Trisha’s display picture on Whatsapp cracks me up.
It’s not a picture from an elegant photo shoot, or an exotic vacation spot. Instead, it’s of Subramani the hyena (you surely know who he is by now from Leo) baring his teeth, almost like he’s in on a hilarious inside joke.
Funnily enough, Subramani seems to reflect Trisha’s current state of mind perfectly; safe, secure and ready to take on anything that comes her way... with some bite.
She has had five theatrical releases in the last two post-pandemic years; her three events films, the blockbuster Ponniyin Selvan duology and Leo, as well as Raangi and The Road that spotlighted her as the central character.
21 years since Mounam Pesiyadhe introduced her to Tamil cinema, would she say that she’s in the most satisfying phase of her career?
“I would say that actually. To be where I am now, in a space where I know nothing’s gonna go away, and can afford to take some risks… I feel very secure. I didn’t have this in the early parts of my career, where there was just no time to even process anything. Today, I only do one film at a time, work 15 to 20 days a month, and take a lot of time off. I’m really enjoying it and wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says, settling into an easy conversational rhythm.
Trisha has just returned to Chennai from a schedule abroad in Azerbaijan, where the actor was reportedly shooting with Ajith Kumar for Magizh Thirumeni’s Vidaamuyarchi. Though she can’t confirm this until the official announcement is made, suffice it to say that her fifth outing with Ajith promises some fireworks.
But before that, she has plenty of time to take in the success of Leo, in which a long-pending reunion with Vijay finally materialised after 15 years; they were last seen together in Kuruvi (2008).
From the potboiler highs of Velu and Dhanalakshmi in Ghilli (2004) to the sedate comforts of Parthi and Sathya in Leo, from burning the dance floor in ‘Appadi Podu’ to going on family trips with children in ‘Anbenum,’ both Trisha and Vijay have come a long way — individually and together — in the five films they have shared screen space in.
She reveals that she was looking forward to this as much as anyone else. “Honestly, when you have done these many films with a particular person, there’s a certain comfort level that you have built over the years. For a decade now, people have kept asking when they would see us together again on-screen. I’m happy it happened like this, because I feel that little bit of extra intrigue and hype was also there as we were reuniting after so many years.”
“I first met Vijay when I was 19 or 20! So, when you have been friends with someone for over 20 years, and you work with them again, it feels like actually coming back home. That easy equation between us persists, and it’s exactly what Lokesh wanted to capitalise upon in Leo.”
“The films we had done before — as enjoyable as they were — saw us in these cutesy romances, with songs shot abroad and so on. Cinema was so different back then. But now, Vijay has grown so much in terms of being an actor and performer, and that was incredible to witness on set. Parthi/ Leo is so different from the kind of previous roles I had worked with him on, so I quite enjoyed seeing Vijay like that,” she recalls.
Such was the hype around the reinstated pairing, that director Lokesh Kanagraj even promised fans before the release that he wouldn’t be killing off Trisha’s character in the film. With all the fan theories around, did she get a chance to discuss Sathya’s role in the LCU (Lokesh Cinematic Universe, as the director’s films are known) before they began shooting?
“Thankfully, I knew from the beginning I was going to survive! (laughs) I first spoke to Lokesh towards the end of 2020, and he told me he was interested in making a film like this. Then, we met in 2022 and things started taking shape when he gave me a long two-and-half hour narration in his office. The film has turned out to be almost exactly what he envisioned, give or take a few scenes and some tweaking of the dialogues.”
Trisha grins, “So I already knew since then that Leo would be part of the LCU. But the funny thing with social media these days, is that there’s so much being said and debated, and 80 percent is not even true. Sometimes I’m kicking to go correct some of the fan theories online, but obviously we couldn’t, as we all signed NDAs before we started filming.”
She adds, “I thought it was a nice comeback with Vijay after all these years, and it was quite mature and unlike anything that we’d done before. Lokesh was very particular that we needed to come off as a husband and wife who were very used to each other, without any awkwardness between them.”
While several segments of the film are being dissected and debated to no measure post-release, (even the makers have joined in!) one particular scene that stands out, to Trisha’s credit — amidst all the action and gunfire — is her furious confrontation with Vijay in their bedroom. As Parthi tries to convince Sathya that he is, indeed, who he says he is, both the stars dovetail perfectly with each other; their shared history as experienced performers coming across arrestingly in the entire stretch, which culminates in that kiss.
“Lokesh explained the entire scene beautifully to me during the narration itself, and told me why each bit of it was necessary, including the kiss. With Leopredominantly being a gangster film, there wasn’t too much space to show the romance, how Sathya and Parthi meet, get married, and stuff like that. So he said he needed one sequence between us that would really work, and highlight our relationship. He left it to us after that to figure out how we would play it,” Trisha explains.
