Sai Pallavi has had an exhausting day, doing back to back promos for Love Story, her film with Naga Chaitanya and director Sekhar Kammula, that will hit the big screens on September 24. Yet, the actor cannot contain her enthusiasm while talking about the film and why she believes it is special.
If the folk number 'Saranga Dariya' went viral for Sai Pallavi's dance, the trailer has created quite a splash too, suggesting that there's much more of her electrifying moves that we'll get to see in the film. According to an interview that Sekhar Kammula gave TNM, Naga Chaitanya plays a young man from an oppressed caste while Sai Pallavi's character faces issues due to the patriarchal society that she lives in.
In a chat with TNM, Sai Pallavi shares her views on the film, how her life has changed since stardom, her thoughts on the NEET suicides in Tamil Nadu and more. Excerpts below:
Sekhar Kammula said that Love Story is about people's struggle for existence. What can you tell us about the film?
At first when I read the script, I saw that it was about two important issues that exist in society. It's very difficult to incorporate this in a commercial film and put it in a non-preachy way. It's a slice of life film about two individuals who've accepted their lives and are trying to make it work. Their characteristics come from their childhood and the situations they've faced. I was surprised that he [Sekhar Kammula] was so true to both the character graphs.
When we spoke about Paava Kadhaigal, I said that as an actor, a few roles make me feel like I want to challenge myself. Then there are roles I want to do because I know that I'm part of a very powerful medium and my voice will be heard. So when there's a story like this to be told, and I have to represent a population of people, I thought that I can't expect anything more. For Paava Kadhaigal, the director's vision was there and I was an instrument. Sekhar garu did this as a full-length feature film, letting us both confront the demons we need to fight, and how we get over it to function as individuals. All of us have something or the other that troubles us, that has made our personality what it is.
I wanted to do my character because I thought this is a struggle which every woman would have faced at one point. If I was a young person watching this film, I believe it would be easy for me to start a conversation with a lot of people and confront things that bother me right now so it doesn't affect me in the future. Maybe parents and others would realise that not everybody is vocal about the problems that they face. The film deals with sensitive issues.
It sounds like playing this role took a lot out of you personally. What sort of prep work went into it, considering a part of the film was shot during the pandemic?
Sekhar garu and I had only one issue. He didn't want me to repeat the same expressions I had in Fidaa. He knows my expressions and how I would react in a certain situation, and that is what I would do in a scene. But he didn't want that and we had to work on it. I didn't have to do anything to turn myself into this character because all of us would have experienced something like this in life. It was easy for me to connect to the character, but to perform that, we had to do rehearsals to make the character mine. I had to look and feel more vulnerable than Fidaa, but still be strong. It was a little complicated and I hope it comes across on screen.
We're all excited to see you in a full-fledged dance role or at least, that's what the trailer suggests. Was this film especially enjoyable because of that?
It is a musical and dance is part of their daily lives, but I wouldn't say that the characters dance a lot. I did enjoy dancing for all the numbers, and anytime we had to train the other people in the zumba centre, it was definitely a breath of fresh air and a stressbuster from the complicated bits we had to do.
But you were also working during the pandemic. Were you worried about shooting under such circumstances?
For some reason I wasn't scared for myself but for the team. In a way I think that I just took myself and my life for granted...not proud of that (laughs). But I was more worried that someone might get infected and then go back to their kids. That was my major worry. But the producer and director were very cautious and they were taking tests. Everyone was isolated and we shot in a very safe environment. We tried our level best, but that thought is there in the back of your head that you're answerable for other lives. I wasn't worried about myself and I think my body and mind will be quite disappointed with me (laughs). I'm happy that everybody is safe and healthy.
You've been doing quite a few intense roles back to back, like Paava Kadhaigal and Virata Parvam. Sekhar Kammula's films are also known to be emotional. Does it take a toll on you?
It does. And I think I enjoy that. I don't know if that's good! I enjoy doing intense roles and I don't think I can look for a light character. Or maybe I haven't come across such a film yet. My upcoming films also have interesting characters, but maybe I would like to have a smiling, laughing Pallavi. A happy film. I enjoy watching intense films and maybe that's why I pick such films too.
You're a thinking actor and you clearly care about how things are portrayed in the films that you sign. Has it been difficult to say no to big offers without offending people?
