Ramya Krishnan interview: On her ‘Jailer’ reunion with Rajinikanth, and reigniting the ‘Padayappa’ magic

The actor talks about being part of Rajinikanth’s latest with director Nelson, recalls her time on the sets of ‘Padayappa’ and ‘Panchatanthiram,’ and why she’d love to do a dance number in S.S. Rajamouli’s next

August 08, 2023 08:12 pm | Updated August 09, 2023 12:51 pm IST

Ramya Krishnan

Ramya Krishnan

It’s the reunion everyone has been waiting for since 1999; Neelmbari is finally married to Padayappa and is happy with a family?! 

When it was announced that Ramya Krishnan was cast opposite Superstar Rajinikanth in Jailer as his wife — and knowing director Nelson’s penchant for fan service — everyone has been expecting a throwback moment of some sort when the film releases this week.

Not so much, Ramya Krishnan says. But she does assure that it’ll be a special experience for everyone, even as she is busy looking ahead to her future projects: Trivikram’s Guntur Kaaramstarring Mahesh Babu, the second season of the biopic-drama series Queen, a new Hindi film headlined by her, and one more pan-Indian title that she can’t reveal too much about. 

“This phrase... ‘pan-Indian’ got so popular only after Baahubali! I realised the true sense of what it meant after the films’ success; now people across India and even overseas recognise me wherever I go,” she says, thoughtfully.

Ramya Krishnan as Sivagami in ‘Baahubali’

Ramya Krishnan as Sivagami in ‘Baahubali’

“Despite having been in this industry for so long, I’ve started being cognizant of my acting skills only in the recent past. Every film is still a learning process for me, and almost-four decades have gotten me to this point. It’s like a chain reaction; from the glamorous roles I used to do, to accepting a negative role in E. V. V. Satyanarayana’s Aayanaki Iddaru (the Telugu remake of Yash Chopra’s Aaina), which eventually led to me getting cast in Padayappa, after which my life changed.”

The actor talks to us about sharing screen space with the Superstar again, how she’s navigated nearly 40 years in the film industry, and wanting to star in a full-fledged romance drama sometime.

Excerpts from an excusive interview:

It’s been 24 years since ‘Padayappa’ happened. Why has it taken so long for us to see Ramya Krishnan team up with Rajinikanth again? 

Until Nelson came along, nobody had asked me to be part of a Rajinikanth film again!

But it was an easy decision to say yes to Jailer; give me one reason to turn down a chance to act with Rajini sir once more?! Back in 1999, during Padayappa, it was one of the first times a female lead was playing a negative role opposite a hero. But trust me, I’d have done the film even if it meant appearing in a single scene. 

Yes, I’m doing plenty of strong character roles now, but when it comes to a Superstar film… no two ways about it, I’ll always be game. 

What do you recall most vividly about working with Rajinikanth back then? How has the equation between you two evolved over the years?

Well, his work ethic — and mine — still remains the same. Nothing has ever changed about that and never will also. 

I remember several moments fondly from the sets of Padayappa. While figuring out the character of Neelambari, he said it might help if I put on some weight for the role. I did so, and then towards the end of the shoot — we had to film the ‘Minsara Poove’ song — he approached me and went, “Now might be a good time to lose that weight..” (laughs). I did manage to accomplish that also. 

Ramya with Rajinikanth in ‘Padayappa’

Ramya with Rajinikanth in ‘Padayappa’

But, something else he said stays with me clearly even today; it’s like a constant echo in my ear. He once told me, “You are God’s child,” and in his trademark fashion, took off before explaining what he meant! During Jailer, I kept wanting to ask him about this — I don’t even know if he still recalls it — but didn’t get the chance. Maybe one day I will. 

Would it be right to expect a blast of nostalgia from your role in ‘Jailer’?

I can’t reveal anything about the film, except that my name is not Neelambari in it. (smiles) Don’t come in expecting a Padayappa-Neelambari romance; these are two different characters, but Nelson has definitely managed to create a new kind of magic with them. 

