Shraddha Srinath had a flying start to 2019 with Jersey, her recent Telugu film co-starring Nani, labelled a blockbuster. In the film, she plays quiet, dignified Sarah who struggles to make sense of what happened to Arjun, the swashbuckling batsman she married.
Today, she’s back on the big screen as writer Malarvizhi in debut director Barath Neelakantan’s K-13, co-starring Arulnithi. Nothing much is known about the psychological thriller, other than that it was Barath’s style of narration that got two choosy actors to sign on the dotted line. In a teaser, we see Shraddha, with a voiceover asking: “If we are not like what others expect, is it a disease? What’s wrong with wanting to be in solitude?”
Excerpts from a conversation with the actress who has redefined conventional paradigms and refused to let geographical boundaries stop her from working across industries.
Your body of work is interesting; most of your films fall under what would be labelled intelligent cinema. How did you find yourself in a space where your choices are respected?
In the initial days, before my debut film U-Turn released, when I introduced myself as a heroine, eyebrows would be raised ever so slightly. I was chubbier, had short curly hair. I did not fit the perception of what a conventional heroine should look like. I knew I did not look ravishing, but was definitely good looking. What U-Turn did was make it clear to the audience and potential filmmakers that here’s someone who can do more than support the hero, someone who can take up meatier roles. I did not have to really say anything; it was like graduating from an A-list university.
Yes, I did receive a whole lot of calls for scripts with a supernatural element in them, or a thriller or a heroine-centric one. I was being offered what they thought were strong roles. This is a struggle every actor goes through.
Speaking of choice, you had no one from the industry guiding you… How difficult was it to not succumb to the easy, safe choice?
It’s a call you make. I had proved my mettle at some level, and I was told that it was time to work with bigger heroes, to reach the masses. I balance it out and try my best to not compromise as an actor.
You were a lawyer before you made the jump to the limelight. What aspect of acting gives you a high?
Growing up, I was into sports. And then, after adolescence, hobbies took the backseat. I stopped paying attention to extra-curricular activities. I took guitar and tennis classes, did a bunch of things, but did not succeed. I felt talentless, and uni-dimensional. I’ve always been in awe of those who can do more than one thing well. And then, there was this musical for which we rehearsed for six months. On stage, I felt I was doing something good, something people can appreciate. It gave me great joy.
How did K-13 come about?
I received a call that this film was looking to cast, and I asked them for a synopsis. I received a single sheet that would translate into two hours of runtime. It did not excite me, but the team convinced me to allot time for a narration. We met at a Starbucks at 8 pm one night and I asked Barath if he could narrate the story in an hour. He started talking, and time flew by. He’s a good narrator who can tell a story with such precision, fine details, going back and forth…he’s really engaging. From what I gauged during our meeting, I knew I would enjoy working with him. He’s clued into the industry, yet not a proper Kodambakkam person. There are a lot of facets.
As for Arulnithi, I’ve been told by others about his ability to think out of the box, about how his films work.
In some way, I was meant to do this film. Dates I’d given for another film were given back to me once that film was dropped, and I could join the sets of K-13.
You’re also a part of Ajith-starrer Nerkonda Paarvai, with H Vinoth, another young director known for his vision.
Did you know I auditioned for Falak’s part in Pink? (The role eventually went to Kriti Kulhari) I never watched the original, because I was out of the country when it released. When it played on TV, I managed to catch glimpses of the scene where Taapsee is molested and it made me furious, disturbed and upset. I walked away and decided I’d watch the film from the beginning sometime. The next thing I know, I’m doing her role in Tamil.
Vinoth is a man of few words and it is amazing how he gets work done. You never know what’s going on in his mind. Later, you realise why he asked you to do something.
Is Jersey’s success a shot in the arm after Milan Talkies’ poor show? And how do you treat victory and failure?
I have been a part of both small films that make a tidy profit and huge commercial hits. I usually don’t think of commercial success, but it feels good when people come up and tell me my Telugu debut Jersey is a blockbuster. I’ve had films sink after being steamrolled by other biggies. Sometimes, I have to remind people I worked in a certain film, because, they’ve forgotten. I try to not get affected but when your best performance is for an empty audience, it hurts. We actors learn during the process, and it’s an internal process, but whatever we do is for the audience. We want to be watched. I felt bad Milan Talkies did not do well. I felt I performed very well in it; so did many reviews.
Your courage of conviction was on display when you publicly backed your colleague Sruthi Hariharan during the MeToo movement… you were possibly the lone voice from the Kannada film industry to do so.
I’d known about this incident for two years before Sruthi spoke about it publicly. As a woman, I listened to her, and understood her. And so, it’s wrong to say she did so to seek attention. It’s awful to battle the counter-arguments and trolls on a daily basis. I am proud I stood by her. I just wish I could have done more. I’d begun work on Jersey just then, and I’ll always have this regret that I was not able to be physically present for her more often.
Of your roles so far, which is closest to the real you?
Rachana, I think (U-Turn). She’s young, she is fun, she’s flirty, she is a go-getter. The only difference is that unlike her, when I hear strange sounds, I won’t go investigate. (laughs)
The role most dignified?
That would be two roles. Priya of Vikram Vedha and Sarah of Jersey.