes on in a newsroom. So, yes, it was quite useful. The film depicts the experience rather authentically. This is not a biography though, and so, naturally, it’s not 100 percent exactly as it is. The journalism you see in this film isn’t what you have seen in our popular cinema.
What would you have liked to fix in hindsight?
(Laughs) Well, there’s one. My character gets promoted as a Sub-Editor in the film, and people get all envious. It was funny because, as you know, being a Sub-Editor is not a big deal. I wanted to fix this but couldn’t.
Do you still keep that journalist in you alive?
I am unable to write with the same drive as I once did. It could well be an excuse, of course. Now, I write about things that affect me and share experiences from my personal logs. I don’t know if I put a lot of thought into them.
Does your popularity also mean that you attract a lot of negative attention on social media?
Over the years, I have learnt to stop reacting. And yet, some provoke us. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but it’s important to express it decently. For example, if I like someone, it doesn’t mean I have to agree with every opinion they have. I can digest opposing opinions, but they need to be communicated with dignity. On social media, I’m not sure women are treated well. Some think it is cool to degrade a woman. So, mostly, I stop myself from reacting. And yes, these comments do sting.
There’s a fair bit of social media attention over what’s perceived as an image change…
Television gives you reach. People see you every day and believe that they know you. They give you love, and yes, I have built my career based on that attention. On the flip side, I am not who they think I am. I try to take their criticism, as I have taken all the praise. Yet, the image trap does get suffocating. They always want to see me in a saree and salwar kameez. But now, people have started to accept the change, but it has taken a minute.
You have reiterated that you wouldn’t want to return to TV serial acting.
That is a personal opinion. I find crying quite hard. Also, in TV serials, everything rests on the women, just like it’s the opposite in films. I found this excruciating. Shooting would begin at 9 am and would go on till 10 pm. I didn’t have help with make-up and costumes, and I was quite bad at it. This took a toll on me. With cinema, I find it easier to snap out of my character. And the shooting rigours aren’t as arduous.
Do you believe that the expectations surrounding heroines have changed now for the better?
Yes. It is a relief that the old grammar for heroines—on how they have to look, for instance—isn’t around anymore. I feel good about this progress even as a viewer. Upon seeing certain films, you feel that another actor might have done the role better. Sometimes, decisions are made because some films are meant for a ‘mass’ audience, and they are expected to check all the boxes. I find that we are more welcoming of content-driven films these days, and so, space for people like me has grown.