After having acted in all the four South Indian languages, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada, Meghana Raj Sarja gave acting a break after she got married to fellow Kannada actor Chiranjeevi Sarja. Meghana won several film awards and acted in around 40 films with some of the top actors. After dating for almost a decade, she tied the knot with Chiranjeevi Sarja in May 2018. But life wasn’t a bed of roses and as fate would have it, Chiru Sarja breathed his last following a cardiac arrest in June 2020. Meghana was expecting their first child then and their son Raayan Raj Sarja was born in October 2020, a few months after his father left us all for heavenly abode. It was a tragedy that shocked the entire South Indian film industry. Meghana’s life came crumbling down. She was shattered. She came to a standstill, but she had a little baby to take care of and to raise without a father. She has been a fabulous mom to her son and while giving him all the time and attention he needs. Meghana is now back in the industry after a long hiatus with Tatsama Tadbhava releasing on September 15. Watch out for the star who has everything it takes to be the talk of the town. The inspiring mom opens up about the challenges she faced and the reason that made her come back to the big screen in this heart warming, candid and exclusive interview with Provoke Magazine.
- Please tell us about your growing up days. Where are you from? Where did you study? What was your dream career in your childhood days?
I’m born and brought up in Bangalore. I’m a pure south Indian. I studied in Baldwin Girls High School and then later I joined Christ University for my college. I followed that with my degree in KSOU Mysore University. I think my career choice in childhood days was always varied as I did not have just one choice. It kept changing. In school my dad kept saying you have to become an IAS officer. There was also a brief period of time when I felt I should join the Army as I was an NCC Cadet. For the longest time I also wanted to be a doctor. I knew somewhere that I always wanted to be an actor, as that’s the environment I grew up in. More importantly, I enjoyed the whole vibe of cinema as I was growing up in a family that was in the world of cinema. I somewhere somehow always wanted to be an actor.
- Were there any kind of apprehensions entering the field of cinema while balancing motherhood?
Yes, there was a lot of apprehension and I’m still a little scared. The one bane that comes with cinema is that I don’t get to be with my child for long hours. For today, for example, I’m in Mangalore shooting and my shoot schedule is to be here for the next 15 days. I will be working and cannot be with my son in Bangalore. Especially when I was doing Tatsama Tadbhava, the reason I even okayed the film was with the condition to Pannaga that I cannot be away from Raayan for a very long time. He assured me that this film maybe my priority and your priority is Raayan and if your priority is Raayan then he becomes our priority as well. ‘Raayan is important to all of us’, is what he told me and that he can be there with me on the sets and I will be allowed frequent breaks to take him home and spend time with him. So that worked and Panna kept up his promise and we made a beautiful film called Tatsama Tadbhava. I did get in with a lot of apprehension as I did not want to leave my child alone. Also, it wasn’t just about leaving him alone as he is with his grandparents, but what really was driving me crazy was that I was missing out on his growing up days. Even if it was just two or three days I did not want to miss out on anything. I did not want to go back home and have someone tell me that he did this today and I wasn’t around to see it. I wanted to be with every little milestone of his and everytime he did something new. I still fear that when I’m away even for a few days I may miss out on something new.
- How was your experience working in the industry?
Since I’m born and brought up in a film industry ambience, it’s not something new to me. I would constantly see my parents going to shoots and I was also going with them on the sets. These movie sets were always a very familiar place. But the difference was when you go with your parents as a child and then when you go as an actor it’s very different. There are many different emotions attached to it. There’s not a single emotion that I can quote, but overall I must say, that it has made me happy. The film industry is my happy place.
- How challenging was it initially and how did you overcome the challenges?
It was quite unexpected. Being a star kid, I entered the industry with my own standards. I thought since I’m a star kid, this is exactly how it’s going to be for me as it was for my parents. Clearly nepotism did not work for me. I was clearly not the nepo kid who got everything on a platter. I had to work for everything. It was quite challenging as I was right out of my college. I had not trained for acting. I had not attended any acting school. Yes, I did have a theatre background. I used to do theatre, not to get into films. Theatre was something that happened naturally as my father was part of the Benaka theatre group, which was initially run by BV Karanth. Theatre was always like my second home. There used to be shows and my dad used to take me alongwith him. My mom is also from a theatre background. Ultimately what happened was that it all came naturally to us. But that did not help us with the challenges that the film industry brings about. In that sense, there were a lot of hurdles and I was very unprepared when I entered the industry. That’s when the actual preparation started.
- What have been some of the biggest highpoints of your journey so far?
