‘Valimai’ has been making a lot of noise and it has been a very successful film down South. How does it feel?
Of course, it feels very good and I think this film has got a lot of love. It’s done some phenomenal numbers and we’re just very happy that now finally, there will be a world digital premiere. The reach of the film will expand even more.
What made you want to be a part of this movie?
Well it is arguably India’s biggest action blockbuster. I love action movies. I like watching them. I like being a part of them and so for me it was a great opportunity to be the part of this world where I was not just a mere participant but I was also taking the plot forward, I was adding something to it. So I think that was really important for me.
Ajith suffered multiple injuries during the filming. The doctors even said he could have been paralysed. Were you a bit nervous while working on this action project?
No, Ajith sir did manage to cut himself quite a few times. He fell off the bike, but it didn’t scare us. But we were constantly talking about how do we ensure the safety of everyone concerned, whether it’s actors, the stunt men, whether it’s the entire team. And I think for us as a unit, it was extremely important. Of course, sometimes mishaps and injuries happen, but they can happen anywhere. They can happen when you’re just taking your car out and going for a drive, but we were at least ensuring that the greatest safety measures were taken while making this action film.
How was your experience of working with Ajith?
I loved working with Ajith sir. I think he’s an amazing superstar. But I think that apart from his films and all the diverse characters that he has done, he’s a really nice person. He made me feel very much at ease. Especially acting in a language (Tamil) which is not my mother tongue. I understand Tamil, but I’m not very fluent at talking. I really have to mug up my lines and do it. So if you have a co-star who’s not being very helpful, it can make the entire process very unnerving. But he was very sweet, very helpful. I kept saying sorry and he was like, ‘Don’t apologise. If I was acting in Hindi, I would be terrible.’ I said, ‘No sir, you would not. You speak Hindi fluently and I don’t speak Tamil that well.’ He was very sweet and encouraging throughout the entire process.
The film has crossed the 200 crore mark already. But it received mixed reactions from the Hindi audience. Your thoughts?
Well I think it takes time. Traditionally, Tamil films haven’t really done so well in the Hindi belt. But I think that with ‘Valimai’, we were hoping that it would break that barrier. I feel that it’s just a matter of time. I feel that today more and more films and people are opening up to the idea of the pan India film, with pan India actors, with that kind of storytelling. So I think it’s just a matter of time. I feel that a film like ‘Valimai’ definitely cuts across all sorts of barriers, especially of region and it talks to a whole lot of people.
What do you have to say about the pay disparity in Bollywood or in any industry?
Do you feel that female actresses do not get that credit?
I think women in general don’t get that credit. You’re a woman yourself and I’m sure that you must have faced that glass ceiling as we speak of your work, because the entire world is male dominant. It is an unfair world. Of course, on papers we have equal rights but it doesn’t exist in reality. But then all of us are hustling, we’re pushing, trying to make it a fairer, more equal world. We’re trying to show up through our work, through how we conduct ourselves, we demand to sit at the table and we demand to be treated equally. I think it’s a constant process. Will we ever achieve a 100% pay parity? I don’t think so. But the objective is to keep questioning, keep pushing up the envelope and see what kind of world we reach at and we all are part of that revolution, that sea of change.
We’re in 2022, and even now women face objectification…
I agree with you. Men should just mind their own business, they should just stay out of women’s clothing and out of their bodies and out of our minds. I think only a woman should decide what she’s comfortable with and men should just stop interfering. If you’re not wearing a skirt, your point of view is irrelevant. Also I feel like what’s a healthy change as well is that we have to stop thinking women as commodities where we are dressing for the male gaze. I think today more and more actresses and women are just dressing for themselves in order to feel more beautiful, in order to feel just empowered and it has got nothing to do with the male gaze.
You started your journey with an audition for an ad. How was that experience for you?
To be honest, I didn’t audition for ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, but I auditioned for the next four films. So it’s a very strange way in which I guess sometimes casting happens. I auditioned for an ad, I did that ad with Aamir Khan which Anurag Kashyap was directing. It was a three days shoot and he said, ‘You’re a good actor’ and decided to cast me in the films after that. Till date, I auditioned for everything else and I’m very proud of it. I feel like I’ve earned that spot as opposed to someone who’s trying to create an opportunity for me or someone trying to create a film for me. I really went out there and I just walked into the room where nobody knew me. But my attitude always was that when I’m going to walk in with you not knowing me, when I walk out, you will know who I am.
Who do you look up to when you feel low?
I think I do a lot of self talk, journaling, therapy and I feel like sometimes all the answers are inside us. We just have to silence the mind and really look inwards, I really do believe that. So I don’t look up to another human being because I feel that it’s like passing a responsibility to another person for your actions. I like to take responsibility for my own actions. So when I’m really confused or conflicted, I try to go inwards.
What keeps you so grounded even after giving such big hits?
My brother will disagree. He doesn’t think I’m grounded at all, but that’s all brothers I guess. I don’t know, may be my middle class upbringing. I grew up in a very middle class home. My father is a kebab seller, my mother’s a housewife. So I had no reasons to think that I was too cool for school and I think that kind of continues and honestly, this industry rewards you. But the process to get to that reward is so tiresome that when you get there, you don’t feel like blowing your own trumpet. I just feel like I’ve worked hard, so this is a result of that hard work.
What do you have to say about your brother’s success?
I’m very proud of him. He’s my baby brother and whenever I see him act, it makes me very emotional. And I’m very protective about him. If somebody were to pick a fight with me, I’m like, ‘Let’s forget it.’ But if with him somebody picks something on, I get really affected. So I’ll really fight for him tooth and nail. When he plays any character, we feel very proud of him, especially a cricketer. So the thing with Saqib is that when he was growing up, he wanted to play for India, he wanted to be a cricketer and he was a wicket keeper, batsman. I remember as a kid, he used to go everyday and practice for hours. So we always wondered that one day he’ll wear India’s jersey and play for the country. But life had other plans and that never happened, but he’s a great cricket buff. So whenever he plays cricket on screen, we get very emotional. Especially ’83, it was such an emotional film for all of us, like I’ve cried watching that film especially when he takes the last wicket. It was such an emotional moment for me, and for us as a family.
What are your upcoming projects you’re working on?
This year is going to be quite busier, there’s ‘Monica, O My darling’, ‘Maharani’ Season 2, ‘Double XL. I’m very excited about these films.
Double XL is your personal project, it’s produced by you and it’s something never seen before. How excited are you for it?
I’m very excited and I feel that it’s so important to make a film about body positivity especially amongst young girls. I’m very excited to be a part of it. We’ll talk more, but I think there’s still time for the film to release, so we’ll meet then.