Actor Keerthy Suresh sounds excited for the release of her trilingual film, Penguin. Fronted by director Karthik Subbaraj’s production banner Stone Bench Films and Passion Studios, the film is the second big Tamil film after Jyotika’s Ponmagal Vandhal to skip the theatre and release directly on Amazon Prime Video.
The excitement is quite possibly more this time, she shares, coming online to chat with journalists from different publications on a Zoom video call. “There’s definitely going to be more reach, more people from around the world are going to watch this film,” she points out.
The actor also has another big reason to look forward to this film. “This is my first woman-centric film in Tamil, and so I’m pinning my hopes on it. After Mahanati (Telugu, 2018), I was looking for a woman-centric film, one that I could carry on my shoulders, in Tamil. That is when Penguin came my way. I’m happy this is my first woman-driven subject in Tamil cinema,” Keerthy says.
On shouldering a film
The actor plays a pregnant woman and later a mother searching for her missing son in this film. While the teaser and trailer have definite dark elements, Keerthy says that she was at first misled when she first heard the name of the character she’d be playing. “My character is named Rhythm and at first I thought the film has to do with music. But as you can see, it's far from it. The film is an emotional thriller,” she says.
The genre itself is new for Keerthy who has played conventional heroine roles in films like Sarkar and Thaana Serndha Koottam, her most substantial being Savitri in the Telugu biopic Mahanati. “I am trying to do a lot of different types of films,” Keerthy admits and adds, “But I didn't want to do thriller in particular. The film happened to come my way. It’s definitely more of an emotional thriller than just a thriller. It will connect with a wider audience.”
The actor says that she has been trying to add more variety to her body of work after Mahanati, which won her accolades. However, she is of the opinion that women-centric films alone don't make the cut.
Keerthy, who was listening to a lot of scripts that had a woman in the lead, says that she was hoping to work in commercial films as well. “Mahanati gave me an opportunity to prove myself and also gave me a space to do such films. A lot of women-centric films were coming my way but I wanted to make sure I was doing commercial films. I feel they are equally important. I’d say the advantage of having done Mahanati is in being able to do meaningful roles even in commercial films,” she says.
She continues, “We’ve started accepting that content is king. We’re seeing a lot of women-driven scripts doing well. I’ll surely be choosing more such films but I will also balance it out with my commercial films.”
On her acting and technique
Keerthy shares that Penguin director Eshwar Karthic from the very beginning had a very clear idea on what he wanted. “I was quite surprised that someone with no history in the film industry - he comes from a banking background, in fact - had such drive. I was glued to his narration and he has executed it even better,” she says.
For Keerthy, each character comes with its own unique challenges. “When it came to playing actor Savitri, bringing out a real person on screen was a different approach altogether and with Rhythm, it was concerned with playing a pregnant woman,” she says. Keerthy consulted with her mother on the nuances involved in playing a pregnant woman. “I don't watch films as part of research for my role because I think it limits how much I can explore on my own,” she adds.
When asked what’s her process in trying to get into the skin of the character, Keerthy explains that cracking the look, before the start of the film, holds the key. “If you’ve cracked the look, 20 to 30% of your work is done. Next, in order to get into the skin of the character, I believe all it takes is a few days to spend with the character,” she says. And in this case, her job was made easier with the team working on production at a break-neck speed. “We completed the entire shooting within 35 days. That was quite helpful for me to get into and stay in character,” she says.
Keerthy also strongly believes in dubbing for all her roles, something that she prides herself in. The actor sounds enthusiastic when she says that she has dubbed for all her Tamil films till date. “I love dubbing for my own films. It’s very important and I feel acting without dubbing makes it incomplete. 60% of an actor’s work relies on their voice. I know only I can deliver the best because I have also acted. Dubbing for oneself also creates an identity. I try to at least dub in the film’s original language,” she explains. For Penguin, she says that she was unable to dub in Telugu due to time constraints.
On direct OTT release
The actor, who is now back home in Kerala with her family, dusting off her violin and brushing up her own script that she’s writing, is sure that OTT has opened up a bigger space for artists and technicians alike.
“This is trending right now and I think all actors could give this a try. It is a different kind of reach. More people are going to watch it. It is going to take every actor, technician, director to a different level,” she says.
When asked if Penguin, with its dark theme, might limit its exposure, Keerthy says that the film is for everyone. “It is surely intense, but I wouldn't call it very dark. It is filled with more emotion and has a few thrilling points. Children can also watch it with parents around. There’s a dog called Cyrus in this film, I have a son [in the film] and children can definitely connect,” she reasons.
While releasing the film in theatres definitely holds its own charm, the actor says that she has no regrets over the film releasing online. “This is a film that was made for theatre and the theatre experience may be missing. But given this situation - Sarkar was the last release I had in Tamil and the time gap has become longer - I am quite happy to think that I have a release coming up,” she says, sounding hopeful.
“I am not sure when we may be able to resume shooting but this feeling is satisfying. I always look at the positive side of things. Maybe, had this film released in theatres, only a section of the audience may have been able to watch it. Now more will definitely watch,” she says.