Tamil Interviews

Saranya Ponvannan Interview: “My One Break From Stereotype Ended In Tears”

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What happens when you slap a major Tamil hero on screen? Or try to experiment as a female actor? In this interview with Silverscreen, Saranya Ponvannan talks about the sequel to Dhanush’s Velayilla Pattathari, how winning the National Award led to being typecast, and what she truly admires about Nayanthara, Trisha, Radhika Sarathkumar, and Khushboo.

Saranya Ponvannan is excited that her beloved film, Velayilla Pattathariis back. In the first film, Saranya played Dhanush’s mother to great effect. And when her character died in the first half, it paved the way for Dhanush’s rise – in his career and his personal life.

Batting aside questions on her role, Saranya says, “I know everybody’s curious.

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My character died of cardiac arrest in the first film. But I’m definitely a part of the sequel as well. Obviously, I cannot reveal details of the whys and whats and the whatnots.”

She smiles, “But, I can say that it will keep viewers hooked.”

In the past few years, Saranya has perfected the role of the mentally tough mother. And it isn’t always easy. In VIP, she slaps Dhanush for daring to insult her husband (played by Samuthirakani).

She says, “That was quite a calculated risk for me to take. But my director Velraj and Dhanush helped me understand that it was natural for a mother to do so.” But,” her voice trails off, “Dhanush is such a big star.”

She also shares screenspace with another big star in an upcoming film. 

In Bramma’s Magalir Mattum, Saranya goes on a road trip of sorts with Jyothika, Bhanupriya, and Urvashi. It’s an epic combination. Saranya says it was also a lot of fun. And liberating.

“Bramma has made a script that subverts every single trope there is about housewives and middle-aged women. It’s women empowerment, feminism, liberation – all those things put together. Jyothika is an icon for agreeing to front such a film.

After years of playing a mother, I was excited to try this role on for size. And it fit me so well. The experience was liberating.”

Magalir Mattum was initially scheduled to release on August 11. But with the surprise announcement that VIP 2 would take that date, Magalir Mattum had to be postponed. At present, Magalir Mattum’s release date is still uncertain.

Saranya says, “I was a little nervous about the reception Magalir Mattum would get at the box-office. Now, another one of my babies is up. I’m not sure if I should continue to feel nervous or just wait it out like I usually do.”

Curiously enough, ever since she won the National Award for her performance in Thenmerku Paruvakatru, Saranya has been typecast.

Saranya says, “I won an award for that performance. It doesn’t mean that I should do the same facial emotions for every film after that. I am an artist, and I want to be able to experiment.

Sadly, I’ve had few opportunities to do the things I want to. Even now, at this age and stage in my life, my roles are dictated to an extent by the position I am in at that point.”

Once, to break the mould, Saranya tried to play the villain in Achamindri.

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But the reviews weren’t positive. She says, “My one short break from this stereotype ended in tears. It is going to take a long time before the audience forgives me for that attempt.”

The Tamil film industry isn’t usually kind to women artists who try to step out of their assigned roles, Saranya says. “That’s why I admire women like Nayanthara, Trisha, Radhika Sarathkumar, and Khushboo. They’re all experimenting outside the lines assigned to them by the industry. They make it look easy and effortless. But it involves a lot of trouble.”

Saranya points out that filmmaking in South India is dominated by men. “A majority of the people involved – directors, producers, cinematographers, music directors and even the film media are men. So it is natural for women to feel constricted and uncomfortable.

The scenario is changing though. More and more women are coming in now. It has become more flexible than before.”

Personally though, she has no plans of producing films in the near future. She laughs at the suggestion, “That’s a risk I am not willing to take right now. I have young children.”

In her debut film (Mani Ratnam’s Nayagan), Saranya played a sex worker. Now, as a parent and a married woman, Saranya says she has to think long and hard about the roles she chooses.

She says, “I don’t see how I can return to the kind of roles I tried on in the beginning of my career. Now, a lot of thought goes into the decisions I make. I am a parent first. So, I always think about the effect my performance and the things I say onscreen will have on my children and other children. This is restrictive, yes. But, I feel that women, and especially married women, struggle with this choice always.

There’s a point when one’s personal life does seep into professional decisions and it’s hard to separate the two. But that’s the one thing we have to master. Magalir Mattum, I hope, will prove to be a wake-up call to the women who have lost the balance between their personal lives and their professional ones. It will set things right.”

*****

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