It is very scary to say no without offending someone. It's just that I don't see myself in the character, not that the film is bad. So I've always been very honest with my opinions, saying that this is definitely a good film but it won't be right if I did it. I've always been very vocal and they've also been very understanding, telling me that they will come back with another script that has something more. It hasn't been very easy but I think I can only do it this way. If I don't do it this way, I will be a very needy actor who expects the director to reassure me that I'm doing it right all the time. It is hard but I should say that people have been accommodating of my fears and have trusted my decision.
You're quite unique on Instagram in the sense that everyone is busy posting photos with filters but you make it a point to say that a certain picture was photoshopped. Why so?
I don't use social media much and I'm not that active, but currently, everybody is active. I know that subconsciously it runs in your head, you keep comparing yourself and the rest of the world. It happens to me too. When I see some pictures, I do question myself. I rarely put up pictures, but when I do, I don't want to put someone else through the same stress that I might have gone through. I try to be as honest as possible. It's not a statement, it's just me being honest. If you post frequently and people know that these are photo shoots that you do, that's different. I rarely post and I don't want to create the impression that this is me.
But even your rare posts on social media generate a lot of interest. People always want to see more of you. I can tell you that, looking at how many people want to read about it!
(Laughs) I'm happy, thank you. It's just that I'm a very private person. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed and you want to share something. Sometimes the picture looks good but I may not feel like sharing because I don't think it's important. I look nice in it, let me have it to myself. I'm not very socially active but when I post, I put something with my grandparents, my place, a cat...I don't know if it entertains anyone, but that's what I do.
You say that you're a very private person but you're a big star across three industries now. Do you ever feel that your private life has gone for a toss or there's too much media scrutiny?
I've never been a very social person and I don't think I would have done much even if I wasn't in the industry. But yes, sometimes, when I get emotional in public, it's difficult. Once I missed my flight on New Year's eve a few years ago. I was alone at the airport and I was feeling lonely. I video called my mom and someone spotted me. This was after Premam or Kali. I remember looking at the person and saying no but he asked for my picture and I took one. I told him not to tell anyone else...I had tears in my eyes when he saw me and I thought he would understand. But then he came with 10-15 people to take photos.
Sometimes it's a moral dilemma. You know that there is genuinely so much love in their eyes and they really want to take a picture but you're not in a mentally right space to accommodate that. But most of the time, I put them before me and it takes a toll on me later. When I'm by myself at home, it branches out in a different way. It doesn't happen all the time but you go through an emotional rollercoaster when it does. It's difficult for me to convey it. By the time I explain it to someone, it would be easier to just take a picture!
Watch: Trailer of Love Story
There's a rumour that you have signed a Bollywood film. Is that true?
Really? I haven't come across this rumour (laughs). I haven't signed anything. I've been listening to scripts in different languages but I haven't signed anything.
You're a doctor and there have been so many NEET suicides over the past few years. It is a very hard field to crack. Is there anything you'd like to tell students aspiring for medicine?
I don't know if what I'm going to say will help. I can only empathise as someone who studied medicine, not knowing how the questions are going to be asked on a subject that is so vast. It can be very frustrating. I've had the good fortune of having very understanding parents and friends, calling them for comfort. I've a cousin who took his life over marks. He didn't score very low but it wasn't what he wanted. He took his life because he didn't want to look like a failure in front of his family. It's not only your desire to become something, it's also you thinking about disappointing your family. There is no correct answer. It's easy for me to say please don't take your life over this, but for someone in that place and time, it's something that will break them or make them. We need to talk about it.
If someone feels like a failure, they should be able to reach out to someone they can rely on and speak about it. I've been in situations where I've felt very emotionally drained. I've had weak moments like everyone else. But you should have someone who will help you switch your mind and get out of it. I don't have anything to inspire people not to do something, I can only empathise with them. What pain they're going through is theirs. I have money, I have education, if I tell them not to do something, it's not the same as what they're going through, in what circumstances they have written the exam. They may have come from a village, they may have lost their mother and still written the exam. They may have imagined doing well, and when they don't, they lose hope. But it's not the end...when they have such a thought, I wish they would break away from that moment somehow.
It's heartbreaking. I read about some of these students who took their own life and they are too young, they're just 18! I don't remember what I studied in school but I remember what I studied in college because I enjoyed it. Learning something under pressure will never make you enjoy the process. I don't have inspirational quotes. I'm with them on this. I understand their pain, their conflict. I pray that they have someone by their side who tells them that this is not the end of the battle.