Interview | Movies

Priya Bhavani Shankar: ‘You don’t matter until you work in a big hero film’

Priya Bhavani Shankar

Priya Bhavani Shankar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

One of the most sought-after leading ladies in Tamil cinema at the moment, actor Priya Bhavani Shankar, last seen as a narcotics cop in Karthick Naren’s ‘Mafia: Chapter 1’, discusses breaking image stereotypes, demanding stronger roles and why she finds certain industry practices frustrating

The initials PBS in modern Tamil cinema parlance has little to do with an iconic playback singer of the bygone era.

That PBS — as in Priya Bhavani Shankar for those not clued into pop culture — has come to be her calling card, quite literally (on film sets, among her fans and elsewhere), is a marker of the actor’s rise to prominence over the last couple of years.

Priya is sought after in the film industry here, primarily for her ability to speak Tamil. Such is her demand that she is slated to appear in no less than half-a-dozen films over the course of this year and the next.

Since making her début in Meyaadha Maan in 2017, the actor appeared in a supporting role in Kadaikutty Singam, and as the female lead in Monster. All three were commercially successful, and so Priya now finds herself in the spotlight of an industry that is only too willing to bet on an individual’s luck factor.

The rule of luck

Luck, however, is known to chart its own course: for some, it has resulted in success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, but for most people, it has resulted in a misstep leading to an uncontrollable slide downhill.

Does this proposition make luck feel like a burden? Priya insists that she would instead bet on her ability to choose a good script.

Arun Vijay and Priya Bhavani Shankar in a still from ‘Mafia’

Arun Vijay and Priya Bhavani Shankar in a still from ‘Mafia’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Honestly, I don’t believe in luck too much. I’m the kind of person who believes in the thoughts you put into the universe... (smiles)... but I’m very cautious when I choose the script. I do not merely want to increase the count of my movies. The script, the production house and my character in the script is what matters,” she says.

Priya’s recent release, the Karthick Naren directorial starring Arun Vijay, Mafia: Chapter 1, has her play the role of Sathya, a narcotics control officer.

For someone whose screen time has been limited to playing “homely” characters (read: soft and timid), Mafia was a breath of fresh air. “I thanked Karthi (the director) for visualising me this way,” she says, adding, “I do think I’m being typecast in this industry. Fortunately though, things have started to change.”

The image trap

Part of the reason for the existence of this image about her, she attributes to her television stint, as the lead character Priya Arjun in the Star Vijay soap Kalyanam Mudhal Kadhal Varai.

“It had an impact on how people started to see me. Soaps have that effect. It makes people start connecting you with their family. A couple of years ago, when I posted a picture of myself in shorts while on vacation, people were like: ‘You cannot wear this dress’. That was quite alarming to me. I cannot be the same fictional character I played in a soap forever. To break that image is a huge deal,” she says.

That is where Sathya in Mafia comes in. But playing a cop role can be demanding. For Priya, it felt like “going to college or school and learning something new on the first day”.

A happy life
  • Priya Bhavani Shankar has been in a long-term relationship stretching back over a decade. The duo met and fell in love during college. “The support I receive from him is incredible. I don’t think my growth puts him in an insecure place because he knows how much I love being here. I can only see happiness on his face when something good happens to me rather than being insecure with the fame and love I receive. And the kind of support I receive from my parents is because they know for sure that there is going to be this guy to take care of me even if things fall apart. When the time comes to leave, I won’t go, ‘Oh my God, I’m leaving. I’m ageing’ and all that. I know for sure I’m going to be beautiful for someone throughout my life,” she says.

What helped infuse confidence in her was the calm and collected nature of her director. “He is a very sorted guy. I ask him: ‘Where did you learn all this? What was your source of inspiration’, and he tells me that YouTube is his teacher. But I think he is naturally blessed with [knowledge of his] craft,” she says.

Equal treatment

Though she is happy with her choice of roles, Priya has one grievance with the industry. That it “isn’t very welcoming” when female actors demand that stronger roles be written for them.

“These demands are very basic. I do not want to just be a part of the movie. I do not want to sing a song and disappear. I wouldn’t like to see a character like that on screen if I was in the audience. But I guess sometimes it is intimidating to the [film]makers,” she says, before correcting herself slightly, “I think it might be intimidating.”

Priya Bhavani Shankar and Arun Vijay in a still from ‘Mafia: Chapter 1’

Priya Bhavani Shankar and Arun Vijay in a still from ‘Mafia: Chapter 1’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

She adds: “It is the case in most big scale films, but being a part of one also counts. I’m not saying you need to give me a strong character in big hero projects, but give me a purpose and don’t just turn me into a property.”

However, when the opportunity to be a part of Kamal Haasan’s Indian 2 came up, she put these thoughts aside to sign on the project.

“I wanted to be part of it somehow. I have seen top paid heroines set aside their demands and play minor roles in big star films. So, I went in with the mindset of taking whatever is offered. Fortunately, that was not the case,” says Priya, who is one of the female leads in the film, which also stars Kamal Haasan, Siddharth, Rakul Preet Singh and Kajal Aggarwal.

Priya considers being a part of such projects essential for climbing the ladder in the film industry.

“It is something that frustrates me. Until you are part of a big scale film, you don’t matter [in the industry]. Your hit movies don’t count, the characters you play doesn’t matter until you have played a role alongside a big hero. Sometimes, I think if Indian 2 did not happen for me, would I have been placed this way in Tamil cinema? I don’t know. People like Andrea [Jeremiah] have spoken about this in the past. It is not only about being a part of big hero projects, the quality of work that you do also matters. That has to be respected.”

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 7:49:28 PM |

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