Shalini Pandey speaks to TNM on what she thinks about how women characters are written in Tollywood, her experience of shooting with a real gorilla, and more.

Life after Arjun Reddy The Shalini Pandey interview
Flix Interview Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 12:07

Savithri’s childhood friend Susheela in Mahanati. Sowcar Janaki, NT Rama Rao’s co-actor, in NTR Kathanayakudu. But Shalini Pandey, for the Tollywood audience, is still Preethi Shetty from her first and much acclaimed movie Arjun Reddy.

Though Shalini says Arjun Reddy was ‘luck destined’ and that she still is the same small town girl from India’s heartland Madhya Pradesh, this young, unassuming actor is all set to break moulds through her characters. Shalini has only started becoming familiar with the south Indian languages, but the actor already has a couple of films in her kitty awaiting release in both Tamil and Telugu. 118Silence100% KaadhalGorilla - the list is long and her Bollywood debut will also soon hit screens by mid-2019.

In a breezy conversation with TNM, this charming actor talks about her life post Arjun Reddy, her upcoming movie releases, her choice of characters and much more.

You began with Arjun Reddy. The film was a smash hit and you received rave reviews for your acting in the movie. Then we saw you in cameo appearances in Mahanati and NTR. How exactly are you working out the arithmetic of choosing roles?

I'm not a very calculative person when it comes to choosing roles. For me, it’s a very basic instinct and I don’t think too much about doing any film. I hear the narration and if I find the script interesting, I go for it. I ask them for a day, I sleep over it and I go with the first thought I get the next day morning.

I know audiences have expectations and they may want you to do hard-hitting and performance oriented roles. But I, as an artiste, feel that it’s nice to sometimes to just play it simple. For example, in 118, my character isn’t as emotional or hard-hitting like Preethi from Arjun Reddy. But she is there and she is pivotal to the story. I liked the script and it feels good be a part of a well-written script. I am open to taking risks and I think self-satisfaction and impact are more important.

Shalini as Susheela in Mahanati

Also, I pick movies where the director is clear about what he/she is doing. Because a good director can turn a simple script into a great one. It’s really important to know if the director understands women and is sensitive about the female characters in the movie. I have made it a point not to sign up for movies that are misogynistic and objectify women. Because I feel, in this medium, I as a woman, am responsible for the characters I play on screen.

118 will be hitting theatres on March 1, your next big release after Arjun Reddy in Tollywood. From the trailer, the movie seems to be a crime-thriller. Can you tell us more about the film?

You cannot call 118 a crime-thriller. In fact, I think we shouldn’t be putting it under any genre, but if need be, you can call it a suspense-thriller. The movie is about the journey of the hero, certain circumstances he faces and what it turns out to be. I cannot reveal more because if I do, I might give away the entire plot of the movie (laughs).

I think more than the movie, what lasts is the experience of working in it. Kalyan Ram and Nivetha are two amazing co-stars, though I didn’t have many combination scenes with Nivetha. Kalyan was very shy in the beginning but later we developed a very nice rapport. More than a hardworking actor, he is a very pure and genuine person.

Tollywood is an industry where women find it difficult to find performance-oriented roles. They are often not central to the script or maybe just eye candy. What is your opinion on the way women are represented in the industry?

There is and there has been discrimination in the industry. We tend to objectify women a lot. Women need to be picture-perfect, very slim with hair blowing; the best of all you can find among the lot. What I liked about Arjun Reddy was that Sandeep (the director) didn’t want a woman who was perfect. Because we don’t always love a person for their looks, we love someone for their personality. Our industry lacks this trait and needs women to be always eye candy. Women can’t be just bubbly, it’s a word I abhor. Doing one or two such roles is fine, but not always. I would want to do roles that have meaning and I should know why the characters are in the script. I don’t know why the industry is not exploring roles and writing roles for women that bring progression to the script.

You were a theatre artiste first and then a film actor. How different are both and how much has theatre helped in your growth as an actor?

Both the spaces are entirely different. In theatre, we do not have glycerine. The audience is live and sometimes we get disappointed because the responses are instant. And most importantly, theatre has taught me basic humanity. We used to perform dramas, plays that were socially relevant and uptight. But when it comes to movies, it’s more like a bubble we create around ourselves. It’s a happy world where we capture and create perspectives. Theatre, on the other hand, requires a lot of imagination. Both the mediums are leagues apart and maybe because I come from a theatre background, I love it a little more.

Post Arjun Reddy, how has life changed for you? Have people’s perspectives changed towards Shalini as an actor?

To be honest, I haven’t faced any backlash for the character I played in the movie. Everyone, including my parents, was fine with the role because my actions as Preethi were pivotal to the script. But post the movie, people on film sets assumed that I could do any bold scene because I have done it already in Arjun Reddy. In Arjun Reddy, the script demanded it and you cannot simply include a titillating scene in a movie so that more people come to the theatres and watch it. I understand when men talk like this, because they are bound to, but when women too think on similar lines, it really upsets me as an actor.

You have Gorilla and 100% Kaadhal next in line. How has the acting experience in Kollywood being?

I am very sensitive towards animals. Shooting for Gorilla, the animal was captured and it seemed like we were torturing it because at the end of the day, the animal doesn’t know what it’s been made a part of. I had one scene with the gorilla and it was shot on a day when the animal had terrible mood swings. It scratched me, pulled my hair and believe me, I enjoyed filming the sequence but at the same time I would never want to do it ever again.

100% Kaadhal was pure fun. GV Prakash is a chill person. GV is way elder to me but it doesn’t seem like that when I worked with him. He is like a kid on sets. GV and I used to pull pranks on each other and 100% Kaadhal set was like reviving my good old days from school and college.

Still from 100% Kaadhal in Tamil

You dubbed for yourself in Arjun Reddy. You have professed your love for Sid Sriram’s songs in many interviews before. How much of a command have you got over the languages and how have you been learning?

I keep having crushes on and off. I still am a big fan of Sid Sriram (laughs). I also am a big fan of Dulquer Salman and Parvathy Menon. It has been a dream to work with actors like Kamal Haasan, Suriya.. and I love Dhanush’s work. I listen to a lot of south Indian songs and I have always being a fan of Mani Ratnam movies. I have got so used to the languages now that during the discussion for the Hindi movie, I realised it has become difficult for me to finish a sentence in Hindi. I have started watching a lot of Telugu movies without subtitles. Earlier, I couldn’t differentiate between any of the south Indian languages but now I clearly understand that there are so many obvious differences between all of them.

What are your upcoming projects?

I have Silence coming up in Tamil, with Anushka Shetty and Madhavan. The movie will be releasing by the end of this year. Then there is Gorilla and 100% Kaadhal. My Bollywood debut would be hitting screens around June-July.