She may be just a few films old but actor Sayyeshaa has a great lineup of films this year, working with some of the prominent names in the industry. Coming from a family of stars - her mother Shaheen and father Sumeet Saigal have done a good number of Hindi films - Sayyeshaa is also the grand-niece of popular Bollywood couple Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu. In this TNM exclusive, the star talks about her passion for dance and on what the audience can expect from her upcoming films. Excerpts from the interview.
You began your acting career very young - you were 16 when you did your first film. Did you always want to become an actor?
I was always passionate about dancing and from a young age I knew I wanted to become an actor. It is not that I didn’t like academics. I also love baking and I did my diploma in patisserie from Cordon Bleu, London. But I’ve always been passionate about acting. If not an actor, I might have chosen to become a dancer. I’d like to stay closer to the creative/performing fields.
Coming from a film family, would you say you’ve had an easy entry?
Honestly, we’re a very non-filmy family. Even at home, we never talk about films. I never felt I belonged to a family of actors. Our conversations are not around films or on actors. In fact, the first time I saw a film camera was on the sets of Akhil, my debut film. My entry into films, therefore, are not because I come from a family of actors. It happened very gradually.
You’ve been appreciated for your dance moves. Tell us about your passion for the art form.
I began dancing very young - when I was about 8. I’ve had the chance to learn different forms - Latin American Dance, Kathak, Odissi, Hip Hop, Belly Dancing. Even today when I’m not on sets, I like training and practising.
Tamil is a language you’ve picked up fairly quickly. Is this a conscious effort to learn more languages?
Tamil is a very new language for me. I hadn’t heard it until I actually started working on the film. But I have this interest to learn the language and I’ve been working pretty hard for it. I’ve got a lot of people around me who speak the language. But I’d say, by now, I’m used to acting even in languages that I don’t know. Tamil, however, is my most comfortable language to act in.
You’ve made your debut in Bollywood, Tollywood and Kollywood. Tell us a bit about your experiences in three different industries.
Akhil was my first film before which I hadn’t even seen a film camera. I didn't know much about how films were made and I should say director VV Vinayak sir was more like a parent on sets. Shivaay with Ajay Devgan sir was a completely different experience. It was a six-camera setup, extravagant film and it was my first big film.
Vanamagan, however, offered me the right launch pad. I’d call director Vijay anna the Yash Chopra of Tamil Nadu. I loved working on the film.
You once mentioned that your mother doubles up as your costume designer and your manager. Does your mother, who was once an actor, help you prepare?
My mother is my backbone. She does everything right from managing my work to designing my costumes. She is also my PR and stylist and above all my driving force. Although she very rarely compliments, she’s very honest with her feedback and so she’s my biggest critic. However, she does not interfere with my work. We also don’t discuss work when we’re together.
You’ve got three big films lined up for release this year. Tell us a bit about your roles in it.
The three characters that I’ve done in the films are poles apart. It was a conscious decision to choose different types of roles to avoid being typecast.
In Kadai Kutty Singham I play a rural girl. Initially many did not think I could pull it off. My makeup is four shades darker and I had to spray my hair black every day. The accent in this film too is different so there was a lot of practise.
In Junga on the other hand, it is a very modernised, glamorous character. Almost all my scenes were shot in Paris, so every frame looks very grand.
I play a very feminine, girl-next-door in Gajinikanth. The film itself is extremely funny. It’s one of my favourites so far.
The industry itself is not what it used to be ten years ago. A lot of them are opening up about sexual harassment and pay parity in the industry. What are your thoughts on this?
The world, in general, is becoming so much more aware about a lot of things and I believe, celebrities have the power to influence people. I am not a feminist but I believe people have the right to open up and now is a great chance to speak out loud.
When it comes to pay parity, the kind of films I’ve done so far are run by the heroes. And people watch films for the hero, not because its Sayyeshaa’s film. At least, not yet. So I don’t feel pay is unfair in such cases. Also, I’ve done pretty good roles so far and I’ve not felt the disparity harshly.
Also, we are having a good number of female-centric films being made and I’m all for women getting to do more important roles. I guess the gap is bridged to an extent in such cases.
Tell us about your upcoming films.
Right now, I’m focusing on Tamil films. I’ll be starting work on a Tamil project with a great director-actor combination, which you’ll be hearing about soon enough. I’m also listening to a lot of scripts so it is pretty early to tell.