Tamannaah Bhatia on ‘Jailer’, ‘Jee Karda’, ‘Lust Stories 2’ and Vijay Varma

The actor dominating headlines chats about her belated homecoming to Bollywood, working with superstar Rajinikanth in ‘Jailer’, and dating a sneakerhead

June 27, 2023 05:56 pm | Updated 06:01 pm IST

Tamannaah Bhatia

Tamannaah Bhatia | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Tamannaah Bhatia is everywhere. Two weeks ago, she took centre stage in Jee Karda, a hip, dawdling series that has drawn an impressive number of viewers on Prime Video. This week witnesses the release of Lust Stories 2 on Netflix, where she stars opposite Vijay Varma. (The actors, Tamannaah confirmed in an earlier interview, paired off on the film’s sets and have been dating ever since).

The actor’s southern roster remains as taut as ever: four years after her last Tamil appearance in Action, she stars alongside Rajinikanth for the first time in Jailer. She is also foraying into Malayalam cinema with the Dileep-led — and Bollywood-inflected — gangster film Bandra. “Since the age of 14, when I started acting, I have never discriminated between languages,” says the HappyDays, Ayan and Baahubali actor. “I was ‘pan-India’ before it was even a term.”

Excerpts from an interview...

Jee Karda — about seven close-knit friends navigating relationships and adulthood — felt like it was skimming the surface simply because it had to be packaged as a fun and light-hearted show. Do you agree with this criticism?

Not at all. The writers (Arunima Sharma, Hussain Dalal and Abbas Dalal) have focussed on giving a real perspective on what life is. Friendship is one space in life where we can behave in the best and worst possible way, and be our authentic selves. Take for instance the bathtub scene where my character, Lavanya, is laughing and crying at the same time. She is reacting without any filter. With friends, there are many happy and light-hearted moments as well as the deeper aspects of interpersonal relationships, which we have also shown. So it is a mix of both.

A still from ‘Jee Karda’

A still from ‘Jee Karda’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Was there a scene in the series that resonated with you personally?

It’s the moment where Lavanya flips out because her boyfriend has brought home the wrong ice cream. In the 2004 Telugu film Anand, written and directed by Sekhar Kammula, the girl calls off the marriage over a saree. In life, we often have some very big fights over trivial things but the problem is not that trivial thing. The problem is a pendulum of so many unaddressed issues that manifests itself in something small and disconnected. There is an entire back-end of emotions triggering it. In this case, it’s Lavanya’s mounting confusion and the layers of superficiality and compromise she suspects in her relationship. I found it to be a realistic portrayal, not a cinematic one.

You have been working more consistently in Hindi cinema. Your previous performances in the industry were limited to commercial comedies. Is Bollywood finally seeing you in a new light?

I feel a lot more people are waking up to the idea that I can do different roles. How exactly a project transpires is not in my hands but it has been a conscious effort on my part to put out different versions of myself. I did Babli Bouncer (2022) which was really about celebrating the physical strength of a woman. Plan A Plan B (2022) and Jee Karda were both set in Mumbai. I was born and raised in this city and finally got an opportunity to represent that lifestyle. I think I’m being celebrated with every part that I am playing. It’s definitely a validating time for me.

You’ve worked with Sujoy Ghosh in Lust Stories 2. He has a knack for writing memorable female protagonists.

Sujoy da has always been someone who has presented women in their best versions. His short in Lust Stories 2 is no different. He has given me a really strong part to play and has brought a completely new facet of me outside. It’s also important that the female perspective comes out when we are talking about lust and desire. And it needs to be viewed from a lens that is free of judgement. For a long time, we had a taboo around this subject in India. But it is changing. Even in the South, where mainstream commercial cinema is slightly different, filmmakers are trying to subvert the male gaze in interesting ways.

Tamannaah and Vijay Varma star together in ‘Lust Stories 2’

Tamannaah and Vijay Varma star together in ‘Lust Stories 2’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

When we interviewed Vijay Varma for Dahaad, he told us he doesn’t quite see himself as a rom-com lead. It’s funny because apparently, he was not just good in Lust Stories 2, but so good that the two of you ended up dating...

Vijay is one of the finest actors we have in our country and someone I look up to as an artist. He also does humour really well. He hasn’t attempted a full-blown romantic comedy yet but I feel he will be insanely good if he does. He is a natural at it. We keep joking that his sense of humour has not been tapped at all. I really hope filmmakers will notice that at some point and bring out that side of him. I as an audience member will certainly wait for that to happen on screen.

He is also a hardcore gamer and sneakerhead. Does that eat into your time?

Well, no because that is what he enjoys the most doing by himself (laughs). I am mostly happy watching him play his video games. That is his ‘me time’. But I have become a sneakerhead, influenced by him.

How was your experience working with Rajinikanth in Jailer? Are you paired opposite him in the film?

Jailer is an interesting ensemble because there are so many of us and all of us have a part to play in the equation. I was definitely elated to meet and work with Rajini sir. We don’t have much together, but when I met him it was a humbling experience because he is the biggest superstar that there can be and yet his simplicity was something that blew me away. I’ve been told not to comment on my equation with him in the film. People should watch it to find out.

...Jailer is one of my Tamil outings that will be exciting for fans. Another is Aranmanai 4, with Rashi Khanna and Sundar C sir. It is my way into the hearts of all Tamil women; it is a horror franchise that has been widely celebrated by Tamil women and their families and they wait for a new Aranmanai film. The new instalment has got something that will specifically appeal to that audience section.

Tamannaah has ‘Lust Stories 2’, ‘Jailer’, ‘Bandra’, ‘Aranmanai 4’ and ‘Bhola Shankar’ on her cards

Tamannaah has ‘Lust Stories 2’, ‘Jailer’, ‘Bandra’, ‘Aranmanai 4’ and ‘Bhola Shankar’ on her cards | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

You said in a 2021 interview that since you have been acting from a young age, you never really had time to develop a parallel interest or a life outside the movies. Has that changed in the last two years?

For me, acting and being part of the movies is not a job. It does not drain me in a way that I feel I need to switch off. There is physical fatigue, certainly. But this is also a place where I really thrive. I am a self-proclaimed workaholic. I love being on set. I love being a part of creative endeavours. It is what I actually feed off and what drives me. But definitely, the last year was instrumental for me to get more in touch with myself. I took up meditation. I took up yoga. It has helped me shut out the noise outside and actually listen to my inner self, and what I want to create. I am able to hear my own voice more clearly and not get so affected by what the chatter is.

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