Keerthy Suresh is gearing up for her first direct OTT premiere Penguin/PenQueen and first release as the lead, post the critically and commercially successful Mahanati that fetched her the National Award for Best Actress. Helmed by debut director Eashvar Karthic, Penguin/PenQueen will premiere on Amazon Prime Video tomorrow.
The film is being bankrolled by Passion Studios and presented by filmmaker Karthik Subbaraj’s Stone Bench Films which previously produced Meyaadha Maan and Mercury. The film marks the third production of Stone Bench Films.
The buzz around the film is quite high. On essaying the role of a mother which is considered a risky step even in this day and age in our cinema, for heroines hoping to continue acting in commercial films alongside highly billed actors, she says, “I play the role of a young mother in the film. Maybe the director would’ve been skeptical about casting me in such a role, but it didn’t cross my mind even once given the strong subject we’re dealing with.”
Keerthy will be seen playing the role of ‘Rhythm’, a polite and gentle pregnant mother who’ll go to any extent to protect her child from harm. Though several actors have taken up similar roles in different films, Keerthy will be seen in such a role for the first time.
To prepare for the role, the actress consulted her mother (actress Menaka) to understand the basics. “I learnt how pregnant women would talk, walk, sleep, sit, and bend. I also had Eashvar helping me out in several instances since he’s a father too. With his clarity in thought, it was easy for me to grasp the basics,” says Keerthy.
On Mahanati, which released two years ago, she says, “Acting in films like Mahanati is a huge task given the fact that you’d be playing someone else. And I never watch foreign or Indian films for the sake of improvising my character because I believe that somewhere the authenticity is lost and I’d just be replicating what someone else has done. But once I’m done acting, I watch films to check if I’ve done a decent job. I’m only concerned with what the director wants since he’s the brains behind the script.”
About her experience with debut director Eashvar Karthic, she says, “He narrated the script to me over about four hours, and honestly I didn’t know so much time had gone by. When I got a call from him, he said the narration would go on for about two hours and that’s why I agreed to meet him. I probably wouldn’t have gone if I knew it was four hours,” laughs Keerthy.
“One can narrate a story in such a way only if they have immense confidence in it. And he seemed to have a lot of that. He always knew what he wanted and made sure he extracted it from all of us. The newly-released poster where I’m seen crying was illustrated by him at the discussion phase itself. He told me that our film’s poster would look this way back and has brought it to life now. He didn’t seem like a newcomer to me at all. We finished the entire shoot in 35 days,” said Keerthy.
“Our producer, Karthik Subbaraj, also gave Eashvar all the freedom to explore his story. Apart from pitching in a few ideas at important junctures, he did not interfere in the shoot. In fact, after the puja day of our film, I spoke to him only recently. As wonderful a director Karthik is, it is not easy to just handover a production to a newcomer. It requires a lot of trust,” added Keerthy.
Keerthy says this film will not give out a social message but will entertain audiences for sure. “It’s the story of a mother struggling to save her child. You can say it celebrates motherhood and will have a strong connection with all the mothers out there in the world. This is more an emotional film than a thriller,” says Keerthy.
Speaking about the most debated ‘OTT vs Theatres’ topic in recent times, Keerthy says she’s glad to have a release in these times as it’s been more than two years since she had a proper release in Tamil. “The experience of watching a film in theatres is definitely unique, but we don’t know how many people will be willing to take the risk once theatres open. It is not possible to keep waiting either since the situation doesn’t seem to be improving and only days are fleeing. So we opted for a direct release on the OTT platform,” says Keerthy.
“The film was meant for theatres and its direct release has caused disappointment for the makers and the entire crew. But we’re also happy that the film will have a pan-Indian and worldwide reach now. I’m quite happy that this special film of mine will now attract eyeballs from everywhere and not just remain in South India,” added Keerthy.
Penguin has been shot mostly in Kodaikanal and the crew struggled a bit given the temperatures and surroundings. “While shooting, this particular light that we had fixed disturbed a beehive and stung most of the crew members. They protected me from harm, but several others sustained bruises. We cancelled shoot on that day and began only the next day after everything was fine. Apart from this, working in cold temperatures was slightly uncomfortable and I even ran temperature for a few days. The portions that were filmed in Chennai called for me to don heavy clothing in the heat!” Keerthy says.
Penguin is helmed by a debutant, Eashvar Karthic, who has previously not worked under any director or made any short films. On what she found special in the newcomer’s ideas, she says, “After Mahanati, the responsibility on my shoulders had increased. People have a certain expectation from me. It’s not easy to get good stories these days like before. So I listened to about 20 stories and selected Penguin out of it. I wanted a blockbuster like my Telugu Mahanati in Tamil and I felt Penguin would fulfill my want.”
About upcoming films, Keerthy says, “After Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam, it took me six months to lock the perfect script for me. I was supposed to have my films – Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, Miss India, Good Luck Sakhi, and Rang De released one after the other this year, but this situation has halted all of them. I don’t believe in rushing into any film without considering my role and its importance. Though I’ve picked a handful of women-centric films, I will not give up on my commercial films either. A balance between the two is definitely necessary.”
