'Stop listening to the world, do what you want to do': Meghana Raj to TNM

In this interview with TNM, Meghana speaks about the pressures she faced in returning to cinema after she had a baby, how she is processing her grief over Chiranjeevi's death, and her upcoming film produced by Pannaga Bharana.
Actor Meghana Raj in a pink saree
Actor Meghana Raj in a pink saree
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Meghana Raj has just announced a new film after a short break. But the past year, with its many upheavals, may have been the longest for the actor who lost her beloved husband, Chiranjeevi Sarja, when she was five months pregnant. Though she has been through fire, Meghana has emerged as an inspiration for many who are moved by the actor's courage and willingness to take on life, as unpredictable as it is.

Directed by newbie Vishal and produced by Pannaga Bharana, the announcement of Meghana's new film has thrilled her fans who have missed her on screen. In an interview with TNM, Meghana speaks about her new project and why she's excited to be back on the sets, the pressures of returning to work after giving birth, how she processed her grief and more.

Though some may call this your comeback film, you've not really been away from the action for too long. Do you consider this to be a second innings in that sense?

Frankly speaking, I don't think I'm looking at it as my second innings. Something people don't know about me is that I love being on the sets. It's my natural habitat. Probably, not working or not doing anything related to films would be something very different for me. I'd been looking forward to doing films again but didn't know when exactly I would be okay with doing films post-delivery. I don't think I can call it a 'comeback'. I'd rather call it my first film...because of all that has happened, the way things have transpired in my life. This is my first film because of that.

The film, we hear, is a thriller. What can you tell us about it?

The film is a crime thriller, yes. When I heard the script, from the beginning till the end, I realised that this is a film where you cannot let your mind wander. You have to watch it with very quick reflexes. You have to keep yourself glued to the screen. That's how I heard the script. We are planning to go on floors by the end of November or beginning of December, depending on certain locations that haven't been finalised it. The recce is still going on. We have a couple of characters for which we need to do the casting. Once that is done, it should be done by the end of December is what we think.

Meghana Raj with Vishal and Pannaga Bharana

Many women, not only actors, feel the pressure to step back from their career once they've had a baby. What's your take?

Initially, I liked that whole phase when I didn't have to do anything but be there for my child. But honestly speaking, nobody asked me when I was getting back to work. People wanted me to do films but every single person who spoke to me told me to take my time. But for a lot of us, including me, who are told that we can always bounce back, there are a few nagging points. You wonder if you don't do it now, will it be too late. You ask yourself if it's too quick if you start now. These questions do come to an individual because of society's mindset on how a woman should be. I don't think people have still changed that perception.

In fact, a majority of women think that women shouldn't go back to work immediately and that they should stay back with the child. There are a lot of women who have told me that my child is now my world and I should just sit with him. This includes women who are strong and independent themselves. Then there are other kinds of pressure too. There are people who have asked me, "Okay, so three months done [since delivery]. When are you getting back in shape?" Because I'm an actor, they expected me to get back in shape very quickly. They've seen actors do that previously and they think it's extremely easy for people to just get back in shape. But I think we should all just turn a deaf ear to all that, and do whatever we feel like.

Initially, such pressures literally broke me in a very different way. I didn't even feel like coming back to films because of those pressures. But I had to eventually sit with myself and say, "Stop listening to the world. Do what you want to do." There were a lot of expectations on me taking my career decision. It's only when I turned a blind eye to it that I was able to make a decision with clarity today.

Your Instagram page is full of positivity and it's really wonderful to see your courage. Where do you draw your strength from?

I draw my strength from what I want from the future. A lot of things going on in my life can make me feel like I should just give up, and not do anything. The easiest for me would have been to sit at home and not do anything. I don't have to go back to work to look after my family. There are many women who are in worse situations than me. I could sit and grieve at home, and it did look like an easy choice for me at one point in time. But when I look at my future, my son, that's where I draw my positivity from. When he's around, I don't feel sad. I only feel like asking "What's next?". I plan what to buy for him, where to take him. I keep thinking what would Chiru want for him. I know exactly what Chiru wanted. We both were like two sides of the same coin and we knew each other really well. We were very different but at some points, we were also very similar. So we understood each other, and that way, you can say I draw my positivity from my son. And of course, my mindset. I like to look at the good things in life.

