Actor Keerthy Suresh on recreating the life and times of Savitri

She plays acting legend Savitri in Nag Ashwin’s bi-lingual biopic on the star

Updated - May 07, 2018 07:28 pm IST

Published - May 03, 2018 03:50 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

 Keerthy Suresh as Savitri in a still from the film Mahanati

Keerthy Suresh as Savitri in a still from the film Mahanati

Several women stars have radiantly lit up the Indian big screen. Books have been written about these leading ladies and their immortal characters. However, yesteryear actor Savitri is perhaps the first Indian heroine to be honoured with a biopic on her — Mahanati  in Telugu and Nadigaiyar Thilagam in Tamil.

Days before the big bilingual release, svelte Keerthy Suresh, who is stepping into the skin of the legendary Savitri in Nag Ashwin’s biopic on the actor, is neck-deep in work — dubbing sessions, rehearsals, promotions of the film and more. Her phone is switched off most of the time. Finally, just days before the D-Day, her manager connects you to the youngster.

 Dulquer Salman and Keerthy Suresh in a still from the film Mahanati

Dulquer Salman and Keerthy Suresh in a still from the film Mahanati

Trailers of the film showing a doe-eyed, graceful Keerthy playing the title role with élan along with Dulquer Salmaan as Gemini Ganesan have raked in millions of views while pictures of Keerthy in exquisite designer saris and hand-crafted, vintage jewellery have had netizens in overdrive. In the midst of all the hype and excitement, Keerthy admits she is one bundle of nerves with “thousands of butterflies in her stomach.”

Almost said ‘no’

In a phone interview, the youngster recalls how she almost said ‘no’ to the dream role of Savitri. “I was not sure if I could do justice to the legendary star. I am just starting my career and I was nervous if I could pull it off,” says Keerthy. The pretty woman adds that it took some persuasion before she said ‘yes’ to the role.

“Savitri ma’m, considered the first female superstar in India, had many ups and down in her life. Initially, I was a little hesitant about playing her as I wondered how people would react to it. But then the film director reminded me that her life was an open book and everyone knew about her saga of triumphs and tribulations,” says Keerthy.

Once she agreed to breathe life into Savitri’s story, Keerthy had to do a great deal of homework, beginning with watching her classic films and immortal characters. She spoke to the late actor’s contemporaries in the film industry and people who knew her. But what really helped her were conversations she had with Vijaya Chamundeswari, Savitri’s daughter.

“That really helped me to know the person and her persona. She was extremely helpful and told me about her mother’s mannerisms and characteristics. How she would hold her lips, how she would arch her eyebrows when she was angry, how she would laugh, talk… She came to the sets and watched me enact her mother. The film is about the life of the diva, only 20% of it focuses on her memorable roles and scenes from her big hits. So those conversations helped me get a picture of the woman behind the actor and that is what the director wanted,” says Keerthi.

Hundreds of costumes

Playing the yesteryear star from the age of 14 to 44 proved to be a demanding task that required Keerthy to swish through hundreds of costumes and saris and have the right hair-dos, jewels and make-up.

 Keerthy Suresh in a still from Mahanati

Keerthy Suresh in a still from Mahanati

“There were more than 120 costume changes, some of the saris were heirlooms sourced by designer Gaurang,” she adds. In the meantime, her mother, Meneka, herself an award-winning actor, ensured that her daughter was getting the right accessories and look. “Amma would call up and ask me if I had the right bindi, whether the hair was right with the front crimped just a little and so on. My parents came to the sets and they were surprised to see the hard work that went into each scene,” she says.

So impressed was Vijaya that she kept calling Keerthi her “pretty young mom”. “She was on the sets when a scene showing Savitri ma’m after her delivery was filmed. Vijaya ma’m said that it was a surreal experience to see her own life being shown on screen,” recalls Keerthi.

Since Savitri had put on weight at one point in her life, Keerthi had to turn to prosthetics to depict that. Three hours prior to the shoot were required to get the prosthetics right and then Keerthy had to sustain herself on fluids till the shoot was over. “It was not easy but this was a role of a lifetime and I have given my best,” says Keerthi.

Having dubbed in both Tamil and Telugu, Keerthi says she took 11 days for the dubbing in Telugu. Getting rid of her “strong Tamil-Malayalam accent was not easy but I worked on it a great deal. I had an ally in sound engineer Sreenivasan who motivated me a great deal during the dubbing. I felt confident with him around,” she says.

And when will the lass from Thiruvananthapuram be seen in Malayalam films? “Only after my current assignments in Tamil are over. Next up is Saami 2 with Vikram sir. Then there is part two of Sandakozhi  with Vishal, and Thalapathy 62 with Vijay sir,” she says.

Short takes

* My mother and Mammootty sir had acted in many hits. Now, I am acting with Dulquer and Mahanati   happens to be his debut in Telugu. Dulquer is a great co-star and it was nice to work with him.

* What was interesting about this film was that there were so many women in the crew and some of them were assistant directors and associates. The presence of so many women made such a big difference and they were all so very encouraging.

Fact file

* Keerthy is the daughter of film producer Suresh Kumar and actor Menaka.

* Priyadarsan’s Geethanjali marked her debut as an actor in Malayalam.

* Keerthy acted with Dileep in Ring Master.

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