How long have you been in the industry?
I entered just yesterday *bursts into laughter*
But you’ve been around for quite a while, no? I remember you from ‘Ganda Hendathi’?
You should never ask a woman such questions, okay? *laughs* I think you have a very good memory. *laughs*
I do, I do, so you are from Bangalore originally, right?
Yupp! Born and brought up in Bangalore.
Is that why you chose to debut in a Kannada film?
It just happened ya! I kind of always wanted to do films from a very young age and I knew about how the industry works because my neighbour was an actress. I used to accompany her on shoots and so it all happened very naturally. I’ve always been a very independent person and wanted to earn for myself. So I jumped into modelling at a very young age. Even before I could begin 11th Standard, I went to a modelling agency and my career began. I was paid `1,500 for one show and that was a huge amount of money then. That just gave me the confidence I wanted and then there was no turning back. It was a lot of fun too. College on weekdays, fashion shows on the weekend — one thing led to another and then I began getting a few offers for advertisements and then Ganda Hendathi happened. Yes, it was a super bold choice, but I am not ashamed of it — it led to greater things in my life.
Choosing such a bold film to debut in must have been hard…
Now that I look back, I actually think I am a pioneer of sorts. *laughs*
Today, India is seeing so many performances which are bolder and I think I did it before they did. Makes me feel slightly amazing! Also, India is going so international these days — one is expected to live up to a script if it demands a bold scene. It isn’t a challenge anymore, because I am grown up now and know the ways of the industry; but it was difficult then and I still did it. Frankly, I did that movie only because I wanted to buy a second-hand Zen and go to college. It was a huge deal for me then, to be able to drive into my college in a car, even if it was a second-hand one. I was young and my priorities were all exactly like someone in that age group. The funny thing was, after I did get that car, nobody really cared about it. Instead, they were talking more about my film. Everyone wanted to know what film I was doing next. I was like, ‘hello, I’ve bought my own car and I am doing a lot of ads, why is my next film such a big interest for everyone?’ I just wanted to go back to college and continue my life. It’s not like I was a great student or anything — but everything changed. After that, people only looked at me as an actress and a ‘hot’ film actress at that. It was quite a crazy journey!
You became really popular in Kannada and Telugu films, but stayed away from Tamil, how come?
I just never got a good film. I paved the way for my younger sister though (Nikki Galrani) and she got lucky in Tamil cinema. I did get many offers, but they were all stereotyped. I am a fussy person. Once I select a film, I literally get married to it. But since I have been in the industry for a while now, it takes me a lot of time and I consider a lot of things before I agree to do a film. I’ve worked in almost 50 films so far in both these industries.
So, what are you busy with right now?
I’ve been shooting for this amazing series called Swarnakhadgam that has me playing the role of Queen Mahadatri. I’ve literally been living out of Ramoji Film City for the last one year. It’s taken a toll on me — lots of injuries, having to learn to be a good horse-rider, etc. But I love it. The show is now hitting 100 episodes and I love how much the audience enjoy the show. The show has been dubbed into several languages and is called Illayathalapathy
How did you manage to break away from the ‘hot’ actress stereotype that I’m sure most industry members put you under?
It was so difficult! I kept getting really terrible roles with just one scene or two scenes. I had to be adamant about not taking up any of those roles. I knew I could make do with my modelling career. I did Ganda Hendathi just as something that was interesting then. But I was never desperate to make inroads into films with roles I wouldn’t be interested in. It didn’t go my way in the beginning, but as time passed, my modelling career bagged me better roles. I think the big change happened after Bujjigadu in 2008 with Puri Jagannadh — that film turned things around for me. Sandalwood began to take me seriously after that. Mylari with Shivrajkumar in 2010 made things much better for me back home in Bangalore. And in the film industry, once you’re a successful actor things automatically get better. When you don’t have much work to your credit, people ignore you like the plague. So, I was elated that people were finally taking me seriously. Finding my space hasn’t been easy. But now that I have, I know I’m here to stay.
Your Kollywood debut is now around the corner, what do you expect from the industry?
If there’s one thing I have learned from my career, it is never have expectations from anyone or anything. This is a job for me. I think of it as a 9-5 job. I work my hours, give it my best and leave the rest to fate. I really look at every project like a school examination. I want to give it my best and come out right on top. All I can say is: It took me so long to make my debut in Tamil and now that I have, I am here to stay.
You’ve successfully managed to keep yourself aloof from being paired with co-stars in both industries. Was that a conscious choice?
I think people know that while I am super positive and friendly, I am not easy. I have my own support system back home. Also, I’m the kind of person who is amazing when you’re around, but when you’re not, I’m really not the kind who will keep in touch, etc. Maybe that’s worked to my benefit?
What is your passion beyond films?
I own a chain of yoga studios and I really focus my extra energy there. That keeps me going for the most part. It’s nice to be an entrepreneur. It’s not like I make a lot of money out of yoga, but it makes me feel good to serve people in some way. That said, I do not practice yoga every day. I know that will be your next question. *laughs* I would be lying if I said I practice it every day. But I do other things to keep myself fit. I love dancing and I love going out for a run. I prefer staying fit by doing different kinds of workouts.
Does that mean you enjoy serving people?
Absolutely! I get immense joy from being useful to people in need and for standing up for people who need that extra voice. I consider myself a ‘real’ feminist! I am always going to stand by a woman if it comes to a man versus a woman situation. Even when it comes to the LGBTQI+ community, I am all for their rights, but I will not stand up for people who simply use the identity to harm other people — something that is very common in our industry. I know so many people who are not really gay but prefer abusing others (because they are in positions of power) as they are ‘bored’ of their straight lives. I remember being kissed by a girl once. I had no clue she was a lesbian and today I do and I am chill with it. When it comes to helping people in need, I prefer to give my money and help to people who are actually in need, and so I take time out to meet the person before I blindly help. Whenever I get the time, I prefer to work for the elderly. They are the most vulnerable and I cannot help but reach out to them.
Now that you’ve reached a point in your career where you’re doing the kind of roles that you’ve always wanted, what else do you want to do?
Frankly, I am already thinking about what to do once this career is over. The idea of settling down in a quiet town in Switzerland seems so inviting. A quiet life, where I can look after myself and just allow life to happen — but that’s not going to happen anytime soon!
The industry hasn’t been very fair to you and you’ve struggled to find your footing — how come you let your sister also choose the same career path?
She has a mind of her own and frankly, she’s more strong-minded than I am. I am the emotional one and she’s the rational one. There are days when she calls me when I am going through something and she tells me: you’re being too emotional. And for a moment I’m like: what? I have to keep reminding her that I am her elder sister because she mothers me too much. I’m the chilled one and she’s like a school principal. I did ease the path for her entry, but she’s achieved whatever she has from her own hard work.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I really don’t know. Maybe, my first marriage will be done by then. *laughs* I live for the here and now and I know what I want. So, for now that will do.
I love how casually you say that. But what kind of man would you like to be married to?
Someone who is smart; he has to match my IQ. He has to be a one-woman man. And most importantly, he shouldn’t be someone who is threatened by my independence, financially
Finally, what can we see you in soon?
I have two Kannada releases coming up: Matthe Matthe and Muthukumar. Swarnakhadgam continues and that’s going to be on for a year or so and my official debut in Tamil is Aivar. That’s about it for now.
write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch the interview on ProvokeTV
PHOTOGRAPHER: Kaustub Kamble | @kaustubh_19