Meghana Raj

Grief can be hard to process for anyone, but when you're in the public eye, it can be even harder. How did you handle this?

This is a good question. The point when I wanted to shut off, when I didn't want to see anyone, was the time everybody wanted to be around me. That was the most difficult part for me. The minute I stepped out of the house, people would come up to me with concern. They were trying to say things that they thought would make me feel better, but they made me feel worse. I told myself that I had to deal with it because I didn't have a choice. It's true that people in the public eye have it 10 times worse when it comes to processing grief. People say that they draw their inspiration from Meghana, she's like this, she's like that...that, in itself, is a pressure. To look positive all the time.

There was a point when I wondered if it would be wrong to do something because of how people would take it. I was doing things for myself, but the minute that question comes — what will people think — that's when you're actually breaking. I told myself that this is not how I was, this is not how I function. I always feel good about the things I've said and done.

I was so empathetic that I forgot that I have feelings too. I was thinking people are being so nice to me, so should I behave only in a particular way? That started to bother me a lot, and I had to tell myself that it's okay to be the way I've always been. You don't have to cover up your feelings because someone expects you to be a certain way after an incident.

I must say that my friends let me be me. And of course, my mother. She has been exceptional. There have only been two people who have seen the worst and best of me. That is Chiru and my mother. In this particular phase, my mother has been everything, my foundation, my pillar. She has been fallback system. I close my eyes and I know that there is a person there who will make sure that I will always be okay.

Meghana with Chiranjeevi Sarja

Raayan will soon be one and there's a lot of media attention on him already. How do you feel about that?

It's overwhelming that a lot of people want to know about Raayan and every single day, I keep getting media calls on updates about him. It is a pressure on me. It is also scary that we're all in the social media world, and a lot of children are on it too. We cannot avoid it, but at the same time, as a parent, I'm also worried about how things will work out for him. With so much media attention and people wanting to know about him, it sort of scares me. How do I protect him is the first instinct I have every time I think about this. If we treat him as a child and let him be, that's a different thing. But people shouldn't expect a lot from a tiny baby. I just want him to grow up like a normal child. I don't want him to feel that he has to prove himself every single day.

Meghana with Raayan

You come from a film family yourself. Growing up, how was it dealing with all the attention?

Honestly, I was not brought up in such a way where I was told you belong to actor parents and there are certain expectations on you. I had a proper middle class upbringing. Everything was not just given to me. There were times when I was spoilt or treated like a princess and I'm not going to deny that. But at the same time, my parents didn't think they had to give me something only because I wanted it and I was their daughter. They never thought that at the end of the day, I'm their daughter, so I didn't have to work hard. They themselves worked very hard to reach where they are. They come from humble beginnings. So I never thought of my parents as being stars. I didn't get that kind of attention in school.

Back then, it was very normal. The maximum reaction would me, "Oh your parents are actors? How nice!". Now things are different. Everything is pan India, pan global, and we don't know how things are going to pan out!

Many celebs find social media to be a toxic space. How has your experience been?

It is quite toxic, but only when we let it affect us. I was never really that affected by social media until YouTube came up and everyone had access to it. Anyone could start a channel and put up thumbnails just to get views. Until then, everything was fine. But then, they start creating stories about you just to get views and that can start affecting you. I understand what social media is, but people of my parents' generation, they don't understand how YouTube or Instagram works. When something very random pops up, they ask "Oh is this true?", you have to sit them down and speak to them. Even then, they ask "But why do they put it like that? There must be something to it. Let's open it and see." I have to tell them not to do it and not to believe what's there on social media.

What plans for Raayan's birthday bash on October 22?

We have just started planning, and I know it's very, very late. Every single person I've asked has told me, "You're asking us now?!" I've been telling them that yes, I've been really busy with my film and the press meets. I just didn't have time to think about his birthday. I also know that people have a lot of expectations since it's his first birthday and it's going to be something. I hope I match up to those expectations, but I have to say, I just want it to be one day when I can enjoy. I want to become a child myself. I want to play with him. I want to be there for him. I just want to laugh and spend the day with him, enjoying it to the fullest. That's what I have planned for myself and Raayan....about others, I don't know [laughs].


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