Playing solo lead is a huge responsibility: Samantha opens up on 'Oh! Baby'

Samantha speaks about how she picks her roles, the online trolling she has faced, and how difficult it was to get comedy right in 'Oh! Baby'.
Playing solo lead is a huge responsibility: Samantha opens up on 'Oh! Baby'
Playing solo lead is a huge responsibility: Samantha opens up on 'Oh! Baby'
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If Rangamma, the innocent yet bold village woman in Rangasthalam fights her family to unite with her lover, Vaembu in Super Deluxe is overridden with guilt after her ex-boyfriend dies on her bed. While Rachana in U-Turn is all determined to decode the spree of mysterious killings happening in a city, Sravani in Majili knows nothing but only her constant devotion for a drunkard husband.

Yes, Samantha Akkineni’s characters in the past two years, beginning from the 2018 hit Rangasthalam to this year’s Majili, have nothing in common but at the same time, these roles have established her as one of the most bankable actors in the south. The actor, who began her career in Telugu with the remake of Vinnayithaandi Varuvaya, is now awaiting the release of Oh! Baby, another remake, this time of the Korean movie Ms Granny, in both Tamil and Telugu.

Playing the solo lead in what is touted as a comedy entertainer, Samantha says her role in Oh! Baby is one of the most difficult characters she has played till date. Laughing about questions posed on her getting a huge cut-out outside Devi theatre at RTC Cross Road in Hyderabad, which usually the likes of Pawan Kalyan and Prabhas grab, Samantha says she is only happy knowing that fans are eagerly awaiting the release of the movie. In a candid chat with mediapersons, Samantha talks about making comedy work in Oh! Baby, acting as a mother to Rao Ramesh, responding to trolls and much more.

In Oh! Baby, you are the solo lead, a rarity in Indian cinema. You played a similar character in U-Turn too, which released last year. How does it feel to carry an entire film on your shoulders?

It is a huge responsibility when you play the solo lead. To be honest, it is literally on my shoulders. I am stressed and tensed about its release, unlike many movies I have done in the past. Names like Prabhas, Jr NTR, Mahesh Babu or Allu Arjun by default draw huge audiences to theatres. But a movie like ours is actually a test on the kind of audiences it can bring to watch the movie in theatres. But both Oh! Baby’s teaser and trailer have received good response from viewers, so we are also equally hopeful of the movie’s success.

Oh! Baby seems like a blend of comedy, action, romance and emotion. Especially comedy, a genre you have never tried before. How did you decide on this remake?

When it comes to a thriller or a film with a social message for the audience, a film led by a woman will automatically be reduced to one with a niche audience. I learnt this lesson from U-Turn. Even though the film received good responses from critics, it failed to re-create that magic at the box-office. But I do not blame the audience for this. Because as an actor, audience expect different things from you. I think for women actors, we need to make more universal movies. Oh! Baby, for that matter, has a universal subject. It has already released in seven countries and has tasted success. There is the right amount of comedy, romance and sentiments. And this is the reason I am more confident doing the movie after U-Turn. If this too doesn’t work out well at the box-office, well, I don’t know what I will be doing next! (Laughs)

Will it be right to say that your role in Oh! Baby is one of the toughest characters you have played till date?

Definitely, yes! Because it is very easy to watch comedy on screen, but very difficult to work it out in a way that the audience would laugh with it. Every day, by 6 pm, I would be both physically and emotionally drained shooting for the film. Emotional movies have been my forte. I know the rhythm and timing to act in romantic and dramatic sequences. But to get the rhythm right for a film that is throughout comical, to be in sync with that humour throughout the course of it, is exhausting. I am playing a 70-year-old woman who is stuck in a younger version of herself. I cannot overact for the sake of humour. So I had to draw this very fine line between overacting and behaving like a 70-year-old and still being able to stop right there, where the humour begins.

It is known that you suggested Ms Granny to Nandini Reddy for a remake. After her movie Jabardasth, what made you think she could be the best person to direct Oh! Baby?

Nandini is an adult with a child’s heart. She is a very honest person and a lot like a baby. And I thought that from the point of view of a woman, she will be able to do more justice to the movie. And I am very proud of this decision because it has done 100% justice done to the film.

You play the role of a grandmother, a mother to Rao Ramesh and your best friend in the film is another 70-year-old? Did you prepare a lot to get the body language right?

After shooting for the film, I attended a Marvel event along with Rakul, Tammannah and Kajal Aggarwal. When the pictures from the event came, I realised that I still had the mannerisms of a 70-year-old while the other three women were sitting very poised on the stage!

I visited old age homes and interacted with a lot of old people to learn how they behave, the way they talk and walk. I have never lived with my grandparents and it was a whole new experience for me. But the most difficult part was to shoot my sequence with Rao Ramesh gaaru to whom I play a mother. I took a two-hour break before I shot the sequence. I kept the entire set waiting because I have to look at Ramesh gaaru as a person born out of me and is now a 50-year-old. I am very used to emotional scenes and I have a little bit of arrogance that I can pull off such scenes well. But in this scene, I had the challenge of convincing the audience that yes, Samantha, who looks so young here, is mother to this 50-year-old man. It was very difficult to relate myself as a mother not to a child, but a fully grown adult.

Talking about emotional scenes, did this arrogance help you in filming the climax of Super Deluxe, which was emotional and terrifying at the same time?

Super Deluxe and Majili released in a span of four days where I play roles that are polar opposites. For me, the character should scare me to the point that three days before the shoot begins, I shouldn’t sleep. Vaembu really scared me. Because from scene one, it’s a character that the traditional audience would hate. But at the same time I need to create a natural sympathy for myself. People should move over the fact this woman slept with someone else outside her marriage. For Super Deluxe, I just created a character arc for myself and stuck to that throughout the movie.

Samantha in Super Deluxe

From Rangasthalam to Majili, you have been delivering one success after another. Do you think you have cracked the success formula for the industry?

I don’t think there is a success formula as such. I often forget the roles I have done before and move on to the next film. I don’t think you can ever decode the industry. I try decoding the audience instead, understand what they expect from you as an actor and choose roles accordingly.

Despite playing strong woman characters and solo leads, you have been trolled for your dressing choices or there is someone else who is worried about the ‘good news’, which isn’t the case with male actors in the industry. How do you respond to this?

I don’t think as an actor I view them very critically, because whenever someone asks me about the "good news", it makes me realise that I come from a very privileged section in the society, a woman who has the right to make her own choices. Especially after shooting for Oh! Baby, I understood more about motherhood and how women from generations before us never had the power to make these choices. I have never let such questions affect me negatively, because I realise as a woman I can make my own decisions and also have a family which whole-heartedly supports my choices.

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