As I wait in the swanky banquet hall of a five-star hotel for this conversation with Sai Pallavi, the actor is just getting done with a previous video interaction. Sporting a simple white shirt-blue jeans look, Sai Pallavi finishes exchanging pleasantries and steps away from the bright studio lights. Taking the chair in front of me, she plonks her foot on the chair and gets comfortable. “Are you aware of your stardom, Sai Pallavi?” I begin. She responds with an effervescent smile.
“I am surrounded by people who don’t think I am fancy. I am the same Pallavi in their eyes. I am always treated as the person I was before my film career took off. So, it never gets to my head. Of course, I am overwhelmed by the audience’s love, but I can never allow it to make me feel extra special about myself,” says the actor, who is on a whirlwind promotional tour for her upcoming film, Gargi, which will be released in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.
The actor clearly revels in balancing films across languages, considering how her career kickstarted in Malayalam cinema, and how she has now made Tamil and Telugu her home as well. Not calling it a strategic move, Sai Pallavi assures that her priority has always been picking the right script irrespective of the language the film belongs to. “My journey into movies has been magical, and I believe that I am here for a reason. There are some stories that have to be told through me, and those movies will happen. I believe I need a movie as much as it needs me. Also, if I start strategising every move, it will take away the joy of acting. In my head, I really haven’t segregated my audience. It is the scripts that take me to places,” shares the Virata Parvam actor, who feels that Gautham Ramachandran’s Gargi is bringing her back to Tamil cinema in particular. “The concept of this film is something everyone can relate to. It is a film that traces the struggles of a woman who isn’t certain where her life is taking her.”
Complex roles are a bit of a forte for Sai Pallavi. Just like in Gargi, her recent releases Virata Parvam and Shyam Singha Roy, or her roles in Love Story and Or Iravu (Paava Kathaigal) show a certain preference for intense characters-an intensity that impacts her real persona apparently. “I feel that heaviness after completing the shooting. Of course, over time, it goes away, but I don’t consciously push that character out. I give space for the character to exit at her own pace. If getting into the character takes time, so does getting out,” says the actor with her trademark smile.
Being Sai Pallavi
It reminds me of all the times when her initial happiness in a film is a precursor for impending doom. Sai Pallavi laughs and responds, “I do have a thing for such intense roles, and since I choose films I like to watch, I seem to have picked up on a lot of such films. But now, I have a craving for happy films, considering that my type of cinema makes me feel heavy and depressed even when I am not shooting. I want to feel happy for a while, when I’m acting.”
These are instincts that govern Sai Pallavi’s choices. This is why she prefers reading scripts over listening to long narrations. “It’s better when I read because I can take time to build that world in my head. Narrations sometimes end up being too fast for me, and I fear that I might miss out on some points. When I was first envisioning Gargi, I only saw names for the other roles. Now, with the cast in place, Gargi has got better,” says Sai Pallavi, who shares that her process includes conversations with the filmmakers about her role, especially if the character she plays does not align with her personality.
“Who am I to judge somebody else? My upbringing shaped the person that I am. Similarly, the character that is offered to me would have gone through many struggles. I like to know how that person was shaped. When a character is unique and is put forth in an organic way, it becomes convincing. That credit goes to the filmmaker and writer. I am lucky to play such unique heroine roles", the actress says.
Being Sai Pallavi is a responsibility too, considering that the success of her films paves the way for similar attempts by other filmmakers and actors. Despite being the face of most of her films, Sai Pallavi is clear that she won’t let this ‘responsibility’ affect her choice of films. “I pick films that connect to me on some level. I read a script and react to it like an average viewer will. Just like how filmmakers can’t sit down with the audience to convince them of their ideologies, I don’t accept a film that doesn’t immediately connect with me,” reaffirms Sai Pallavi.
Her seven-year-old career has shown us a Sai Pallavi who doesn’t back down from making strong choices and expressing strong opinions. Despite facing some stiff criticism for some recent opinions, she isn’t fazed. “I only spoke what I believed in. If my opinions hurt anyone, I’m always happy to apologise. All of us are works in progress. But, when I share my opinion, it is a personal expression. It is not to side with somebody or divide people…” she clarifies and signs off with another characteristically strong opinion. “You see, I don’t ever want to hold back from saying anything. If the topic is something I am unaware of, I prefer to remain silent. However, when I put forth an opinion, I can assure you that I have given it enough thought.”