It has been ten years since Priya Anand made her debut in Vamanan. Her perspective on cinema, she says, has evolved to a secure place.
“When I stepped in, just like everyone, cinema was about songs, working with big heroes, etc. But as life and movies started happening, my perspective on what kind of cinema I wanted to be part of changed, especially after English Vinglish,” she says, as we settle in to talk about LKG, her upcoming release.
She plays a ‘political coach’ to RJ Balaji and says that the film is educational, and thus, different from the other political films in Tamil. “It shows you the ‘behind the scenes’ in politics. Every speech or viral video we see will reach its target audience, and make them think,” she assures.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Despite working with big stars in other languages, you have never shied away from working with relatively newer talent.
I have never judged someone for being comedy actors or coming from television. At the same time, I don’t get overawed about working with the likes of Mohanlal and Prithviraj. Some of my best experiences have been with new talent, and some of the biggest projects I’ve been part of have turned out to be disappointments. Even in life, it is never possible to judge people. Everyone in the industry seems to be in a rat race, and I don’t want to be part of it.
In essence, I am not insecure — maybe because of my upbringing or my personality. I am not driven by money and don’t need the validation of working with big stars. Without working with a big star, I have managed to get people liking me. I take that as a big compliment. I don’t base any decision on being visible. I didn’t have a background or even family in Chennai, at the start. I have been fortunate to have memorable songs like Edho Seigirai or Oru Devathai from Vaamanan. They have kept me in audiences’ hearts all the time.
Tell us about your role of a political coach in LKG.
RJ Balaji has written a very smart female character and I am so grateful for it. I represent an everyday girl who is educated and has values, but her focus isn’t just her personal life. There are several films in which romance is added as an afterthought, and makes people wonder why it was written in the first place. Here, I am an integral part of LKG’s (RJ Balaji’s character) journey. My character teaches him how to become a politician.
I don’t know much about politics and I am not very interested in it as well. I didn’t know whom most of my dialogues referred to. There have been times where I have looked at the dialogue and sheet and asked, “Ipdilam pesalama, paravallaya?” It did make me nervous. I clarified at the press meet that I have no connection to the lines I have spoken in the film. (laughs)
You have been quite choosy in picking roles. Any regrets?
Everyone has regrets. The Priya Anand today is very different from who she was even a year back. Regardless of ups and downs, I have always lived with respect and held on to my values. I haven’t compromised on who I am as a person and I think that’s very important. My biggest gift in life is my family because they raised me to be myself and take my own decisions. With time, you learn, and as you know more, you do better. I am not here to say ‘I can only work as a heroine for five years and hence, I want to finish all kind of roles’. There have been films which I planned and that didn’t work, but that is okay. Mostly, it has been a lack of desperation. I don’t feel the pressure.
What is the most interesting insight you’d say you gained from LKG?
Not after LKG, but in general, I don’t like idol-worship. Say, for an example, when an actor keeps essaying ‘chamathu ponnu’ roles or strong roles, people assume she is the same way in real life. Everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes. It is just that with some people, it comes out and some people hide it better. It is something I wish everyone kept in the back of their minds.
You have a very cosmopolitan image from your films. Has that ever seemed like a restriction?
I am a Tamizh ponnu from Mayavaram. But somehow I haven’t gotten to play rooted characters here. However, I have played an authentic Punjabi girl in Hindi. I have played such roles in Telugu, Kannada and in Malayalam cinema (in which I was part of a period film called Kayankulam Kochunni). Here, it seems they’d rather sign up a fair Bollywood girl and apply dark make-up to make her look like a Tamil girl. But that’s up to them; it’s their vision and choice.
Your next film is with Dileep. In Hollywood and Bollywood, artists have chosen not to work with people who have been tainted in the MeToo movement. Where do you stand on the ‘separating art from the artist’ debate?
With the MeToo movement, unfortunately, there is only victim shaming that is happening. We have seen and admired these people for years. When we hear something negative about them, just because they have been achievers in their fields, it doesn’t always mean that they didn’t do it. But I also believe in ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
It’s tricky. It is sad that to see the online abuse that the women who came forward are facing. Attacking women is not right. We say MeToo movement, but what’s next? Where is the accountability of the unions? How do we go about it? These are things we need to ponder about. There are people who prey upon women and also women who are ready to do anything to become big. Everyone seems to want immediate validation. It becomes a vicious cycle. There needs to be a system in place.