A little over 40 years ago, actor Sripriya faced the arc lights for the first time as a teenager. With Murugan Katiya Vazhi followed by Aval Oru Thodar Kathai, she took tiny steps into the world of filmdom, only to become one of the most prolific actors of the Seventies and Eighties.
Gradually wielding the megaphone with TV serials and later films, today as she marks her 40th year in the film industry, Sripriya says she couldn’t have found a better way to celebrate it than making a film like Malini 22 Palayamkottai.
“The film is a way for me to register my anger against the ill-treatment meted out to women in society,” she says. The bilingual film (Tamil and Telugu) will have Nithya Menen and Krish J Sathar in key roles. A remake of the Malayalam flick 22 Female Kottayam by Aashiq Abu, it raises topics of rape and revenge.
Acknowledging the timing of the film to be right and relevant in the Indian context, the actor-filmmaker adds that she is surprised at the questions people have asked about the venture. “No one asked Aaashiq Abu why he showed the man as a villain in his film. Ever since the conception of films, a male actor has been playing the villain. So, the issue raised in the film is a bit screwy if a woman director takes it up, but perfectly acceptable if it is a male director,” she wonders.
Ruing the gender bias towards women directors, Sripriya says people should stop analysing a film on the basis of whether a male or a female directed it. “That change in approach will definitely encourage more women to take up filmmaking,” she says.
The filmmaker, however, admits that as with everything else, it is a man’s world in the film industry. “A female actor isn’t affected a bit when a film flops. For the longest time, female leads were there to support the male lead. If the heroine during Bhagavathar’s times stood and gave reactions standing by the side, during my days as heroine, we did the same in some exotic locale like Ooty. Probably K Balachander sir was the only one who came up with a number of female-oriented films,” she says. But, in my case it has always been the role that has mattered to me the most,” she quickly adds.
Calling her co-stars Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth a big source of inspiration, Sripriya says that she has learnt a lot from both. “We all walked the path at the same time. In fact, I always thought if Kamal could pen poems, why can’t I?” she says.
A constant learner, it was hard work even after getting the big break in the film industry. “I could barely read or write Tamil, despite being a Tamilian. But, with help for dialogues, I ensured that I did my scenes in one take,” she adds.
The actor who has also starred in some of the path-breaking films like Aval Appadithaan and commercial hits like Billa, chose to walk away when she thought it was time. “I was only sure that I wouldn’t encounter a situation when I was asked to leave. It would entirely be my call,” she says.
Having crossed several milestones in her career, her goals have changed to accommodate some new thinking. “In the first 30 years of my career, it was more about making a name to live, to survive; now, it is about making a name to leave behind,” she adds.
So, what inspires her as a filmmaker? “I am a fan of directors Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra and Mani Ratnam. I regret missing out on Moonram Pirai, when the role was initially offered to me,” she says.