With a fair share of Indian and Hollywood films in her kitty, actor Shriya Saran says that the two worlds are different in many ways.
One thing not many people know about Shriya is how hard she works to get it right. Even if it's just a guest lecture where all she needs to do is show up and wave to get 3000 students cheer and howl. The actor was recently in Chennai to talk to IITians about the evolution and impact of cinema. Shriya Saran is not really new to delivering serious, academic lectures. She's done it at IIM Ahmedabad and addressed students much older than her — which is why she really hoped the students at Saarang 2011 were in a mood to listen. The boisterous crowd was far too excited to see her that they clapped and cheered all through.
Back to the film front. Shuttling between Hollywood and regional film industries, Shriya has quite a bit on her plate.
She recently signed her third Hollywood film, Deepa Mehta's “Winds of Change” (after “The Other End of the Line” and “Cooking with Stella”), and is busy with “Casanova” (Malayalam) and “Rowthiram” with Jeeva. Excerpts from an interview with the actor.
How different is the Hollywood experience from the regional?
When it comes to filmmaking — India or abroad, there are two approaches. First, when the director knows what he's making. Second, where he has an idea and explores that while making the film. There's a saying that you keep one door of the studio open because you don't know which idea will come in. Some directors are open to ideas, and some are rigid. And, some actors are into method acting, and some, instinctive. Abroad, there's a lot of homework they make you do in terms of script readings, understanding your character and working towards it.
Like the accent for ‘The Other End of the Line'.
Yes — from accent training to figuring out where she lives, from going to her house to seeing the colours she likes. I made a box of clothes she'll wear, and came up with small things such as pencils and rings she has. But, here everything is on-the-spot, you have to play along the tracks. I like method acting. I like to understand. I ask many questions, I am a thinking person. I do rely on my instinct, but for me, I am as good as my director is. It also has to do with the budgets. English is spoken in so many markets, so they need to do a lot more research.
Do you find any other difference — in terms of stories?
In India, actors have an image. Which is why stories are told through the actors, and that becomes a problem for actresses such as us, because that gives us very little space to explore. Also, the story develops around the actor. There, even Brad Pitt or Leonardo will work around a story. That rarely happens here.
Do you see that happening in Hindi cinema?
Because of multiplexes, they can make a film like ‘No One Killed Jessica'. Directors and actors can choose to do a small film and then a big film. But here, in Tamil, an actor can't do that because they have so many theatres playing it to recover the budget.
You've often maintained that you focus on the emotion than the language while working down South. Any efforts to go the extra mile and learn the language?
Every time I try doing that, I realise that the grammar is a little too difficult to understand. It requires my director to be more patient. Also, it's easier for someone else to dub for you. If I have to go that extra mile and speak my own lines, the directors too need to organise workshops, we need to be given the script and the material to work on… You can't do method acting by yourself, no? You need the other actors to sit with you for readings, you need theatre teachers to conduct the workshops. It's a different work culture altogether. You can't replicate just one idea from abroad, you have to bring in the whole system.
What do you think is the most important quality for an actor?
To not act, but react. But to become an actor, there are a hundred million other qualities required in India. To be successful, it's a combination of talent and being at the right place at the right time. There are really talented people who are not successful. Success is a funny phenomenon, God knows how it works! To sustain oneself, one should learn to not take success or failure too seriously. You just need the confidence to stand there and say ‘Even if I fall, I can get up'. There's a saying in Sanskrit that goes ‘give me the sunshine I deserve'. If you get beyond that, it will burn you. If you get less, you will die. Hold on to your belief that you deserve it.
Do you think genes and succession play an important role to be a star in India?
Most superstars in India don't come from film backgrounds. So, I don't believe that's how it works. We grew up in an environment very different from theirs. We didn't wake up to see parents going for film shoots. It helps to come from such a background because you learn a few things quicker. You know the people already, you can work with directors, assist them. Getting the break is easy, but to sustain, I don't think it helps. Also, you are always compared to who you are related to.