If you ever catch me daydreaming, please don’t wake me up.’ That may be Telugu-Tamil actor Ritu Varma’s T-shirt graffiti, but Varma’s dreams and daydreams seem to be manifesting beautifully. She has had three Telugu film releases—two directly on OTT (Ninnila Ninnila and Tuck Jagadish) earlier this year and one in the theatres (Varudu Kaavalenu) in November. Another—Tamil language spy thriller Dhruva Natchathiram—is lined up with superstar Vikram. But “sleep well, dream big” is her credo for the time being.
Varma, 31, has been on the marquee for six years, making a splash with her 2016 Telugu blockbuster Pelli Choopulu, opposite actor Vijay Deverakonda, directed by Tharun Bhascker. The film grossed 30 times its budget, winning two National Film Awards for Best Telugu Film and Best Screenplay, two Filmfare Awards, and three SIIMA Awards. Her role as an explicitly ambitious girl, who states the same to her prospective groom, earned her the label of a strong, inspiring person.
“I set the tone playing the role of a girl who conceives a food truck business in the city. I am lucky to have got inspiring, yet relatable role models in my movies,” says the North Indian girl born in Hyderabad who calls herself a ‘pakka’ Hyderabadi. In Tuck Jagadish, she plays mandal revenue officer Varalakshmi who takes on the baddies in the government. In Varudu Kavalenu, she is Bhoomi, an eco-friendly startup entrepreneur. “I may have been an accidental actor who strayed into cinema with a short film called Anukokunda made by my friends. However, I have followed the commonsensical approach of taking up roles that personally inspire me. That seems to have paid off,” says Varma. She played a con artist masquerading as a beautician opposite Dulquer Salman, in Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal in Tamil.
Right now, Varma can’t stop talking about the upcoming Dhruva Natchathiram, helmed by every actor’s dream filmmaker Gautam Menon. “Growing up watching their movies and now starring in those very movies is a highpoint in every actor’s dream,” says the alumna of Malla Reddy Engineering College, Hyderabad. The actor, who confesses that she is not cut out for abstract nine-to-five jobs, says she would have loved to try out gaming or graphic designing as an alternative career.
She thinks having an academic degree makes actors feel less desperate and less depressed if things don’t work out. “Although I have been lucky in my career, I did experience a lull a few years ago. But I could handle it as I felt that I had alternatives if I couldn’t make it big,” she admits. She is also one of the few girls from Hyderabad who landed roles in Telugu films, debunking the myth that Telugu filmmakers never cast local girls. “Many assume I am from Mumbai because of my surname. Luckily, I have Pelli Choopulu which was shot in sync-sound and I had to dub for my role. That is proof that I am a local girl who speaks Telugu and has bagged roles on her own merit,” she says.
Varma is of the opinion that the opening up of OTTs and video-sharing platforms has been a game-changer for aspiring actors. “Right now is a great time to stay engaged, stay in circulation, and showcase your talent with social media and YouTube series. Opportunities should be your target, not the size of the screen,” she says.
Does she feel that movie-allied activities such as photoshoots and red carpet walks fetch jobs? “For me, being in front of the camera and playing the roles is what I like to focus on. But if you need to attend a pre-release event, I guess that’s not bad. Actually, photoshoots and red carpet looks help me show a different persona in me.” A perfect dream run!
✥ Oke Okka Jeevitham, a bilingual with Sharawanand
Release: Feb 2022
✥ A travel-based yet-to-be-titled Tamil movie with Ashok Selvan, directed by debutant Karthik
Release*: June 2022
✥ Two anthologies in Telugu and Tamil
Release*: June 2022