Tamil Interviews

‘I Only Want To Do Roles That Influence The Plot’: Sai Pallavi’s Clear Eyed Vision For Herself

The director was ready for the shot, and the actors were being summoned. As the actress made her way to the scene of action, she heard a team member tell someone, “Oh this girl, she’ll smash the scene”. The actress smiled and gave her take. The director seemed all right with it, but her mother pulled her aside and asked her what she just did. Her mother reminded her about the rare opportunity she had been given, of the times the young woman had travelled by bus and train to be part of dance shows, and asked her if she was squandering it. It took some time for realisation to dawn that she had acted with a view to “smash” the scene, not give her best.


“I went back to the caravan and wept. I meditated, apologised to myself for not being honest in my performance, for not being rooted, and for allowing praise to get to me. I went back, re-shot the scene, and the director smiled. Most importantly, my mother hugged me and said that her daughter was back,” she recalls.

If it were someone else saying this, you just might wonder if the person is too good to be true, but with Sai Pallavi, you harbour no such doubts. The actress wears her heart on her sleeve, and is self-deprecating to a fault. This lesson she learnt when she was just back after studying medicine in Georgia and working in films during her holidays, taught her to never be complacent.

Three years after the Malayalam super-hit Premam introduced the Coimbatore girl to the Tamil audience, she makes her debut in Tamil with Diya, which also releases in Telugu. As is Pallavi’s wont, this is no conventional debut. She plays a mother in this film centered on pregnancy and choice. And, as always, there’s something new that she has picked up from the sets. (The first time she drank tea and held a fluttering butterfly was in Premam; she drove a tractor and a Ferrari during Fidaa).

“In this film, I learnt to emote one thing while feeling another. All my other films showcased me in a particular emotion. Premam was about love, Fidaa was about my effervescence, Kali had me play wise… but a mother has so many shades. I learnt to absorb those nuances. You might feel dead from within, but a mother does not show that on her face. I think this film matured me a lot. It has a team high on technique, and taught me to romance the camera, to savour the light. I’ve picked up a few things that will always stand by me. I’m blessed I got a chance to work with directors who are willing to teach me.”

While Pallavi spoke some Tamil in Premam, her character mostly spoke with her eyes. With this film, she dubbed for herself in Tamil and Telugu. “I prefer dubbing for myself, because while I might not be able to elevate it, I can recreate the exact emotion.” That’s what happened with Fidaa too, where she aced the Telangana accent.

There was something about the script of Diya that first put off Pallavi. The first narration saw her experience some fear — Pallavi stays clear of the thriller and horror genres; “But Vijay Sir is a sweet person and you feel bad saying no. He sent the script once more to me. Mom and I were in the US. She loved it, and told me that I have to be a part of it. I usually make my own choices, but this time I thought I would go with her gut instinct. I felt I would do this film for a reason that would become clear to me later. I feel so maternal now,” she says, smiling. Pallavi knows there will be comparisons with her earlier screen avatars, but promises Diya will be truly different. “You don’t see such roles getting written anymore. They leave you with hope.”

During the shoot, Pallavi bonded closely with child actor Veronika. “You get so protective. I would feed her, watch her when she slept, step in when I felt her hair was not done up well. The film stirred feelings in me that I had not experienced till now. After the shoot, I felt I harassed her mother Ruchika often. I would ask her if Veronika ate or not. Luckily, she understood what I was going through.”

For someone who’s fiercely private, Pallavi says that movies help her unlock areas of her personality she did not know existed, almost like a puzzle. “I am the kind of person who runs away from change. I eat the same food, meet the same friends, love spending time with the same people. When I play roles that are vastly different, I experience a guilty pleasure. I temporarily be these very interesting people, and then run back to being Pallavi. The same things happened with Maari 2 and Selvaraghavan Sir’s NGK. They help me discover myself, and I’m very clear that I will continue acting only till there’s discovery.”

Growing up, not many people knew the future star. People often mistook her deep voice for that of a boy, and her rosacea (redness on the cheeks) drew glances till Premam made it look cool on the big screen. “Only my friends knew I loved dancing. I danced for myself, even when I took part in the television shows Ulagil Yaar Adutha Prabhudeva and Dhee. Now, when they see me on screen, they are happy I’m doing so on a bigger platform.”


Films have been a great teacher for Pallavi. If some taught her what she could do better, some taught her how to choose. Others gave her the clarity of what she never wanted to be seen doing. “And so, I’m grateful to all the films I’ve done or not, because each has been a learning process. I now know that while I am not afraid to do regular commercial cinema, I only look for roles that should be important, or at least influence or be integral to the plot. This makes things easier for everyone.” She’s also grateful to actor Nani, who was a patient guide during the Telugu film MCA, and taught her that love for art will help her make the right choices.

Pallavi is working with Dhanush in Maari 2 and with Suriya in Selvaraghava’s NGK and in the Telugu Padi Padi Leche Manasu (Sharwanand). While she won’t speak about her roles in the films, she says it is very difficult to not be the fangirl when the shot is over. “While the scene is on, I’m worried sick that I should get my act right, but once the director calls ‘cut’ I am in awe. These {Dhanush and Suriya} are actors I grew up watching. My face is quite a canvas, and I can’t hide my emotions. Suriya sir has seen me with that school girl look and keeps telling me to never change.”


So, what does she want from cinema? “Happiness. That’s all I seek. If people feel I did a role well, that’s a win. If after watching Diya, they felt they saw a mother on screen, that will make me happy.”

Pallavi pauses, then continues on a philosophical, thoughtful note. “Actually, I can’t say that’s what I seek. Any feeling, happiness or disappointment, barely stays for a week, and then you go on to wonder about your next project, if it will do as well or better. So, I wipe my slate clean after every movie, and start afresh. I don’t carry any baggage, because that holds you back. I’ll tell you who I want to be. The kid at the carnival who wants to get on every ride, and be as happy during her 100th ride as her first.”