From the moment Sriya Reddy struts into her richly furnished living room, she doesn’t let my glance waver even a little.
Her face is quite expressive. In a sequin crop top, silk leggings, a beaded neck-piece and 5-inch heels, she’s a show-stopper, alright.
An effortless raconteur too, I would later discover.
The room resonates as she talks; loud, clear and with barely-concealed excitement. Her well-shaped eyebrows arch at me, the kohl-lined eyes have a simmering intensity, and she laughs.
Sriya Reddy likes to be the ‘boss everywhere’. And with our interview too, it’s no different. She talks, and I sit back and listen.
A gentle nudge here, and she takes over.
But before we could begin our conversation, she would like to set a few things straight. “I find it disturbing when I hear that being married makes you less desirable,” she says, “my marital status must not make a difference. I am here to act. As long as I look good, have a fit body and can act, nothing can stop me.”
She punctuates with a shrug.
[quote align=’left’]We make far better cinema than Bollywood. Small films are doing well today, and actors like Vijay Sethupathi and Siva Karthikeyan are products of this trend.[/quote]Thimiru (2006) is a movie that she doesn’t let me forget easily. Thimiru, and the ‘stupendous reviews’ it garnered. It’s one of the many reasons why she turned selective. The offers that came post the movie were ‘horrid’ and she didn’t want to take on ‘similar roles’. Then came a ‘quick film called Kanchivaram’; with a role that was ‘by no means challenging, yet something that no mainstream heroine would have done justice to’.
Sriya always knew that she wasn’t just a heroine, but more of a performer. She never saw herself doing ‘glam bimbo roles’. And that’s precisely why she decided to get married. It was a great decision at that point, she says. “Besides, I was always in touch with cinema. We were constantly doing back-to-back productions.”
Very soon though, Sriya realised that production was not for her.
She would often get irksome instructions. “Don’t wear tight pants and come on sets. You are a producer. How can you dress like that?”
[quote align=’right’]I am so hyper already,” she laughs, “I already act like I have had three or four shots! Imagine me drinking?[/quote]She realised the truth behind those words. Nobody would take her seriously if she wore what she wanted.
Also, it was around the same time that Sriya began growing restless. Acting was calling out to her.
And once she had made up her mind, she knew it required patience. She wanted only author-backed roles, much better than Thimiru. The length of a role never really mattered to her. She was barely there for 15 minutes on screen in Veyil; yet her role is still talked about.
That observation had cinched the deal for her.
It was initially meant to be a period film, Sriya explains, “with Radhika and Bharathi Raja; but they wanted to bring in a young actor.”
Shooting in Theni was humbling, she recounts. On the first day of shoot, she remembers telling herself, “Damn, I am cut out for this one!” Her role is that of a rustic village woman in her early 30s, who gets harried over petty issues. She has attempted comedy too for the first time, with a little help from home, of course. “Vikram and Vishal are the funniest people I have ever met. They would crack the stupidest joke and I will be on the floor, laughing. I was thinking about them while performing,” she chuckles.
Besides having a great script, the movie has great technicians on-board, too. Particularly, PV Shankar of Mundasuppatti fame.
She also admits to have ‘terrified a lot of people’ while playing boss on the sets.
Sriya shudders involuntarily when she recounts filming the climax scene. “Some 100 villagers were howling and screaming while watching me perform. It was a long shot and I had to mouth 250 pages of the Madurai dialect. I could feel them touching my feet. They didn’t understand cinema. It was amazing.”
After the ‘nervous first shot’, it was a breeze. “I was the queen after that,” she laughs.
She’s ready to compete in a 100 metres race even today. And her fixation is such that her Instagram is loaded with motivational fitness pictures, and her downloads are mostly of fitness apps. She just wants to look ‘slim and sexy’ all the time.
Anyone can be trained to look fit, she says.
Sriya admits that introducing health concepts to a ‘Reddy family that polishes plates of biryani’ is no mean task. But then, they are genetically gifted, she adds. Her father-in-law, who is 75 years old, recently won a gold medal for discus throw and javelin. And yes, there’s also Vishal who flaunts his six-pack.