“Since I’d been part of this whole process for about two years, I felt like I was also growing with the film too as Lokesh was scripting it. Both Vijay and I felt it worked and we were in complete sync with each other; we didn’t do too much of a rehearsal because certain things had to work out spontaneously. In fact, we got it right in just a single six-minute take, and Lokesh was so happy that he wrapped up the shoot early! But yeah, it was only after I watched the film when I realised how magically it had all come together.”
What has Trisha done differently from her peers, to sustain two decades in films?
After all the dust settles down eventually, she teases us on the possibility of starring in future instalments of the LCU. “When I left the schedule of Leo in Kashmir to join the shoot for the end of The Road, there were all these comments on how Lokesh and I had fought because he killed me off in the film, so I packed up and left! We were both talking about it, and he was like, I’m really glad I didn’t kill you off, so now you can join the LCU in the future too. And listen, who wouldn’t want to be in it? I’ve loved all of Lokesh’s work, from Maanagaram and Master to Kaithi and Vikram; this whole universe is like fantasy, fiction and mass all put together and it’s so entertaining and magical. I’d love to continue being a part of it.”
On that note, considering she’s now worked with both Vijay and Ajith for large parts of her career, has she ever discussed the ‘Thala-Thalapathy’ phenomenon and social media fights with her co-stars? Trisha replies, “Of course we do! I’ve had detailed conversations with both Vijay and Ajith about this, and I don’t want to tell you what we talk about... but now, it just amuses us. After all these decades, we are just in a place where we have learnt to completely ignore it. I come from a place where someone has to be extremely relevant for me to react to it. Otherwise, it really doesn’t bother me at all.”
Moving on from Leo, Trisha reflects on her other two recent outings, Raangi and The Road. The actor has been keen to balance superstar-driven projects alongside titles featuring her as the central protagonist; irrespective of the box-office numbers, Trisha says she doesn’t want to be stuck with any sort of image. “Honestly, for me, films will always be fantasy first. I would definitely like to be part of a film that has a message for women or the youth, but I’m also excited about something like a Kodi that doesn’t preach any morals; it was just a great entertainer with a compelling negative role I could sink my teeth into. I keep it simple; if I hear a script I like, I don’t overthink it and sign it. This applies to both projects with a superstar male lead and the so-called female-oriented scripts as well.”
“Even with the latter, I I genuinely believe that it has to have a very powerful star cast, great music and a solid team overall for it to make sense. That’s something I’m concentrating on more these days; I try to check that every other supporting character is important and plays a part in it. So it’s not just all on me, because I don’t feel that might work.”
Though she’s known for her camaraderie in the industry, Trisha confesses that she doesn’t quite discuss work with her peers too often. “When we run into each other at events or other occasions, conversations about work happen. There are lots of people I am very cordial with, but though we talk about movies, it’s never very deep. Of course, most recently, during the PS shoots and promotions, I had plenty of discussions with the likes of Karthi and Ravi who are such intelligent people, and even Mani sir, who would often share some fantastic anecdotes on cinema.”
“But at the end of the day, my mom is the only person I have such conversations with. She’s the only person who knows what I’m thinking, my insecurities and my fears.”
Trisha’s favourite film
Looking ahead, she has a busy 2024, with director Jeethu Joseph and Mohanlal’s action-thriller Ram among the expected releases, as well as her first web-series Brinda. “I’m done with my portions in Ram. The only reason it got delayed was because there was a huge chunk they needed to shoot in Morocco, and then the pandemic happened. So I may just have a couple of days of work left, and I’m also eager to see when it comes out. I also have another Malayalam film in the works titled Identity with Tovino Thomas. I’m very excited about it; it’s a very unconventional role and I’ll be joining the team in November for the shoot,” she tells us.
“As far as Brinda is concerned, it’s my first streaming project and is a crime-thriller. We just finished filming this year, and it’s in post-production. I initially wasn’t sure about getting into the OTT space, but I really liked the script and the director I was working with, so I decided to give it a go.
Finally, despite having weathered her fair share of industry gossip over the years, did she feel that social media — and even some news channels to boot — went a little bit too far before and during the release of Leo?
She pauses for a minute before answering. “I mean, it’s like this. I don’t know, it’s probably my personality type. Back when I was a newcomer also, there were all sorts of rumours and gossip around me, and I didn’t really care too much. So clearly, after two decades, things like this are not going to affect me and I’ve learnt the art of ignoring it. The thing is, I know the truth. People around me know the truth. My co-stars, Vijay or anyone else, know the truth. If people want to speculate and feel there’s a little bit of mystery, then let them go ahead and write about it. They are not going to get a reaction from me.”
“The other thing is, I’m not very clued in on discussions on social media. It genuinely disinterests me; I log into my personal Instagram or Twitter probably around twice a day, and that’s about it. You know, it’s actually such a joke to so many of my friends in the industry; when they talk to me about some hot topic, I’m completely blank, and they all are like, how do you not know this?!” (laughs) But that works for me, as both my close friends and family circle are very detached from the industry, and I want to keep it that way.”