Sriya Reddy: Jayalalithaa was my inspiration to play Kottravai

The actor talks along with Bharath and Dharsha Gupta, about their web series Thalaimai Seyalagam, working with director Vasanthabalan, their script choices, views on politics and more
Sriya Reddy: Jayalalithaa was my inspiration to play Kottravai

Everything in life always comes full circle. Sometimes, it brings one to a familiar place just to show their personal growth. Actors Sriya Reddy and Bharath stand as an example of this, as they reunite with director Vasanthabalan after 18 years since Veyil, for his recently released political thriller series Thalaimai Seyalagam. Reminiscing the early days of her career and her upward graph, Sriya recalls, “Veyil and Kanchivaram were some of my first Tamil films. It was only after that I went on to do commercially viable films like Thimiru.”

The series, which stars Kishore in the lead as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Arunachalam, marks the director’s OTT debut. Bharath, who has been acquainted with Vasanthabalan for almost two decades, says that filmmakers like him strongly believe in a story and the process that goes behind it, “There are a few directors who don’t work for money and Vasanthabalan belongs to that category. I have worked with director Sasi in Ainthu Ainthu Ainthu (2013) and he too is the same,” he says.

Interestingly, Bharath expressed his shock when Vasanthabalan revealed that he was making a web series. “He briefed me about the story and my character, but I was wondering how he would do a series as he is well-versed in feature films. Yet, when he signs a project, I trust him completely as I know the quality of his work,” he shares. Adding on to it, Sriya says, “He connects his soul to his characters and scripts. It is the same reason why we are talking about Veyil even after all these years.”

Actor Dharsha Gupta, who plays Bharath’s romantic interest as a fellow cop in the series, reveals that her admiration for the director and the actors made her say yes to the project. “I have watched Vasanthabalan’s Angadi Theru almost ten times. Similarly, I admire Sriya’s performance in Thimiru and Suzhal: The Vortex. I didn't even ask for my part in the series and accepted it right away as soon as I got the opportunity,” she says.  Dharsha describes her maiden experience of wearing the police uniform as being equal parts memorable and funny as she struggled to hold a gun. “It was so heavy. I had to build my stamina just for that,” she laughs.

In contrast, Bharath has played a cop in multiple films beginning with Kaalidas (2019). In Thalaimai Seyalagam, he essays the role of DCP Manikandan who investigates the murder of a police officer. “Manikandan is an emotionally driven cop who also probes CM Arunachalam’s (Kishore) corruption charges. He holds onto his conscience and empathy as well,” says Bharath who observes that cop roles have taken a significant shift from being depicted as loud and over-the-top. “Earlier, they would always be portrayed as someone who would roam around with a gun. But the tides have changed as filmmakers are showcasing cops to be relaxed and also vulnerable to their feelings,” he adds. 

Over the years, Sriya Reddy has chosen her projects meticulously. Her previous web series Suzhal had the actor donning a complex role as a mother and as a police inspector while her character in Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire too was cut from a similar cloth. As a journalist and politician, who rises in the ranks against male chauvinism and misogyny, Kottravai in Thalaimai Seyalagam too imbues this within herself. Sriya admits that she has made deliberate efforts to choose such characters. “If my heart inclines to a particular role, I will choose to perform it. Money and fame don’t drive me. It is a particular character that I believe in. I am not a great performer as people say. It takes me a lot of physical and emotional effort to play a role. Both Suzhal and Salaar have emotionally drained me and it has taken me years to get out of the roles,” she elucidates, adding that she prefers challenging and complex roles, especially for female characters.

“Men have had their share and it is time for women to rule,” she remarks. “I asked director Prashanth Neel, ‘I know you have Prabhas and Prithviraj in Salaar. What am I doing there?’ If we don’t ask these pertinent questions, we will still be put in a mould. We don’t need to fight for it, we just need to ask,” Sriya emphasises.

For Bharath, whose career was cemented on family dramas like Em Magan, and emotional films like Kaadhal, Pattiyal, and Kanden Kadhalai, admits that he failed while trying to experiment with a few films. “Simba was purely an experimental film that was based on cannabis. It was understood by only a sect of the audience. As an actor, I was unperturbed by this as it is normal to have your experiments sometimes fail,” he says. As an actor who is keen on evolving and adapting to changing times, Bharath has worked in two diametrically opposite web series — Time Enna Boss and Story of Things, prior to Thalaimai Seyalagam. “Only in the OTT format can we experiment with roles such as me having a relationship with a weighing machine. Actors were the most blessed with theatrical movies and streaming content diversified as there will always be work throughout the year,” he notes.

Meanwhile, Dharsha notes that she too is awaiting a good script to showcase herself as an able performer rather than being boxed into a particular role or genre. “In my first movie Rudra Thandavam, I played a mother and then a ghost in Oh My Ghost. Going forward, I want to show myself in a different light.”

It is challenging to show journalists and politicians on similar lines. Sriya, who understands this, says, “Journalists like Barkha Dutt aren’t appreciated by politicians. We cannot merge them together. But for my role as Kottravai, I drew inspiration from former CM Jayalalithaa and current West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. I looked up to Jayalalithaa. Having grown up watching her, it was difficult to portray my role like her in a few scenes.”

With the show strongly rooted in core politics, the trio believe that unconsciously, people are involved in it even if they choose to remain apolitical. “We all are working towards improving our society. When we go to vote, that is the biggest responsibility that we are showing towards the country,” says Sriya. Echoing similar thoughts, Bharath shares that there is no necessity to be directly involved in politics — A stark contrast to what the show stands for. “For example, the road in front of my house wasn’t laid properly. I fought to get it fixed by going directly to the corporation office and ensuring that it was done. Similarly, we can still look around us, voice out injustices and see what we can change,” he adds. In politics, Bharath remarks, “The feeling of duty and responsibility should come from within.”

Thalaimai Seyalagam is now streaming on Zee5.

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