A still from ‘Jailer’

A still from ‘Jailer’

From Neelambari and Sivagami to even the Jayalalithaa biopic, your acting career has become synonymous with playing these fiery, independent, strong-willed women. While it’s clearly led to some iconic roles, do you feel you are typecast sometimes?

That does happen. I’d actually love to do something like a mature romance now. With all the off-beat content being churned out these days, it would be exciting to take on something like that. 

Having said that, in the recent past, my roles in Super Deluxe and Ranga Marthanda(her husband Krishna Vamsi’s directorial) were quite different from the kind of characters I’m usually known for. It really depends on the scripts we get offered as actors; sometimes, I also get bored of playing the same roles, as does the audience. It’s good to take a breather once in a while and reinvent yourself.

Ramya Krishnan as Leela in ‘Super Deluxe’

Ramya Krishnan as Leela in ‘Super Deluxe’

That’s why, ever so often, I used to purposely select songs that nobody else would do to break the monotony; from Haiyo Paththikkichchu in Rhythm to Thoodhu Varuma inKaakha Kaakha. Back then, no other heroine would do special dance numbers; now after all these years, it’s suddenly become a trend!

In fact, I really want to continue doing them now also. (grins) During one of the Baahubali success meets, Rajamouli garu asked me what my dream role would be. I instantly told him that I’d love to do an item song in his next film! He was stunned and didn’t know how to react. I’m sure he thought I was mad to ask for this after playing someone like a Sivagami/Rajamatha. I’d already done a special number — Chinnadamme Cheekulu — 20 years ago in his film Simhadri with Jr. NTR. But why not now again? I just need to lose a bit of weight to get the moves right. 

You have also displayed great comic timing in some of the more light-hearted films that have come your way. How come you haven’t explored the comedic genre too often, especially after your turn as Maggie in ‘Panchatanthiram’?

Comedy is the most challenging genre actually for any actor who is looking to master their craft. Take Maggie from Panchatanthiram itself; it’s even more difficult to look all attractive and desirable and get the timing of the punchlines right. It’s not often such roles materialise.

It’s amazing how the film still holds up even today as the ultimate stressbuster. It was so well-written with the perfect combination of actors in the cast. Jayaram, Ramesh Aravind, Sriman, Sethu and Kamal sir, of course, were like five cooks preparing a dish together. The script would already have the most hilarious scenes, but each of them would be improvising so spontaneously that it was a difficult task for director KS Ravikumar to get them to stop! How does one decide which sequence to take and which to edit out? How do you stop Kamal Haasan — of all people — from going off-script? It was pure film magic. Even after my scenes were done, I’d just pull up a chair on set and sit there for hours, watching this experience of a lifetime unfold in front of me.

But you do take your time between projects these days; even after the phenomenal success of the ‘Baahubali’ franchise, you have just done around eight films in six years...

After the pandemic, my mindset changed for sure. All that time made me introspect and focus on what is important. Now I only say yes to projects which really convince me to leave my comfort zone, that is, my home, my family and my routine.

It’s not like I’m getting 10 to 15 offers every week, but I’m still quite selective. I choose them based on a combination of factors; sometimes I like the script, or it’s the co-stars and the filmmaker, or maybe it’s the money involved!

My parents are quite old, and my son — who is currently in the 12th grade — will disappear to college soon. That’s my entire world, and I want to spend as much time as possible with them while I can. 

I’m also in a space where I don’t want to rush my work, and take life in a relaxed manner. Gone are the days when I used to live out of a suitcase. My home was Chennai, but I was not getting any Tamil offers! This was before Padayappa. So I used to travel all over the country to do Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films.

You played a slightly fictionalised version of J. Jayalalithaa in the biopic series ‘Queen.’ Could there be a biopic on your career and life someday? If so, who would play Ramya Krishnan in it?

A still from ‘Queen’

A still from ‘Queen’

(laughs) I’ve never really thought my life is that interesting enough! Has my life had that many amazing highs and terrible lows? I’m not sure. Not yet. Maybe if I reach a truly great peak in my life sometime in the future.  As far as who would play me… well, nobody asked Jayalalithaa who should play her, did they? We’ll see if it happens in the future, and what the filmmaker wants. 

Jailer releases in theatres on August 10

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