Sruthi Hariharan won a Critics Award at the Jio Filmfare Awards for her role in Kannada film Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu last weekend, but her performance in Malayalam film Cinema Company is still considered one of the most energetic debuts in Mollywood
Five years after her debut, Sruthi, who is now a bankable star in Sandalwood, with an oeuvre which is getting stronger and more versatile each year, and who also owns a production house, the delightfully-named Kalathmika – is part of an ongoing case. In what appears to be an epidemic that especially targets well known, successful women, morphed pictures of her were uploaded on several fake social media accounts earlier in May. “It was traumatic at first,” Sruthi reveals when I call her, “but I decided to do it [file a case] anyway as actresses in the industry are being taken for granted; exploited, and treated like property.”
Sruthi lodged a complaint with the cyber police, and a case was soon registered under the Information Technology Act of 2000. “Call me later, and I’ll talk more about it,” she says.
“I want to play the lead in a science-fiction film some day,” Sruthi tells me during our conversation.
It is her favorite genre of cinema. Science, she says, is something she has liked since school.
Lucia, the film that shot her to fame, was a sci-fi drama centered around a lucid drug. She played a starlet in it – someone who dreams of being a big star, but chooses not to be in the end. “I don’t want to be a star. I cannot be, even if I try to.
At present, Sruthi walks a fine line between commercial and low-budget projects, having done commercial flicks like Rhaatee, alongside Urvi and Godhi Banna Sadharana Maikattu, which were unconventional experimental projects.
“I have always tried to strike a balance between money and art,” she says. “Where I find creative satisfaction is not always where I find monetary satisfaction. I approach commercial films with a business angle, and I don’t think anyone has a right to judge me on that. Once in a while, it’s also fun to work in a commercial film where I don’t have much work to do in the acting department, and I can focus on other things like my production house. Of course, I wish indie films paid me very well so that I didn’t have to go and act in films where I don’t get much to do.”
Cinema Company, in which she made her debut in 2012, was an unremarkable drama but for her performance. It was forgotten quickly. The starlet from Bangalore though, had a different destiny.
A year later, she was seen in Lucia, the path-breaking movie by Pawan Kumar that changed the way the world perceived Kannada film industry. In 2016, she starred in Jai Maruthi 800, a commercially successful comedy, and the critically-acclaimed Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, co-starring Anant Nag and Rakshit Shetty. In Urvi, a women-centric thriller-drama that was released in March this year, she played one of the three leads, alongside Sraddha Srinath and Shweta Pandit. At Bangalore’s Anupama Theatre, a giant cutout of the three women was installed on the day of Urvi‘s release, something that doesn’t happen everyday in a thoroughly male-centric film industry.
“All of us, who are a part of this new wave Kannada cinema, started out in the last four-five years. The cinema in Kannada is transforming, and even more interestingly, the audience is also changing. At one point, we had lost out on our audience. The last five-six years, especially after Lucia, saw Kannada films being well received in and beyond Karnataka. They are being remade in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu, and the country has started looking towards Kannada industry.
An advantage of being a part of this new wave is that you get to learn about every other department of filmmaking as you go. When I started out, I learnt not just about acting, but also about production, costume designing. Also, everyone is open to suggestions and creative arguments. Creation begins there. That way, Nila, the short film that I did last year, was the most satisfying film I have ever worked in.”
Working on low-budget independent films
“They keep me grounded. Low-budget experimental films don’t make me a star, but a strong collaborator, and an artiste. Being a star is a tricky thing. People around you would want to treat you special.
Sexism in the industry
“Film locations are dominated by men. The world has not yet become a feminist space, but it is, slowly, becoming a better place. Women are constantly breaking norms, and fighting stereotypes. Having said that, actresses should demand equal pay only when they become a name popular enough to pull a sizeable crowd to the movie halls. That’s equality, I guess. Meryl Streep has every right to speak about it. She is a huge star. There is no point is sitting down and complaining.”
The struggles of a woman artiste
“Artistes and people who work in films are constantly being subjected to judgment. It has been happening since forever. Due to these problems, the struggle to be an independent woman is, perhaps, more difficult in film industries than in other fields. When a person meets me for the first time, everything that he has read about me would come into his head, even before I speak a word.
Even my own family members carry prejudices about actresses and women working in cinema. It’s something I fight everyday. I come from a family where academic success is more important than anything else. When I chose to be an artiste, and an actress who does commercial cinema, many of my relatives were shocked and displeased. But I am not here to impress everyone. Now I can confidently meet their eye, and say I am doing the right thing that makes me happy. ”
‘I am working towards becoming an artiste people love to watch’
“Over the last five years, I have matured a lot as an actress, and as a person. I think acting gets better when you gain more life experiences. I have had the privilege to work with excellent directors like Pawan Kumar, Balaji Sakthivel, Hemanth, and now, Bejoy Nambiar. Balaji sir absolutely broke me as an actress. Working with him was a great experience. He would sit right next to you and direct you, instead of watching you through the monitor.
In Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo, I play a woman named Rukku. She is someone I have never met in life. So eccentric and unique. To be her, and to portray the dynamics of her relationship with Dulquer’s character, was challenging, yet very interesting. I am really curious to see the whole film on screen.”
‘The idea behind Kalaatmika is to make art that drives change. Not just for entertainment’
“My interest in cinema has become holistic. I have many stories to tell, and at some point, I might step into direction. As of now, my focus is on the production house I have started. Our first project, a short film titled The Last Kannadiga, is complete. It is about the extinction of Kannada in Bangalore, a cosmopolitan city where everyone speaks different languages. The language and culture of Kannada is fading away.”
The Last Kannadiga, directed by Madan Venkatesh, also features musician Raghu Dixit. “We, as Kannadigas, are losing our identity, and we can’t blame outsiders as we have let ourselves reach this situation. It is kind of a wake-up call. Since it is a suspense thriller, the music is more of a background score,” Raghu had earlier said in an interview with The Times Of India.
The second project of Kalaatmika, Rita, a short film about marital rape, is getting ready for a film festival release. “I am also working on getting a few investors to produce my first feature film,” Sruthi says.
She will next be seen in Humble Politician Nograj, a very interesting political satire, and Taarak, a commercial project with actor Darshan. “It’s a fun picture. I am playing one of the two female leads – a friend of the character that Darshan is playing. It’s quite unlike what female actors are asked to do in extremely commercial roles with a big actor. I am also working on Happy New Year, an anthology of five stories, and Nibunan, a bilingual with director Arun Vaidyanathan. There’s also Arya Maurya with National Award-winning actor Sanchari Vijay, and Villain with Sudeep and Shivraj Kumar.”
Sruthi was involved in theatre in the beginning of her career. She hopes she will eventually return to the stage as an actor and producer soon.
The Sruthi Hariharan interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.