Mani Ratnam’s movies are intense but they have their fair share of light moments too… one of the reasons why we look forward to watching them! Awaiting the release of Kaatru Veliyidai, his heroines Shraddha Srinath and Aditi Rao Hydari can’t stop talking about the maverick filmmaker. Excerpts follow: What’s the best thing about being a part of Mani Ratnam’s film?
Aditi:They say, when you want something bad enough, the universe helps you get it. I have always wanted to act in his directorial since my childhood. I am his die-hard fan. It was a dream come true! He's extremely committed to his craft. He’s not a director, but a magician, who gives more than 100%. When you work with him, you tend to love cinema. He gives out positive vibes all the time. All his protagonists are real characters. They sing and act naturally. Everything he shows on screen will be natural. It’s difficult to even express in words how the experience has been. I developed a bond with him. I can’t wait to do another film with him.
Shraddha: He’s prolific. I still remember my first shot with him. I just wanted to impress him. I did everything possible to deliver more than what he had expected. I was really tense and conscious in the beginning. Then I got used to his style of work. How’s Mani Ratnam on the sets?
Aditi: He’s a disciplinarian and an ideal teacher for any actor. He gives his actors space and time to learn. When I get to work with such a director, what more can I ask for? Shooting for Kaatru Veliyidai is an experience by itself. We have completed filming, and I miss everybody. I feel like calling Mani Ratnam right now. I want to ask him if I can have another round of schedule. (Winks) Shraddha: When I met him, I was half curious and half anxious. I was looking at him in total awe because I never thought this could happen pretty early in my career.
It took me some time to settle down. On day one, we had formal conversations, and then he asked me about the Kannada films I was doing. He’s generally chilled out, but there were moments he lost his temper (smiles). I believe that’s human nature, and these things make Mani Ratnam what he is. Tell us about your co-stars...
Aditi: I’ve met Shraddha once or twice. She’s great to be with. Also, Karthi is down-to-earth and a friendly person.
Shraddha: Aditi and I don’t have many combination scenes. We haven’t met each o t h e r on the sets many times. Once I saw her during breakfast. It was our ‘free day’. She’s a thorough professional. I did not feel like being in the presence of a top Bollywood artiste. She was like one of us. On the other hand, I got to spend more time with Karthi. We were talking about a lot of things. What can you tell us about Kaatru Veliyidai?
Aditi: I can’t talk anything about the film. Mani Ratnam is the right person to ask. We are made to talk about it so much that the spark of the film is lost. I’ll let my work do the talking.
Shraddha: I play a brigadier’s daughter. The character is close to my heart as my father is a colonel in the army. What do Tamil films mean to you? Aditi: Films mean everything to me. Language doesn’t matter at all. I never categorise films by language. The whole package is beautiful. When you act well, people start liking you and even go to the extent of confusing you with your characters. Cinema is cinema. After all, they’re the directors' medium.
We actors are just tools of the directors’ vision. Mani Ratnam'’ stories, in particular, are universal. You don’t have to understand Tamil to watch his films. I watched Karthi’s Paruthiveeran (2007), and I liked it. I have watched many Tamil films without subtitles, and I have understood them. To me, the high is to work with good directors. I value their vision and trust them completely. Cinema is about narrating stories in a visually-appealing fashion. Shraddha: Officially, I haven’t had any release in Tamil, but the kind of love I get from everybody is amazing. It adds to the amount of responsibility. The first Tamil film I signed was Richie opposite Nivin Pauly, which is yet to be released. I play a journalist in it. Already, I have Vikram Vedha and Ivan Thanthiran (opposite Gautham Karthik) in my kitty. Every film has been a different experience.
In Vikram Vedha, I play Madhavan’s wife and in Ivan Thanthiran, I play an engineering student. I am not trying to be choosy, but I choose films that are different. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Aditi: I have learnt to be non-judgmental. To succeed in any field, you need to be open about choices and what you’re doing. Until you pursue them, you'd never know if it’s your calling or not. I want to be like a kid on the sets brimming with energy. I’d never allow myself to be typecast. I want to do different characters. Be it any project, I put my heart and soul into it.
Shraddha: I believe I am an unconventional heroine — from looks to the choice of films, etc. Many say that I have an actor’s face, instead of a heroine’s. I want to balance Content-oriented and fun scripts-based cinema. On what basis you choose films?
Aditi: Director and the script are most important. I love to be in front of the camera. Acting comes naturally to me. I am a drama queen. I can do anything when the camera is on. I am fearless. Knowingly or unknowingly, when the camera is on, I feel completely in that moment. When director and actors share the same vision, it becomes easy.
Shraddha: It’s hard to reject a film. I am not saying I'd want to be a part of only intelligent cinema, but I have set standards for myself and I go by it. There are certain aspects that I look into when I accept films. For instance, if there is a big star, I am tempted to sign it. Above all, the script has to be convincing. What keeps you occupied when you aren’t shooting for films?
Aditi: I love dancing. I am a student of Leela Samson. I started dancing when I was five. I am not a professional dancer. Once a dancer, always a dancer, I guess. I dance whenever I feel like.
Shraddha: I am home-bound when I am not shooting. How good is your Tamil?
Aditi: I understand the language a little, but I cannot speak it fluently. I didn’t know Tamil when I signed Kaatru Veliyidai. Towards the end, it got better.
Shraddha: It’s decent. Trust me! Favourite director(s)?
Aditi: Mani Ratnam! Mani Ratnam!
Mani Ratnam. He comes first any day. (Pauses) I like Vetrimaaran, too.
Shraddha: I can’t pick names. Everybody is talented. But if you insist, I’d go with Gautham Menon.