There have been multiple highpoints. I’ve come to work after a hiatus. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a lot of amazing actors who are some of the top male superstars, especially in my Malayalam film career. I’ve acted with Mammootty sir, Lalettan Mohan Lal sir, with Prithvi, Jayasurya, Indrajith and Anoop Menon in Malayalam. In Kannada, it has been Yash, Darshan, my husband Chiru (Chiranjeevi Sarja), Srinagar Kitty and others. The opportunity to meet them, be with them and act with them will always be the highpoint. Most importantly, working with some of the most talented and wonderful directors like Prakash, Shaji Kailas and others. Just recently the industry has taught me that the director doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who is experienced. It can also be a debutante like Vishal Atreya, who gets in so much for the film and who adds extra knowledge to us experienced actors, as we all come with a blocked mind thinking only those who have worked in multiple films can do a good film. Vishal has broken that barrier for me as an actor and as a person when it comes to my thinking. I also like the travel that comes from being an actor. You get to travel to so many different places, meet different people and learn different languages and cultures, which I really enjoy.
- Tell us about your preparation for your role in Tatsama Tadbhava? How has the experience been?
Firstly, there was a lot of mental preparation for me to get back into films. To even think of doing films again and to even prepare for that thought to materialise took some time. After that came in how I would prepare for my character in the film. Initially when I read the first draft of the script, I felt it wasn’t a simple one and it definitely needed quite a lot of preparation. I’m also an actor who prefers to go on set and improvise on the sets. I do what comes to my mind right there and then so that it looks natural and spontaneous. Tatsama Tadbhava needed me to be like that also. So, it was more of mental preparation to go and make a comeback in the film industry and not per se the character. I watched a lot of films on the lines of how Tatsama Tadbhava will be made and getting to know the character. There were multiple discussions with Vishal because it was not just one thing we could fix on. There were a lot of changes happening constantly. The experience has been draining, because this is the kind of character I have not played ever before. For me to even to go on set and to switch off from thinking about him to thinking about only the moment and the character was extremely taxing and draining. This is not a film where I could relax even in between shots. I did try to lighten everybody’s mood, but at the back of my mind I was always thinking about how Arika is doing to turn out.
- What are your other passions and hobbies?
I love reading. Right now I’m just enjoying being a mother, so there’s really no time to pursue my hobbies, because whatever time I get I spend with Rayan and doing mom duties. My passion I would definitely say is cinema. I would love to do more meaningful films and watch a lot of good films. Now that OTT is one such medium where we always have access to such amazing and different content all the time, it’s definitely a hobby now.
- What is your vision and dream in this field now?
My dream is to play characters that I’ve always wanted to do. Somehow in my career I have always got to play complex characters and films which have a very deep meaning. I’ve never gotten to play something very light and breezy roles where I don’t have to think too much before delivering. That would be my dream. My vision for this field would be to make sure that there is nothing like a female-oriented or a male-dominated film. Every film should be considered a film and everyone who is playing a part should be considered a protagonist, irrespective of whether he or she is a male or a female. The bifurcation comes when we start viewing films like that. In the coming days or years I would prefer to do films where if I’m playing the lead, it should be called that Meghana Raj is playing the lead and if there is a film where say for instance Dhruva is playing the lead, it should be said Dhruva is playing the lead. It’s as simple as that. I wouldn’t want to be known as Meghana is doing a female-dominated film. I don’t want films to be categorised like that.
- How has life changed after entering the film industry?
This decade long journey has been quite amusing, entertaining, depressing, happy and all emotions mixed in one. Life has certainly changed from being a star kid to having a certain perspective about cinema in the industry, to being an actor creating a different perspective. Life has changed drastically. Today, if you ask me how comfortable you’re here, I would say I’m extremely comfortable. There were days when I used to dread going for shoots because I was just out of college and wasn’t prepared. Physically people used to call me chubby and I was a little uncomfortable in the clothes I was wearing. But today, I’m very comfortable with my body and my makeup. Inspite of being in my post pregnancy stage and still trying to shed weight, I’m very comfortable with the way I look. These things will keep changing and that’s how the industry works. That’s usually how people’s minds work.
- Would you like to recall some memorable moments from the shoot of Tatsama Tadbhava?
Every moment has been very memorable as this has been truly a very special film. But what I would like to recall is the way this film was offered to me. When Panna sent director Vishal to me to narrate the story, without telling me he wants me to play the part of Arika in the film, I assumed he just wanted my opinion as he was starting his production house. Once I heard the story I called Panna and told him that this is an incredible story and this is ideal for your debut production. That’s when he asked me – So, are you ready to shoot again? That is the moment it all started and I’m here.
- How was your association with your family friend and producer Pannaga?
