Mysskin’s Mugamoodi had all the makings of a dream debut for the then 22-year-old Pooja Hegde. The hero, Jiiva, had just delivered a blockbuster in Ko, and was fresh off the success of an even bigger hit, Nanban. Director Mysskin was also coming off the back of hits like Anjathey and Yuddham Sei. Ahead of the film’s release, the song, ‘Vaaya moodi summa iru da’, featuring Pooja and Jiiva, was all the rage. But then, when the film got released…
A decade since Pooja has come back with Beast too had all the makings of a blockbuster return. The film stars Vijay, one of India’s biggest superstars. Director Nelson had created a unique path for Tamil cinema with films like Kolamaavu Kokila and Doctor. Ahead of the film’s release, the song, ‘Arabic Kuthu’ has been all the rage.
Unlike her first brush in Tamil cinema, this time around, Pooja is not a newbie… She is already a star. And yet, she remembers feeling nervous about her return to the industry where it all began for her. “I owe a lot to this film industry that turned me into an actor. My biggest goal has always been to entertain people and I have a strong desire to gain the love of the audience. With Beast, I hope boxes get ticked,” says Pooja.
While Beast might be her first Tamil film in a decade, Pooja has already made her mark in Telugu and Hindi cinema. She has starred in films opposite the likes of Allu Arjun, Akshay Kumar, Jr NTR, Mahesh Babu, and Prabhas. The heroine is also gearing up for films with Chiranjeevi and Ranveer Singh, and that makes her one of the busiest pan-Indian actors right now. “It is a gift to be accepted by audiences across languages,” says a grateful Pooja. “When you speak someone’s language, you can connect with people; it makes them feel like you are their own.”
This relatability usually grows multifold when an actor does comedy. Pooja is no stranger to the comedy genre has been part of the Housefull series, one of Indian cinema’s most successful comic franchises. Beast is from director Nelson, who has already proved his credentials in this genre. “Comedy is a difficult genre. While Housefull had more slapstick humour, in Beast, it is the situations that create humour, because the actors are usually saying their dialogues with a straight face. To be successful in this genre, it is important that the writing and casting be on point,” says Pooja, who adds that the casting of Beast fascinated her. “I think Nelson sir casts people who are interesting. In fact, I asked him where he found those actors, and he shared that they are all his friends. They were all a lot of fun.”
And then, of course, there was the opportunity of working with Vijay. “It was high on my list of priorities. Also, the dark comedy space is a niche genre that very few people have the talent to handle. After watching Kolamaavu Kokila and Doctor, I decided that Nelson sir had it in him,” says this actor, who’s happy that her films have offered her different characters, including an entrepreneur, a standup comic, and an ill-fated doctor. “My acting process depends more on the role and writing rather than the language of the film. Initially, I thought certain reactions expected of me were a bit too dramatic, but then seeing some people actually behave that way made me realise that there is no one right way to react,” says Pooja.
While on reacting to situations, how did Pooja deal with her false starts? Admitting that it was a lonely ride back to the limelight after suffering setbacks in the form of Mugamoodi and Mohenjodaro, Pooja says, “My journey wasn’t about delivering one big hit and then, smooth sailing from then on. After the release of my first film, I didn’t get any work for a year. Then, I had a two-year contract for Mohenjodaro, and that meant that three years of my career were over without giving my career any great thrusts. It was a roller-coaster ride. All that kept me going was my family… They are my cheerleaders. I just remembered not to give up.”
Pooja hopes to do films that do better by their women. “Young girls should see women in cinema as role models, and I want to do films that make such girls feel represented,” says Pooja, who clarifies that in the money-minded world of cinema, heroines cannot expect to get author-backed roles in every film. “It is said that the harder we work, the luckier we get. So, I retain the hope that I will get stronger characters, but all I can do is work hard and be strong. The best way to battle negativity is to be successful.”