Egg-whites and salads are her favourite, and she can skip to a count of 1000-2000 in 20 minutes. “Like the boxers’ skip,” she says haughtily.
Sports is in her blood, she gestures. Having a cricketer for a father, she wanted to pursue something related to the game. Becoming a cricket commentator was once a cherished ambition. “I used to record my voice, playback, and see how sexy I sounded,” she chortles.
She can now play a ‘bit of squash and tennis’, loves running, and prides on being self-motivated.
Sriya also insists that her trainer be ‘merciless’ with her as he does with his cricketers. So she trains with ladder, hoops, ties a parachute and runs. “I wish I had taken up sports professionally, though,” she sighs.
[quote align=’left’]I’m far too sexy to be doing only villain roles[/quote]Right from school, Sriya earned compliments for the way she modulated her voice. Which, she was told, was ‘very deep’. VJ-ing was incidental; she was the ‘best among the worst’ and had to go through five auditions.
She finds the current shows on Tamil channels rather distasteful. “Even if you are copying, do it with style,” is what she offers.
At SS Music, Sriya recalls how her colleagues used to’ hate her guts’. She would refuse to wear the tasteless clothes and bring her own “branded ones”.
In fact, it was when the Thimiru director saw her screaming on the phone – on live television – that he offered her the role.
According to Sriya, it was a Malayalam film that finally made people sit-up and take notice. Black, starring Mammootty, in which she plays a Tamilian girl. “That was an image-breaker. They never thought that I could wear a sari. That’s when Vasantha Balan saw me and offered Veyil.” And for someone, who until then, had only heard “superlatives” about herself, it was an eye-opener when Mammooty told her to ‘stop being playful, and work harder’. She could go places, he had added.
Today, she would like to tick off one more category from her ‘list of don’ts’ which already includes ‘mundane roles and running around trees’. Negative characters. “I’m far too sexy to be doing only villain roles,” she grins.
Sriya is quite impressed by the kind of stories that are being told in Tamil cinema today. “We make far better cinema than Bollywood,” she maintains, “small films are doing well today, and actors like Vijay Sethupathi and Siva Karthikeyan are products of this trend.”
A career high?
Sriya thinks for a while.
And then, “Getting compared to Tabu and Smita Patil, by none less than Shyam Benegal.”
Today, Thimiru remains the trump card in her career. It also tagged her with that “one hot song”, which ‘never fails to make it to the midnight slot on Sun TV’. “They show it ever freaking time,” she exclaims, “but as long as I look hot, who cares? I didn’t realise I would fall in that category, though.”
She rolls her eyes.
When Thimiru came up, her first thought was, “there is a hero. So I would be no. 2. Damn, I wasn’t born to be no.2. I want to be no.1,” she thumps her fist on the table in mock anger.
Thimiru’s opening scene, Sriya observes, was the stuff that dreams were made of. “10 Sumos vrooming together, someone kicks open the door, a leg falls out. Pan to temple in which I pray, and then say the dialogue. Wow.”
That scene also reminded her of another film from another day.
She was 16 when she watched it. “It was a Rajinikanth film, but to watch Ramya Krishnan take over everything, that was awe-inspiring.”
Thimiru was her Padayappa, she says.
Sriya is as much into fashion as she is into sports. Buying branded clothes and parading in front of the mirror are favourite activities. “My husband thinks I am insane, but I love it.”
She admits the prejudice against her dark skin doesn’t bother her. “It is a lot better today. People love dusky skin. I am on the dark side, but have never been called ugly. My camera-man says it is easy to lighten my skin, though.”
She watches most Vishal and Rajinikanth movies; and goes as far as calling Vishal her soul-mate. “We like to think we are the coolest.”
Sriya doesn’t party, though. “I am so hyper already,” she laughs, “I already act like I have had three or four shots! Imagine me drinking?”
The Sriya Reddy Interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.