I have actually associated with him before as a director, as an assistant director and now as a producer. I think I’ve worked with Panna in all these categories. As a producer, Panna is amazing. He is amazing in getting people together and making sure that the product is good. He is someone who connects his dots to bring out the best in people, to make sure everyone is comfortable. Creatively also to have a producer like Panna who is also a director, adds value to the film like nothing else. Most importantly when you’re working with a friend, that issue about business and friendship comes to play. So, I think if it was someone else who had given me a film and who was also a friend, it would have probably been different, but with Panna he knows exactly where to draw the line. That way he’s an amazing friend, producer, director, assistant director, family friend and a wonderful person.
- What is your view about films in the OTT world of today?
OTT is a boon for the digital era. In a way, film makers are getting a platform where they can go all out when it comes to creativity. This certainly had some restrictions when films were being made for the big screens. I enjoy OTT and feel it’s definitely the future of films, series and other online content.
- What are your views on social media and how much time do you spend on it?
I spend quite sometime on social media, but I’ve learnt it the hard way that I need to press the Stop button on social media as it can be addictive and even toxic sometimes. It can bog you down. Social media has the power of making you feel good and bad at the same time. It can give you 100 good comments and sometimes that one bad comment can make you feel bad. It’s a very dicey place. If used well, well and good, but if used for unnecessary harm to people, I would definitely not endorse any social media.
- Do you plan to act in other South Indian languages too?
I do plan on acting in Malayalam films. Hopefully soon. This is definitely something I’m looking forward to.
- What kind of a person are you in your personal space?
I like having people around me and love my me time. When I am with people who I like I’m a different cracking jokes, jovial kind of a person. But at the same time I’m also that kind of person, who does not like too many people around me. I love watching films, reading books or just be with myself. Now a days it’s mostly catching up on sleep, since Raayan gives me sleepless nights.
- How do you maintain a work-life balance?
It’s something everyone does. How I do it is going with the flow. There’s no set strategy. If I have to go to work I dress and go and if I have to stay at home, I stay. You just do it. If you really want to balance both and just get up and do.
- Any sweet fan moments you’d like to recall?
I happened to meet a fan at a radio interview who had watched every film of mine. She remembered every dialogue of mine from all of my films. She could recite any of the dialogues immediately. She even knew who the actor, director, music director is of each of my films. She is my huge fan and watches me so keenly. She is a true fan as she was more interested in my professional life than in my personal life. She saw me as an actor and as a professional and that was the sweetest fan moment for me.
- Some of the comments from anyone who have watched the trailer of your upcoming film?
The best comment was from my mother. She’s my harshest critic. She didn’t say anything and had tears in her tears and showed me two thumbs up. To see someone who has been in the film industry give me this kind of feedback was the biggest compliment.
- Who are some of your closest friends from the industry?
In Kannada industry, it’s Prajwal, Pannaga and in Malayalam it’s Nazriya, Ananya and Indrajith. They’re all just a call away and are my closest circle. And of course Chiru.
- What are your future plans?
I like enjoying the present. I’ve always been a future fanatic. I’ve always thought of the future with so much hope and have been so much anxious about the future. I was someone who was always raring to look at the future and time has taught me to not be that person. I will just say that it’s today and now for me. I’ve learnt it the hard way and this the way for me now.
- Your dream role?
I do not have a dream role, but I do have a dream genre which is a romantic comedy. I have not done it in a decade long career of mine and a rom com is something I’m dying to do. Somehow people have always given me complicated characters. I would like something simple to play like a Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. That will be a dream scenario for me.
- Dream director?
Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Mani Ratnam and Karan Johar. Also Atlee and Lokesh Kanakaraj.
- Favourite actor and actress?
Very tough, but I like Vijay Sethupathi. Kareena Kapoor Khan.
- Your pet peeve?
Wet bathroom floors. They make me cringe.
- Some essentials that are always in your bag?
Wallet, phone, lipstick.
- Yoga or gym?
- Indian food or global cuisine?
Indian food, especially south Indian food.
- Closest friends from the industry or outside?
Friends are friends, why segregate them from the industry or outside. Their profession doesn’t matter.
- Beaches or hills?
- Veg or non-veg?
- Fame or money?
Right now, money.
- Indian wear or Western wear?
- Straight hair or curls?
- The last good film/web series you watched?
The Marvellous Ms. Maisel.
- A movie you’d recommend?
Tatsama Tadbhava. People have to watch this film to understand that stories can be told in a manner where the audience can become characters. It’s one of a kind.
- First thing you notice about a person?
- One thing that makes you feel beautiful?
When I wake up with a smile, I feel beautiful.
- Politics, religion, business, sports or entertainment?
Entertainment, any day. It is the foundation to get into any other field.
- Your most treasured childhood memory?
My parents were invited to my school as a Chief Guest and I was so proud of them.
- What did your son say about your acting?
My son understands that I’m an actor. The minute he saw the trailer he started clapping. He said Amma and just started clapping. That was the biggest compliment.