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Simran: Tamil Nadu will always be home- Cinema express

Simran: Tamil Nadu will always be home

The actor, who reintroduced herself to the Hindi audience through Gulmohar, talks about how life has come full circle

Published: 22nd March 2023

This story begins sometime in 1999. A song titled Thottu Thottu Pesum Sulthaana (from Ethirum Puthirum) was the rage in radio, television, and most importantly, the collective consciousness of a generation. Latching on to the success of this song, a precocious pre-teen, who played a small role in the film went around boasting about the time he shared screenspace with actor Simran. Such was the craze for Simran that it almost became a calling card for that kid through his teenage years. We’ll get back to this story in a while…

Almost 25 years later, in 2023, Simran once again became the rage for her measured performance as Indira Batra in the recent Disney+Hotstar film, Gulmohar. The film marks her comeback to the Hindi film space after a couple of decades where she ruled the roost in Tamil and Telugu cinema. “Many of them who probably last saw me in Tere Mere Sapne (1996), only saw me again in Gulmohar. The years I spent in the South were extremely helpful to play Indu, and to see the responses makes me feel very satisfied,” says Simran, who shares that Gulmohar director Rahul V Chittella gave another Indira as the reference for this film. “When I was narrated Gulmohar, I was asked to keep in mind Kannathil Muththamittal's Indira. That reference made me understand the depth of my character in Gulmohar.”

Simran was all of 25 when she played a mother of three in Kannathil… and 21 years later, she plays a mother of three yet again in Gulmohar. If the Mani Ratnam film had her tap into the story for inspiration, this time around, she found it closer home. “There were times when I was surprised about how the conversations at my home and with my family were reflected in the dialogues of the film, and vice versa. In fact, I observed how the audience found this relatability with at least one character from the film. Isn’t that beautiful?” asks Simran, who breaks into a smile that lights up the room, when asked if life came full circle when she played a Tamil-speaking woman in a Hindi film. “When I was told that I play a South Indian girl, who becomes a North Indian bahu, I felt gratified. Yes, it was like life came full circle. I was 18 or 19 when I started off in Tamil cinema, and since then, through my hardwork and the relentless support of my colleagues, I have learned the language and sustained in the industry. Now in a Hindi film, I am speaking Tamil lines. When I am by myself, I reminisce about this journey, and I feel happy.”

One of the fascinating aspects of this journey was how Simran never really played run-of-the-mill characters even in big-ticket films. She essayed roles that were complex, and well above her age and experience. Simran’s script selection was a matter of envy for her peers, and the actor admits that the big checkbox was about how the audience would react to her role. “Right from the narration, I would look at the film as an audience. I want to know the importance of Simran in the film. I have never worked in a film where I was just narrated my character. I always want the entire film’s narration,” says Simran, who attributes practicality as the reason for also appearing in special dance numbers even when headlining a film. “Of course, I also got the chance to work with both experienced technicians like K Balachander sir (Paarthaale Paravasam), Mani sir, and young talents like SJ Suryah (Vaali), Ezhil sir (Thullaadha Manamum Thullum), Praveen Gandhi (Jodi). But how you want to graph your career is completely on you. It wasn’t usual for an actor to do a special song like Aalthota Bhoopathy or Thottu Thottu Pesum Sulthaana. But I love to dance, and why say no to a nice dance number?”

There is no doubt that it was these decisions that cemented Simran’s position as an undeniable presence in Tamil and Telugu cinema. In fact, Simran reminisces how she dabbled multiple shifts in a day to act in films in different languages. “Full credit to my memory power,” says Simran, adding, “I’d be shooting a morning schedule in Chennai, and then fly to Hyderabad for a Telugu film in the evening. While Telugu cinema is more colourful, Tamil is more realistic, and it was important to understand the culture and pattern of the industries, and deliver my best.”

Simran also talks about the way the social media generation has embraced her work, especially the ones from the past. Simran fans used clips from her popular work in the 2000s to showcase examples of her calibre to a post-Gulmohar audience who asked, ‘Where was Simran all this while…’ With renewed vigour, the actor says, “Social media has got the whole world together. To see my old scenes being highlighted makes me happy. Also, the birth of OTT has left behind language barriers.”

In fact, even when her infectious candidness found its way into our conversations about her stellar filmography and illustrious co-stars, it was most pronounced when Simran spoke about the fascinating opportunities that are being developed thanks to the streaming platforms. “There is an evolution, and in fact, a revolution in the way women are being written in recent films. Audience will see what you show them. It is not just about the stars now. A lot of talents are getting the right platform with the advent of OTT. Even the experienced people who got lost in the world of cinema, are finding their way back to the light,” says Simran, who points out that it is the filmmakers’ conviction that will allow women to play author-backed roles. “When I did Kannathil Muththamittaal, Mani sir believed that I could play the role of a mother with three children even when I was simultaneously doing special dance numbers. Gautham Vasudev Menon believed that I could play both the pair and mother to Suriya in Vaaranam Aayiram.”
A striking feature of Simran’s journey, especially in Tamil cinema, was her ability to pick up the language. In fact, in one of her earliest interviews, she broke into the mellifluous Minnal Oru Kodi number from her 1997 film, VIP. This affinity for learning the language held her in good stead, and also won her a legion of fans. “Even now, I am learning Tamil, and I know there are grammar mistakes when I speak the language. But I think that is the beauty of my Tamil. It is this language that connected me to the people. I strongly believe I belong to Tamil Nadu. It is home,” says a proud Simran.
Now… let’s go back to that 1999 story. That pre-teen didn’t actually share screenspace with Simran, and Murphy’s law of averages caught up with him, and they found out he had no combination scenes with her. Of course, there were repercussions, some funny, some mean, and some really ugly. Cut to 2023, that pre-teen, now in his 30s, narrated this experience to his ‘co-star’ on a random Saturday evening. And when Simran herself said, ‘Wow! So sweet. You must keep this in the interview, Avinash…’ I couldn’t help but listen to the actor I finally shared screenspace with… after 24 years.

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