Tamannaah describes herself as “a work in progress”, thinks friendship in the industry is “as fickle as your Friday release” and “would love to do a sea of characters”. She’s also petrified of losing her hair, dubs Chennai and Hyderabad as her “karma bhoomi” and forgets to add salt to her omelettes. Everytime.
Tamannaah Bhatia rarely lets her guard down during our interview. She is the consummate professional, polite and courteous, but wary; her answers crisp and articulated with practiced ease. But when she does let her guard down – even if for a fleeting moment or two – her laughter is warm and infectious. Her second Hindi release, Humshakals is just out, but Tamanna has been careful to maintain her ties with the Tamil and Telugu industries as well. This year, there is a film each in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu- that includes one of the most ambitious films of her decade long career- SS Rajamouli’s bilingual Baahubali.[quote align=’right’]”Ajith is unreal, a superman. I think we should talk about normal people instead”[/quote]
It’s a lazy Tuesday evening when she calls us back for the interview, and before we are done getting over our surprise, has started recounting her day. It’s her first day shooting for Baahubali. And Tamannaah is already a fan. He has amazing clarity, she says, and great control over the medium. “I always wanted to be a part of a Rajamouli film. He doesn’t cast an actor because of the star value, but only if they suit the character,” begins the actress who plays princess Avantika in the movie. “I am returning in a whole new avatar. It’s a period drama, and we had a few trial runs before.” Made on a budget of roughly Rs 150 crores, Baahubali stars Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Sathyaraj and Anushka Shetty among others.
The actress, though, is still grappling with identity crisis. In Bollywood, she’s a south Indian girl; and in Chennai, she’s the actress from Mumbai. But of course, she says, “I wanted to move up north.” Who wouldn’t, she asks later. “It was a conscious move. I wanted to experiment with all kind of films. The South gave me fame and recognition, I would never want to give it up,” she declares, “but any actress would want to make it big in Bollywood.”[quote align=’right’]”My hair,” she admits.”I am not even in my 30s and I am petrified of losing it.”[/quote]
There’s a “fat and thin difference”, Tamannaah observes, between the two industries, with Bollywood emphasizing looks. So, she had to lose 5 kgs for Humshakals. “But that’s the way they function,” she shrugs all the same, “can’t blame them.” According to the actress, Dhanush has broken the Bollywood jinx to some extent. “It differs from actor to actor. If one movie fizzles out, nobody wants to try you again. And besides, if you are already established down South, it is not a matter of survival.” Also, passing the fashion test in Bollywood is no mean task, she says. “I used to think I had loads of clothes and shoes, but I realized I had nothing to wear. Bollywood is fussy about that. I read a lot on fashion. Nobody is born with a great fashion sense – it grows on you, you keep observing, trying to figure out what looks good.” Nevertheless, she calls Mumbai “home”; while Chennai and Hyderabad are her “karma bhoomi”.
[quote align=’left’]”The South gave me fame and recognition, I would never want to give it up, but any actress would want to make it big in Bollywood.”[/quote] Kedi happened out of the blue. It was 2006, Tamannaah was 16-years-old, and had no clue about south Indian films. “I was too engulfed by the thought of acting,” she recalls, “so I didn’t worry about the new language or geography. There was no calculation. I just wanted to enjoy myself. Success didn’t matter.” It was all about getting noticed then; and any project where the director showed faith in her, was promptly signed. She was offered a lot of good films too. Tamannaah remembers receiving a standing ovation while watching Happy Days (2007) on the second day of release. “It was a huge thing for me. I was also quite surprised to be part of a success party on the third day. It didn’t make sense to me,” she laughs.
But Tamannaah was also young then, and consequentially, less dogmatic. She readily accepted the south Indian industry with all its idiosyncrasies. “When you are young, you don’t care. It is important to trust the director’s judgment also. After all, your role is not about the costume. Mostly, it’s a gamble that might or might not pay off,” she explains. Song and dance sequences excite her a lot. The actress says she owes her popularity to them. And then, there’s also her “strategy” at play. After tasting success with Ayan, Padikkathavan and Ayya, she began choosing films with caution. “You can’t plan your career. There’s uncertainty in this profession; so your strategy has to keep changing. But mostly, I try not to repeat myself.” Post the Telugu flick 100% Love though, Tamannaah was more at ease. That’s when she started taking this business seriously.
[quote align=’left’]How can you feel anything when you have 10 lights beaming down on your head, with the director screaming his head off to ‘hold her tightly’?[/quote]The actress is also quite aware that offers would start drying up post 30, and attributes it to most movies being written for girls in their 20’s and early 30’s.”I’m sure the trend will change soon, but another reason could be that heroines want to get married and settled too,” she says, before talking about heroine oriented movies. “We perhaps don’t see a Queen or Kahaani frequently, but we do have an Arundhati, Ala Modalaindi or 100% Love more often.”
She seamlessly moves on to relationships in the film world, observing wanly that friendships in the industry are as fickle as your Friday releases. But that said, Allu Arjun, Ram Charan Teja and Dhanush are “guys she likes a lot”. And she’s also starred with some top actors in all languages – Ajith to Allu Arjun and Akshay Kumar. She calls Ajith “unreal, a superman”, and quips, “I think we should talk about normal people instead”. But what baffles her the most is attraction between co-stars. “I think it’s a matter of convenience when someone says they get attracted to their co-star. How can you feel anything when you have 10 lights beaming down on your head, with the director screaming his head off to ‘hold her tightly’? Anyway, I don’t get involved that easily,” she grins.
That was the cue for us to interject tangentially, and ask her what she feared losing as a person and as an actor. Her answer catches us off guard. “My hair,” she admits.”I am not even in my 30s and I am petrified of losing it.”
Tamannaah doesn’t recall being naughty as a child. She was rather quiet, she says, and disciplined to the point of being boring. Acting happened when she was 13; she dabbled in plays, and was a part of Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre for a year. She was always crazy about films, and remembers watching six a day – mostly Hollywood blockbusters, Independence Day, Avatar and Mummy Returns. Lokhandwala, Mumbai, where she stays, houses five multiplexes, she announces proudly. She “relived college-life on the sets of Happy Days and perks up at the mention of her debut music album. “Oh ya? Do you remember the bike scene? It was such a nice song. Lovely times I had.”
Take away films and Tamannaah is a thorough home-body. She can sit cuddling her pet dog Bubbles all day, and do random things like “lying in bed and stare blankly at the ceiling”, or watch TV. She loves to cook as well, but keeps forgetting to add salt to her omelettes though. Travelling is a part of her job, but she’s quite partial to Paris, USA and the beaches of Thailand. Reading is mostly spiritual. Osho and Paulo Coelho are her authors, she keeps buying them all the time. Otherwise, on a regular day, it is Harry Potter. Sports doesn’t excite her, but yoga and running do. “I’m planning to take a long walk down the road by myself after this interview,” she says. It’s 9.30 pm. But she does not like solitude in general. “I don’t like to be alone for a long time. I want company.”
Out of idle curiosity, we ask her what song describes her best. She takes a while to think. “I don’t know,” she finally says, “I listen to this number a lot…actually it does describe me perfectly –
You Say it Best When You Say Nothing at All…”
The Tamannaah Bhatia interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.