It’s been over a year since Tamannaah Bhatia first met her Himmatwala director Sajid Khan. And, she is still trying to get Sajid to watch her work in Tamil and Telugu films. “Vasuji (Bhagnani, producer) had showed my pictures to Sajid. He was very clear that he wanted a south Indian actress. And I was offered the film within 15 minutes of meeting him,” recalls Tamannaah. When she started shooting the remake of the 1983 drama, Tamannaah tried to get Sajid to watch at least a song or two that the actress has been a part of, but “he refused again”. “He didn’t want to think of me in any other role but as Rekha of his dream film.
Sajid Khan’s obsession with Himmatwala is well documented but his heroine, though a self-confessed Sridevi fan, had never seen the film before the remake was offered to her. “The original Himmatwala released before I was born, so I hadn’t seen it but I loved Sridevi in films like Chaalbaaz and Lamhe. I saw Himmatwala just before we started shooting and she is fabulous as always,” says the 23-year-old. Is she prepared for all the comparisons to Sridevi that she will be subjected to? “I am, though I don’t understand why anyone would compare me to her. To begin with, I am not copying her. This film is not a spoof. Also, there will always be only one Sridevi in Bollywood. She is a living legend,” Tamannaah says earnestly.
While Sajid has updated his film and made the necessary changes to Ravi, the character played by Ajay Devgn, Tammannah’s Rekha is similar to the 1983 film. But the actress had no doubts about stepping into Sridevi’s dancing shoes. “This Himmatwala is very different from the original. And, who would ever have doubts about a film that is directed by Sajid Khan, produced by Vashu Bhagnani. This is a dream launch.”
Though Tammannah would like to think of Himmatwala as her Bollywood launch, her first Hindi film was the 2005 release Chand Sa Roshan Chehra that tanked without a trace. The same year, Tammannah had her first Telugu release Sri. But it was with Happy Days in Telugu and Kalloori in Tamil that the actress make her mark in both the film industries. But the actress doesn’t see southern films as a stepping stone into Bollywood. “I think regional cinema is the most obvious place for Bollywood filmmakers to look for fresh talent. When they pick a southern actress, they get a ‘fresh’ face with lots of experience and a fan base of her own. So, it might seem like so many of us are here now but it’s only natural,” is how she explains the sudden influx of her southern contemporaries like Asin and Ileana D’Cruz to Bollywood.
Unlike Asin or Ileana, Tamannaah is planning to move to Mumbai to focus on Bollywood. “I am actually from Mumbai. I did my schooling from Maneckji Cooper in Juhu which incidentally was also Sajid’s school. When we started shooting, we realised that I was in the same house as him in school though obviously I was way junior to him. As for whether I will now only do films in Bollywood and not Tamil and Telugu, I don’t think so. I would like to work in any language I get a challenging role in.”
While Tamannaah is, obviously, hoping that her second introduction in Bollywood is successful, she wants to work on her own terms. So, no kissing on screen or bikinis for this petite actress. “I haven’t felt the need to do so yet and I hope that I don’t need to in the future as well.” Regardless of her dos and don’ts list, there is a lot of buzz about Tamannaah. Even before Himmatwala releases, she has already signed her next Bollywood film with Akshay Kumar. “I would be stupid to not do a film that has a superstar headlining it. Apart from the fact that the chances of such a film being seen by a lot of people, one also gets to learn a lot, working with such seasoned actors. It’s a win-win.”