Ramya Nambessan has sustained in the film industry for over 20 years, since her debut as a child artist (Sayahnam, 2000). She very well understands the mechanics of how cinema functions in our country, and yet, this familiarity has not stopped from questioning its shortcomings. For instance, she does not shirk from speaking up about how a factor like aging affects women actors more than it does men. “But I do think it’s beginning to change, with a lot of heroines breaking these rules,” she says. There’s also the issue of stereotyping. “After Sethupathi, I thought directors will stereotype me as the ‘housewife’,” she says. After the successful Sethupathi, Ramya did a lot of cameos… “because they were all for my friends in the industry. Regardless of role length, I participate for the experience.”
Some other films, she says, were pushed back due to the pandemic. “In Indravadhu Oru Naal, I play a very interesting character and the way the character was written and portrayed felt authentic and real,” she says and expresses gratitude to such filmmakers who have surprised her with variety in characterisation. The biggest of the issues plaguing women actors is marital status parameter, it seems. “That is a problem that has to be surpassed. One of my friends lost a role recently because she got married,” she shares.
Actor Rio Raj, famous for his stint in Bigg Boss Tamil, is also, like Ramya, waiting for the ill-effects of the pandemic to die down. The actor, who is starring alongside her in their upcoming film, Plan Panni Pannanum, is turning hero for just the second time in his career. Quite familiar with the TV scene, the actor says that his preparation towards approaching a character has remained the same over the years. For instance, he still continues not to believe in forcing a balance between heroism and humour in a film. “The story takes priority over the hero image. In any case, I trust that the directors will take care of all that ‘positioning’ a hero needs,” he says.
Director Badri Venkatesh jumps into the conversation to clarify that it was he who pushed the heroism forward in this film. “There’s an introduction song and a romance song for Rio, and all that is the type of positioning he is referring to. But Plan Panni Pannanum is not just about Rio’s character. The story doesn’t revolve around him. In the first half, it revolves around Bala Saravanan’s character, and then it centres on Ramya Nambessan’s,” he adds.
While Rio is well-known for his humour, the film has a battalion of other actors known for their comedy, including Bala Saravanan, Munishkanth, MS Bhaskar, and Robo Shankar. But Badri believes that the film will really showcase Rio’s talent. “Just like SRK (Shah Rukh Khan) in the North and SK (Sivakarthikeyan) in the South, Rio is a good actor and entertainer. So, when you are working on such a film that maximises such talent, other similar artists come in.” Rio shares a word of advice that Sivakarthikeyan gave him. “He told me not to follow everything people tell me. He reminded me that I have come this far by myself by backing my instincts. I try to follow that,” says Rio.
Badri also banks a lot on his self-confidence that has not suffered despite delays plaguing both his upcoming film, Plan Panni Pannanum, and his previous outing, Semma Bodha Aagadhey. “A director’s job ends with bringing life to the product. For this film, we finished everything as we planned, but COVID had other plans it seems,” he says, smiling.
Expanding upon future plans, Badri shares that much like in his debut film, Baana Kaathadi, this film too will have five songs by composer Yuvan Shankar Raja. “I was particular about the placement of these songs. Moreover, I did not want to under-utilise Yuvan. I love that the album has a lot of variety,” he says.
I ask Badri about perhaps pushing the ‘commercial’ tag a bit much, citing a dialogue in the trailer of Plan Panni Pannanum in which Robo Shankar’s character is body shamed. Ramya, who says the insult in the film, is quick to agree that such dialogues might normalise body-shaming. “I refused to say that dialogue, and we did argue, but ultimately, it’s the director’s call,” says the actor, who shares to being at the receiving end of such insulting comments herself. “In the future too, if such a dialogue is given to me, I will argue with the director,” she says.
Badri interjects by pointing out that “it’s impossible to be politically right at all times.” In the film, this dialogue comes as a rebuke to a stalker played by Robo Shankar. “We are not politically correct in real life; why should cinema be any different? Ramya, as a person, can have her views about it, but this character isn’t Ramya. I think the insult is justified considering the situation these characters are in,” he says.
The film is not for purists, he adds. “Only diamond can cut diamond. If you stalk, we will body-shame you.” Ramya replies, “I think both are wrong.” Before the conversation goes any further, the team breaks into laughter. “This is a comedy entertainer and is in complete contrast to the seriousness of this discussion,” says Badri. “But if it really is wrong to write such a line and someone convinces me, I will correct this in my next film.”