Little will indeed prepare you for an interaction with a star in a world filled with perceptions. Accessible, inaccessible, humble, arrogant, nice, rude. And the list goes on. But Anushka Shetty disarms you of your notions within minutes of talking to her, with a soft disposition that is extremely rare to come across. Delivering some free-flowing yet markedly composed responses, that truly made this interview feel like a chat, the seasoned actor spoke to Cinema Express about her latest release Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty (MSMP), her takeaways from 18 years in the biz, reflections on human nature, and more.
You were last seen in the Prime Original film Nishabdam back in 2020, so the audience will be seeing you onscreen after a long time. How have the last few years been like, with the pandemic and your sabbatical?
I took a break after Bhaagmathie in 2018 for personal reasons. I agreed to do Nishabdam because the production house told me that this would be shot and wrapped up in a couple of months. It was initially supposed to be a silent film, which really got me to step out of my comfort zone. But for the most part, I was away from the arclights, and got this much-needed break. For the last year and half, I have been listening to scripts and slowly signing projects.
MSMP is a romantic comedy, it feels like you have attempted something in this space way back in 2015 with Size Zero/ Inji Iduppazhagi...
Well, if you are talking about comedy, yes there is comedy in both these films. Anvitha Ravali Shetty, my character from MSMP is the antithesis of Size Zero’s Soundarya. While Soundarya was a very optimistic character, someone who believed in romance and the whole concept of being swept away by some Prince Charming, Anvitha does not believe in marriage at all. That said, I feel our director has really presented this film with a lot of lightness and warmth.
Could you speak a bit more about your character and how this film came your way?
Mahesh garu, our director, and I had a common friend, Vinay garu. He also knew the production house and somehow got all of us together. This was back in 2019. I really liked the entire story and not just my character. It isn’t often that everybody connects to a story but that is what happened here. There were some delays owing to the pandemic but one thing lead to another, and here we are.
You have worked with some of the biggest filmmakers throughout your career, be it SS Rajamouli, Gunasekhar or Kodi Ramakrishna. What is your headspace like when you are working with someone newer or less established?
When we first met Mahesh garu, we were all floored by his vision. It started from there. At the end of the day, I am a director’s actor. As much as possible, I like to mould myself into a director’s vision. He is a very easy person to work with and he knows what he wants exactly, so it was all smooth sailing.
The vision you referred to earlier, is it pertaining specifically to the characters…
When I say vision, I generally mean the story. When people come to me to narrate a story, I really
prefer to listen to the whole story, like an audience. As a film’s key collaborator, you also become its first audience.
The story comes first, then the characters.
Your character Anvitha does not want to get married. You are not married in real life as well. Did these parallels between real and reel life impact the performance?
Unlike Anvitha, I genuinely believe in marriage and family. But I am also of the belief that marriage must happen to you organically, and it is not something you can plan like a corporate event. We do tend to perceive our lives in strictly black-and-white terms even if there is a lot of grey. Maybe the greys Anvitha carries, I also carry. Other than that, there are no commonalities whatsoever on the marriage front.
A lot of the roles you are known
for were powerful but also very
traditional. MSMP seems to be more progressive in comparison, especially in terms of the character being career-oriented, not into marriage or children just for the sake of it, etc...
Well, more than progressive, I would say my character has a strong value system. She is very particular about her work. There are certain reasons about why she does not want marriage, which people will know when they see the film. And again, people do not live in these mutually exclusive black or white, traditional or progressive binaries. When I say grey, I don’t necessarily mean it in a bad way. Our decisions are shaped by systems and thought processes more personal and complex than what one otherwise imagines them to be like.
You have been headlining films for a very long time, since Arundhati. Now, it has become more common for a female actor to be the film’s principal protagonist. What was this like back then?
Arundhati was the fourth film I signed, and this happened while I was working in Vikramarkudu. I was very clueless and was guided throughout by director Kodi Ramakrishna garu and producer Shyam Prasad garu. It was the chance they took on me that set the course for all the strong roles that came my way later. So, to answer your question, I never believed that I was headlining anything. There are so many people involved in making a film. An actor is just one part of it. And more than me getting credit for playing a strong female protagonist, we must credit the writers who have written such characters, the directors who shaped them and the producers who took a gamble and invested money in such films.
But then, you did become a huge star along the way. You became the person an entire film could rely on, eventually.
I don’t believe I can support the entire film. A film wouldn’t work now just because I have put in my efforts now, would it? It is a team effort. I am at best, an add-on.
You seem to look back at your journey with a lot of humility…
It is not just humility. You can have an outstanding story in your hands tomorrow, but no producers to back that up. You can have a great director and banner, but not a decent script. Now you can have a proper script, director and producer, but no decent technicians, do you think that film would work? It is unfortunate that a lot of people don’t get credit for the work they do.
So humility aside, what kept you going all these years?
A fair amount of learning and unlearning. Things change all the time, so it does not always bode well to walk around and say, “Oh look at my experience.” For me, that is trouble. It is good that one is experienced, but there is always something new out there and one must be open to the possibilities of experiences, learning, and magic that can unfold right there. There is still a lot of intrigue and surprises this medium still has in store for me.
You are making your Malayalam debut soon, with Kathanar - The Wild Sorcerer...
It is a fantasy film. I have definitely not played a character like this, to date. It is directed by Rojin Thomas.
I really enjoyed his previous film Home, which I watched even before meeting him. It has been a great experience so far, working in the film.
Are there any projects in the offing, in Telugu or Tamil?
There are a couple, but I would rather that the producers come forward to make the announcements.