Thulasi Nair speaks to Subha J. Rao about Yaan, being a student and dipping into her actor-mom’s vast reserves of acting tips

A decade ago, two girls sat on a sofa in their Mumbai home watching television. Their mother buzzed about the house getting dinner ready. Suddenly, they saw someone resembling her on screen. “Amma, see. Someone like you is on TV,” piped up Thulasi, the younger daughter. Radha, the mother, merely smiled. That was Karthika and Thulasi’s introduction to the work of their actress-mother, who, with her sister Ambika, ruled the industry for nearly a decade.

Today, Thulasi Nair inhabits twin worlds. In one, she’s a typical teen, who hangs out with friends on the streets of Mumbai and agonises over her commerce and economics papers. In another, she lives out the fantasy of a million girls, working with biggies such as Mani Ratnam and Ravi K. Chandran. The actress, all of 16, is awaiting the release of Yaan, where she is paired with Jiiva.

There’s a lot of hope riding on this movie, for her much-hyped debut Kadal did not exactly set public imagination on fire. Thulasi says she did not expect to be part of another big-ticket film after Kadal, but she’s delighted to work with Jiiva. Incidentally, Jiiva was also the hero of Ko, her sister Karthika’s debut movie. “Yaan was a blissful experience. I was cast opposite an established star known for his performances and it was a lot of learning on the sets.”

The learning continued in between shoots and long after she reached home. “I was giving my Class XI exams, and did not want to let my parents down by doing badly in them. Recently, I had to write two exams in one day, and I studied in-between lunch and during my make-up sessions. There were days when I slept for just an hour or so before hitting my study table,” she smiles.

In Yaan, Thulasi plays Srila, daughter of a retired defence officer, who lives in Chennai. “She’s a very mature girl, and it felt good bringing her to life,” she says. It helps, the actress says, that she is quite mature in real life too.

Thulasi seems quite untouched by all the stardust surrounding her. “That’s because, the minute I pack up and come home, I’m just Thulasi. Nothing else.” Her friends ensure she stays grounded too. “They are not aware of the South Indian film industry. They are happy for me, but not giddily excited. When we meet, they give me the lowdown on school and what I missed out on.”

There’s little to feel proud about, insists the actress. “I’m just two movies old! There’s so much more to do. I’m just starting out,” she laughs.

So, does she discuss films with her sister, actress Karthika, and her mom? “Yes, but they stop with guiding me.” Radha, apparently, gets nervous at the thought of watching Thulasi shoot. “For years, she kept us away from her previous avatar. She wanted us to know her as a regular mom. Now, she helps me with body language… I happily dip into her vast experience.” Also helping her in her tinseltown journey is her ‘favourite’ aunt Ambika. “She tells us such funny stories; she’s a great mime.”

If she was one of two newcomers in Kadal, in Yaan, she is the baby on the set, looked after and pampered by all. “But, I feel I’ve grown as an actor,” she says.

The past two years have been nothing short of amazing, says Thulasi. But, more dramatic than that is the way in which she entered the industry. “That was a huge surprise. Gautham Karthik and I had the task of recreating the magic our parents shared in Alaigal Oivathillai. I went for acting classes and learnt everything on the sets,” she recalls.

Today, Thulasi says she is a more confident actor. And, someone who is waiting to take on meaty roles and give her best to a film. Basically, do everything that will help her grow as a performer.

Seaside story

I was very sad Kadal did not do as well as expected, but I did not take the failure to heart. My mom has always told me to never take success or failure too seriously. She says that the off-screen experiences you take back and the love you receive are all that matter. That way, I’m truly happy with what I received from the film.