The versatile Sripriya, who had taken a break from acting and filmmaking, is now back to doing both with a short film, Yasodha, that has received over two lakh views after its release almost a month ago. The actor-director is elated with the reception.
“The analytics show that people predominantly from the age group of 13-65 have watched it across the world. It feels great to make a product that is so loved by the present generation,” she says. Sripriya is also grateful that people still shower her with love. “A little girl told me she loves me. I was puzzled, given her age. She then said, “My amma shows your pictures often and asks me to be as bold as you are. This kind of love is overwhelming.”
Excerpts from the conversation:
This ‘boldness’ you mentioned in the anecdote, has always been linked to your identity.
I was 13 and doing my eighth grade when I entered the film industry. I did not want to become an actor and initially, I felt forced. You become quiet when you feel hurt. I spoke to few people on the sets. People thought I looked bold and so, I got such roles. After a point, I embraced that image to keep the bad people at bay. It acted as an invisible fence.
I read that you were still offered a film like Moondram Pirai, a role quite in contrast to your other roles. Before Moondram Pirai was offered to me, I had done the role of a similar mentally ill character in Ullathil Kuzhanthaiyadi, directed by KS Gopalakrishnan sir. That film didn’t do well. Back then if an actor played similar roles in two films, the industry would quickly stereotype them. I was skeptical about getting branded a ‘loosu heroine’ and also, as I was doing many films simultaneously, there was some communication with Balu Mahendra sir. I am happy Sridevi got the offer and she was stunning. All of us expected her to bag the National Award, but Kamal stole the show with that climax.
You have largely played strong-willed characters in films, be it in an urban film like Billa or a rural drama like Aatukara Alamelu. You still did something different with each of them; how did you manage this?
I am a director’s actor. Each filmmaker had a unique style and I simply surrendered myself to them to bring the best out of me. For instance, all my projects with Devar films demanded that I act with an animal. So I would train with it for a couple of months to get into the skin of the character.
After a career spanning almost five decades in cinema, is there anything you would alter about your journey?
I have never regretted anything in life. If someone feels I haven’t got my due recognition, I am thankful to them, but I am happy with whatever life has given me.
What initiated the transition from a star to a writer-director?
A few years into cinema, I realised that the director is the true commander, though the producer invests money. I developed a craze for that role and wanted to be one. I educated myself in every way possible
and learnt a lot from other filmmakers. Strangely, I learned more dont’s than do’s from them. It was only after directing my first film that I realised that it is a job that never stops, and without support from the family, it’s impossible for a woman to be a filmmaker. Though I was fortunate to have a supporting family, my interests kept changing. That’s why I haven’t made many films.
The year 2014 was a very productive one for you. You helmed remakes like Drushyam and Malini 22 Palayamkottai and co-produced Papanasam.
To be honest, I can’t take the credit for that. Everything just fell into place. My husband Rajkumar Sethupathy bought the rights of Drishyam in all languages even before seeing the film, as he was friends with the makers. In Tamil, we had plans of making it with Rajini sir initially, but then, most of the people in our team felt Kamal sir would be a perfect fit, and luckily, he accepted it without a second thought. I wasn’t able to direct Papanasam in Tamil as Jeethu Joseph had already made the request. So I made the Telugu version with Venkatesh and it became a huge hit there too.
Tell us about your interest in making a short film like Yasodha, which, as we understand, you have directed from your home?
I wanted to show the world that a virus cannot kill cinema. The biggest challenge was the lockdown and the social distancing rules. So we shot all our footage individually from our homes with the help of our children and stitched them together at the end. I wrote all the shot divisions and camera angles along with the script and cast artistes, who had a family member with film knowledge, so they would get support. The idea for the film sprang during a phone conversation with Kameela Nasser. I finished the script within two days and approached Nasser sir for the role. He readily accepted. “If such digital filmmaking is going to be the future, I want to be a part of it,” he said.
You have always been open to exploring new avenues. You were one of the first stars to act in and make content for the small screen.
I wasn’t born in a royal family to be image-conscious. I never saw the small screen as a downward step. Radikaa is the biggest icon of South Indian television now; she made her TV debut under my direction in Viduthalai. Interestingly, Chinna Papa Periya Papa, which showcased my fun side to the world, was produced by Radikaa. There is no limit for experiments in art. A true artiste can touch the soul of people regardless of the screen size.