You cannot lose humanity to save culture: Sai Pallavi on ‘Paava Kadhaigal’

Prakash Raj and Sai Pallavi in a scene from the film   | Photo Credit: Netflix

Sai Pallavi admits her love for what her peers in the industry would, perhaps, show resentment to — “I have this craving to play characters that are painful. I am drawn to that zone and am a sucker for that kind of cinema,” says the actor, over a Zoom call.

That she landed a role in Vetri Maaran’s “most violent” film for Paava Kadhaigal, an anthology of shorts directed by four filmmakers on the horrors of ‘honour’, does not come as a surprise, given the subject nature. Titled Oru Iravu, Vetri Maaran’s strand deals with an inter-caste marriage, and the chilling effect it has on the relationship between a father (Prakash Raj) and his beloved daughter (Sai Pallavi). She plays Sumathi, a pregnant woman, who is finally accepted into the family that is preparing for her baby shower.

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Excerpts from the interview:

‘Paava Kadhaigal’ is your first digital release. What were your initial thoughts when you read the script, though the idea of honour killing came from Netflix?

Generally, you think a lot about a film but Paava Kadhaigal was a short, so Vetri asked if I was comfortable doing an anthology. He gave a thin line on what was happening and I was happy with what I read. He said he would turn in the script in a month’s time, but it took longer and we went ahead with the shoot. I didn’t know what I was getting into at first. And that worked for the better because I was fully drawn into the world Vetri was trying to create. Me not knowing the script helped for a film like this because I would have already gone through those emotions.

And the movie is chilling, right?

It was only after filming the short did I realise something. At times you feel useless when there is so much happening around you, and when your voice cannot initiate a change. I felt less guilty after doing Oru Iravu because cinema is a strong tool where you make people go through what a father might before committing such a heinous crime. This is like a prelude to such crimes. Even if the film starts a single conversation at some point of time, I would feel better and happy. Through this film, I was able to lay off some heat that I have built within over the years.

There are two sides to the father-daughter relationship...

For me, as an actor, I try to stay true to what is expected of my character. That Sumathi was accepted into the family and that she was willing to put up with whatever that is said by people around her, was one thing. But in the end, it became personal: between the father and daughter.

It was a traumatic experience because I had to handle these two sides. With Vetri sir and Prakash sir, I knew the film was closer to reality. In the sense, the emotion that came out of it was as raw as possible. I remember crying even during the dubbing stage and remember having the same heavy heart when I watched it recently. It is not because we have made this film but because we captured how a father-daughter would feel in real life.

You spoke a bit about violence and Vetri Maaran is known for his violent tales. Was ‘Oru Iravu’ emotionally-draining for you?

Quoting Vetri, “It’s the most violent film I have made.” (laughs) He couldn’t stomach a girl go through all this. It was equally traumatising for him. I was happy that I got Sumathi, yes, but it was very traumatising. I had a physiologic reaction in my body and felt nauseous throughout.

Maybe it is because of the environment he created on set. In the middle of shoots, he would sit and talk about what’s happening in the film. He would speak with Prakash sir about his character and with me about mine. All of that plays in your head.

A sensational hit
  • ‘Rowdy Baby’ from Maari 2 has now become the first South Indian song to cross the one billion mark on YouTube. At any point during the course of filming, did you foresee any of this happening?
  • I don’t think any of us part of the song did. We wanted people to like it but then, we didn’t think it would become such a thing. Maybe I was too nervous and was carried away by the process of doing it right. I am glad it happened.

Have you thought about Sumathi since then?

I have been trying to forget her (laughs). I am a doctor and am not from the industry. I don’t know how things work here. When I came into the industry, every character I portrayed has had a counter reaction in my personal life. So, playing Sumathi was hard. Especially at a time when my friends were having babies. I started developing maternal instincts after playing a pregnant woman.

That said, we have only been talking about it [honour killing] and there is nothing we have done from our end [society]. I have been brought up saying you need to marry someone from your caste, which is a very basic thing and exists everywhere. As much a they are trying to comfort us by using culture as an excuse, one should also think about humanity. You cannot lose humanity to save culture. It doesn’t work that way. Watching videos and feeling empathetic over such incidents is not enough. In fact, only after watching the short did I realise that it would have made more sense to have released Paava Kadhaigal in theatres or even played it on television. Sometimes when you watch reality on screen, it hits you.

Do you have a favourite of the lot?

I haven’t watched the others’ except mine. From the trailer, I liked Kaalidas’ [Jayaram] character. I don’t know much about the film, but it looks really interesting.

In a 2016 interview with The Hindu, you had said that “you don’t know how to act and you just behaved the way you would if you were Malar or Anjali”. How have you evolved as an actor since that interview?

I guess I am still the same because the world I’m thrown into is very alien to me. Not totally alien but it is new. There were times when I felt exhausted with love stories and sometimes I would feel: “I have given this expression already with another hero. Maybe you should swap his face.”

(Laughs) Lately, I find love stories more challenging compared to characters like Sumathi. But love stories come my way easily. I need to show a difference in every film so that it wouldn’t look like the previous one. It is important for me to maintain this thought because if I was over confident, I would lose it.

It should not be an exaggeration to say that you have a massive fan base across South Indian thanks to ‘Premam’, ‘Fidaa’ and ‘Maari’. Earlier this year, we saw you taking selfies with fans when you appeared for a medical exam. Do you think your girl-next-door personality is what makes you accessible and relatable?

Maybe. To be honest, I am unaware of it even now. Even when Premam released, I had no idea why I didn’t want my friends to know I did a Malayalam film. Up until then, I didn’t think anybody would accept me. If what you said happens to be the case, I am happy.

Paava Kadhaigal releases on December 18

Watch: The people of 'Paava Kadhaigal'

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 7:11:29 PM |

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