Kajal Aggarwal interview: ‘Satyabhama’ is a mass film, but not a lady ‘Singham’

Actor Kajal Aggarwal, headlining the Telugu cop drama film ‘Satyabhama’, opens up on training for action sequences post maternity break, ‘Indian 2’ and her 17-year career

Updated - May 28, 2024 10:25 am IST

Published - May 28, 2024 09:41 am IST

Kajal Aggarwal in ‘Satyabhama’

Kajal Aggarwal in ‘Satyabhama’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kajal Aggarwal has been in the thick of interviews and promotions for her new Telugu film, Satyabhama, over the last few weeks. At an apartment in the vicinity of HITEC City, Hyderabad, which doubles up as her workspace, the actor who has just completed a photoshoot takes off her chunky earrings and puts her feet up to sit comfortably on the sofa as we begin to speak.

Satyabhama, directed by Suman Chikkala with screenplay by writer-director Sashi Kiran Tikka (of Goodachari fame), is Kajal’s 60th film, scheduled to release on June 7. Since she headlines the film, the promotions are worked around #Kajal60 and she is termed ‘Queen of the masses’. “The tag came from my fans and the makers incorporated it; it was not like my team made a sales pitch for such a tag. I am grateful and consider myself lucky for the loyalty, support and encouragement I have been receiving for 17 years,” says Kajal, adding that Satyabhama is a ‘massy’ film. “My character — ACP Satyabhama — is in a commercial space, yet off the beaten track.”

Emotional connect

Kajal Aggarwal in ‘Satyabhama’

Kajal Aggarwal in ‘Satyabhama’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Playing a cop in an action drama has been on her wishlist but Kajal asserts that Satyabhama is not akin to a female version of Singham. She features in full-fledged action sequences but the narrative, she explains, shows the emotional vulnerability of a female cop. “Satyabhama is feisty and can use law and order to help the oppressed, but we also see how she gets affected by everything that happens around her. It was emotionally and physically a tough film to do.” 

The task was tougher since Kajal swung into action mode after a maternity break; she has been juggling between being a new mother and fulfilling her work commitments, including director Shankar’s Indian 2 headlined by Kamal Haasan. 

Before discussing the action sequences, Kajal recalls being emotionally invested in the cop drama when she heard the narration of Satyabhama. She had discussions with the writers (Suman Chikkala, Sashi Kiran Tikka and Prashanth Reddy) on the backstory of her character. “The makers had several hypothetical situations that made me understand how my character would behave in different situations. The screenplay does not explain much and trusts the intelligence of the audience. We had workshops and I made notes on my copy of the script.” 

One of the toughest sequences, says Kajal, involved the climax for which the team rehearsed for 10 days. “When Satyabhama comes face to face with her nemesis, she has a choice — to overpower or leave the opponent to realise and reform, for closure and justice. What she does at that point defines who she is.” 

When Kajal faces the camera after such elaborate preparations, does she perform as rehearsed or let spontaneity take over? “There are times when all the rehearsals help; there are times I go blank and decide to be spontaneous since I have understood the story and the situation. Sometimes those spontaneous shots end up better than the rehearsed ones.”

Action mode

Kajal Aggarwal in ‘Satyabhama’

Kajal Aggarwal in ‘Satyabhama’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The action sequences required Kajal to deliver some solid punches. Like most actors, she has been fitness oriented for years. In 2018, she began learning Kalaripayattu for Indian 2, Krav Maga for a Telugu film that she let go following pregnancy, and mixed martial arts. 

Getting back to her fitness routine after delivery was not a cakewalk, she says, “I began doing yoga two weeks after my son was born. Earlier I would do 108 Surya namaskars with ease and here I was struggling to do five. I could squat while lifting several kilos earlier and post delivery it was tough to squat with just my body weight. I spent the first few weeks at my mother’s place; my mom thought I had lost my mind to begin exercising that soon. I wanted to work for the dopamine effect. At that point, it was not about any film. My husband, my trainer and friends asked me to take it slow. I learnt to not expect quick results and take it one day at a time. My muscle memory kicked in and I slowly regained my stamina.” Weeks later, she was learning horse riding for Indian 2

Three vital lessons
Kajal debut as a leading lady in the 2007 Telugu film Lakshmi Kalyanam. Reflecting on her 17-year career, Kajal says there have been several lessons through experience and observation. She chooses three:
Anxiety: “Sometimes, it is okay to be anxious. There were moments when I asked myself if I would ever return to face the camera. I was unsure how I would manage as a new mom. There was no external pressure; my family has been supportive. I learnt to be patient, go easy on myself and practice self love.”
Success and failure: “I have learnt that the fate of one film does not affect your career in the long term. So I do not get too attached to the results.”
On merit: “From observation, I have learnt that the offers one gets are for talent and not because of who you hang out with.” 

Post maternity break when she faced the camera, Kajal fought back the guilt of a new mother who is spending time away from her son, but concedes that she had missed being an actor. With time becoming a constraint, she says she began weighing her choices with more care. 

Before we wind up, I ask Kajal if she feels the pressure of having to deliver a box office success, particularly post pandemic when Telugu cinema hesitates to put forth stories led by female protagonists for theatrical releases. “I would love to say that I do not feel the pressure, but the truth is, I do. I have butterflies in my stomach. I am excited and nervous about the days ahead. The entire unit has worked so hard and success would mean a lot to everyone.” 

Next up is Indian 2 and she has new films lined up, which are yet to be announced. Having ticked off the wish of doing an action film, Kajal hopes she will get to feature in a mythological drama. “One of my new films will see me doing something in a small capacity, but I would love to be a part of a full-fledged mythology. I am a greedy actor.”

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