In this video call interaction with select press members, Keerthy tells Silverscreen that her career graph has improved after the biopic Mahanati. “I have been receiving more women-centric film offers thanks to Mahanati for which I’m always grateful. I actually didn’t want to do the role because I felt I would do no justice to it. But the risk I took has paid off well. I have also been receiving commercial film offers as well. In fact, the commercial roles coming way now seem to have more scope than before which is a really good sign,” says Keerthy. “I usually gift gold coins to the crews of films that are close to my heart. Earlier I could afford only silver coins, but now I’m able to present gold coins. I truly believe that when you praise the light men, assistant directors, and the whole crew for that matter with a gift, it gives them joy. They put in so much hard work for my film, if I don’t honour them, then who else will?”
Speaking about the National Award she received and its impact on her film choices, she says, “I don’t even take into consideration the National Award these days. It’s only the responsibility accompanying it that I’ve to consider. I am not looking at achieving more awards either. All that I want to do is act well and fulfill the director’s expectations when he gives me a particular role. One has to be true to character while essaying a role in a film. If anybody says I’ve gotten into the skin of the character and lived the role, I would consider that to be my National Award.”
The lockdown is sure to bring about a change in the way films are shot and viewed worldwide. With masks, sanitised sets, and adherence to social distancing norms, the industry will never function in the same old way. Speaking of this, Keerthy says, “I don’t think we’d ever be able to finish any films unless it’s shot in the way we used to. My Rang De was to be shot primarily in Italy and a few portions here locally. Now we don’t know how we’re going to shoot the film altogether. The size of film crews on sets is definitely not going to be the same as before. Maybe after two months, we might be able to with several precautionary measures adopted.”
Keerthy is quite happy about the lockdown since it has united the busy actress along with her family after a very long time. “I’m so happy that I’m getting to spend time with my family and my dog Nyke (who, she says, is her ‘son’). I’ve always been running about with work and it feels good to be back home. I’ve been exercising and practicing yoga, watching films, listening to scripts, cooking a lot of food and I’ve even penned a story. I used to play the violin when I was in school and lost touch when I got into college. But now, this lockdown has enabled me to get back to the violin. I’ve also been reaching out to people and helping them, catching up with old and new friends and rebuilding lost relationships from the past,” says Keerthy.
Since she hails from a filmy background, Keerthy on if she would be associating with her family for a movie pretty soon, says, “I think a family film will go on floors soon because my sister, Revathy, is penning a script. Appa is also considering the story and we’ve been discussing it in this lockdown,” says Keerthy.
She adds, “You might have seen the promo video for Penguin where I’d be reading out a story to the child. That was done with the help of my entire family. My sister was the director with Appa, Amma, and Paati helping out with other aspects. We shot the sequence at around 2 am in the morning. At that time, my grandmother Saroja told me that this was way past her work time, since they never shot beyond 6pm when she was working. My father also joined her and blamed me for turning a producer into a lightman.”
Official Glimpse of @KeerthyOfficial *ing #Penguin #PenguinOnPrime @EashvarKarthic @karthiksubbaraj @kaarthekeyens @Music_Santhosh @StonebenchFilms @PassionStudios_ @Sudhans2017 @PrimeVideoIN #News23 #NM pic.twitter.com/tobrxoQRGW
— Nikil Murukan (@onlynikil) June 10, 2020
Given the dearth of capital in the industry owing to these unprecedented times, Keerthy says it is a necessity to cut down on the salary demanded for all upcoming films. “Everybody has to be ready to receive a lower than usual salary. I’m willing to forego 20-30% of my salary without any hesitation. In fact, I have settled for a lower amount with the producers of all my upcoming films,” says Keerthy.
The cast of Penguin/PenQueen reportedly includes Madhampatty Rangaraj who was the lead in Mehandi Circus and Linga from Sindhubaadh. Karthik Palani has handled the camera, Anil Krish was on edit, with art by Sakthee Venkatraj M, and costumes are by Pallavi Singh. While Santhosh Narayanan has composed music, Thomas Kurian was in charge of the sound design.
Penguin that was to hit the screens in early 2020 will now directly premiere on Amazon Prime Video. It will stream in Tamil and Telugu on the platform along with a dubbed Malayalam version.
Answering a question on dubbing for herself across industries, Keerthy tells Silverscreen, “I always prefer dubbing for myself. I feel that only I can bring out the right emotion and strength of the character since I’ve acted it out and spoken too on set. I wasn’t allowed to dub for my films initially in Malayalam but after that, I made sure I do it myself. I wasn’t able to dub for the Telugu version of Penguin due to the lockdown but Tamil and Malayalam are in my control.”
The trailer of the film dropped on June 11 and has garnered over 15 million views.
Watch the trailer of Penguin/PenQueen here: