After an eventful 2012 that included the run-away hit Naan Ee, Samantha tells Subha J Rao that the challenges she faced proved to be a tremendous learning experience

Samantha can’t stop smiling when speaking about 2012. She had four hits across two languages that year. She also learnt that she could bounce back from crisis. If her smart micro-artist act in Naan Ee/Eega was appreciated, many identified with the child-woman of Neethaane En Ponvasantham (NEP)/Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu. Then came the health scare that threatened to end her career.

“It was a huge learning experience. Professionally, I was on a high. Personally, I overcame my fears. I am more peaceful now; in a happy place,” says the actor, who is shooting in Pollachi for Trivikram Srinivas’ film with Pavan Kalyan. “I have never been swayed by success, but I was fearful about losing it. Petty things bothered me. Now, I know I can bounce back from the depths,” she says.

Samantha says Naan Ee was a small film when she signed up for it. “I gave up other films because I wanted to be a part of it; it was a well-thought out decision.” As for NEP and the glowing reviews, Samantha attributes them to “being honest on screen”. “I just did what came to my mind. I drew from influences — my cousins, my mom, my sister… I’ve seen them go through similar experiences. Nithya, in the film, has a bit of all of them.”

The film was also challenging. It started off as a trilingual — Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, but the Hindi film got postponed. “I’ve shot the first half of the Hindi film too. Gautam’s films have long dialogues. It was challenging to switch languages in an instant. I had great co-stars (Jiiva, Nani and Aditya Roy Kapur); they played the role differently. So, I changed my reactions. Gautam pushed me as an actor.”

NEP saw her experiment with dubbing. “I now have great respect for dubbing artistes. I’ve been sending Chinmayi (who dubs for her) great love. I’ve never lost my temper on the sets, but dubbing is hard work. I sometimes just could not get it right. It was like acting all over again.”

Fear of mediocrity

“After Naan Ee and NEP, I’ve become a greedy actor; I want good roles”, says the actor. Samantha, who has made a name for herself in cutesy, bubbly roles, seems to be looking for directors who can tap the actress in her. She even tweeted she wants to do movies that drag her out of her comfort zone. “I’ve related to most characters I’ve done; some tiny thread is always common. But, there are so many unexplored facets of a personality…Everyone has shades of grey; It would be challenging to do what Natalie Portman did in Black Swan.” She continues: “I thrive on challenges. Fear is a driving force. The fear of being mediocre scares me.”

After NEP, Samantha has signed up for one more Tamil film, and is awaiting the release of Siddharth-starrer Jabardasth (dubbed in Tamil as Dum Dum Pee Pee). She’s made a mark for herself in Telugu, but not many know Samantha started off with a Tamil film (the much-delayed Moscovin Kaveri). Her first release was Gautam’s Telugu Ye Maaya Chesave (Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya). Banaa Kaathaadi did not do very well either. But, the setbacks did not affect her much because of her strike rate in Telugu.

More Tamil films

“I’ve always wanted to do good Tamil films. I am a Chennai girl, after all, and enjoy Tamil films. I keep tweeting about them all the time. But, only recently have I got back here. I love the variety and author-backed roles… Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, Kaadhalil Sodhupuvadhu Yeppadi... I’m willing to give my all for a meaningful film.”

Even take a pay cut? “Of course. A good film is a kind of investment.”

Samantha has said she never expected to be in the industry. Does her popularity take her by surprise? “I never imagined I’d come this far. I do not fit the conventional heroine mould. In a way, that helps me connect better with people,” she says. Success, she insists, has not changed her. “Life was not handed to me on a golden platter. I faced reality early-on. So, I stay normal. I’ve learnt to cook. I hardly party. My friends date back to school and college. Some don’t even know what I do for a living. It’s liberating. I continue to hang around at Express Avenue. I love Bessie beach (Besant Nagar) and I still crave the caramel popcorn and cold coffee at Sathyam.”