Sunday Herald: To play a legend

Sunday Herald: To play a legend

Manigandan K R interviews Keerthy Suresh

Keerthy Suresh is currently one of the top film stars in the south. She is the daughter of Malayalam film producer Suresh Kumar and actor Menaka. Besides Malayalam, Keerthy has several hits to her name in Tamil and Telugu. She is thrilled about her recent project, a biopic on Savitri, one of the legends of Tamil and Telugu cinema. The film is titled Mahanati in Telugu and Nadigaiyar Thilagam in Tamil.

Keerthy plays the lead in the films that hit the screens on May 9 and 11. Here are edited excerpts from an exclusive conversation:

How did this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity come your way?

 I was approached by Nag Ashwin, the director, and Swapna, one of the producers, to do this film. I was unsure about playing a legendary actor and had doubts with regard to portraying her personal life on screen. However, when I spoke to the director, he said, ‘Everybody knows about her life history. What we are looking to do is show all of this beautifully in a film. We are not doing anything new from outside.’ So, it was Nagi who convinced me for the role. 

 Did you ask Nag Ashwin what made him pick you for this role?

Yes, he said that he cast me after watching Thodari, directed by Prabhu Solomon and featuring Dhanush in the lead. I was happy to hear this because when I did that film, I knew it would do something good for me. 

Savitri was known for her generosity, did this trait have an influence on you? Have you changed as a person after playing her? 

After having played this role, I realised that the difference between Savitri and others is that when you and I have the resources to help, we help those in need. But she would help others even if she did not have the resources. That has inspired me a lot and I will definitely take that home.

Spanish cinematographer Dani Sanchez-Lopez has worked on this film. How was your experience working with him?

Initially, I wondered how a foreigner would be able to shoot this film. But his work shattered all my doubts. Dani is very meticulous. One time, I asked him about the time being taken to set up a shot. He said he was trying to achieve the twinkle in the eyes of Savitri, that those who have watched her films might have noticed. Also, we shared a good rapport, and I had the freedom to discuss the scenes with him. 

You have been able to reproduce Savitri’s look really well. Tell us more about the process of getting it right.

We did the look tests in the first two days and narrowed down the look. We had a team of talented make-up artistes to work with. In order to make me look like Savitri, a lot of effort was put into drawing eyebrows and lips. Make-up usually took two-and-a half hours every day. We used prosthetics to show an increase in weight. We used saris belonging to Nagi’s and Swapna’s mothers for an authentic look of that era. 

 Savitri’s life was anything but easy. Did this have an impact on you or affect your other films?

Yes, initially, I thought I am going to go there, act and come back. But I got really involved in it and didn’t even realise. I am a very cheerful person on the sets. Once we started shooting scenes that depicted Savitri’s pain, I began zoning out. I started keeping to myself and would be in my room most of the time. I was apprehensive about taking up other projects with this film, as I was not sure if I would be able to do justice to it. But this was actually an advantage. It gave me a break and enabled me to handle the intensity of this film.

 How long did you work on this film? What was the biggest challenge that you faced while playing this role? 

I worked on it for about 10-12 months, two months of pre-production work and 10 months of shooting. A huge portion of the film is about Savitri’s off-screen life, something I didn’t know much about. But Vijay Chamundeshwari, her daughter, was very helpful. And I got an idea of her mannerisms and her nature. Based on these inputs, I was able to add nuances to the character.