Actress Tamannaah, one of South India’s highest paid stars with hits including the monster franchise ‘Baahubali’, views the COVID-19 pandemic as a harsh leveller that made her change her perspective towards life and work.
The COVID-19 survivor is currently riding high on the success of her web series crime thriller ‘November Story’, out on Disney+ Hotstar in India — a creative gamble that she claims paid off enormously. She’s also set to star in the Telugu remake of the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Andhadhun’, playing the complex role that Tabu aced in the thriller.
“I had a lot more time to reflect on who I am as a person in this pandemic and that is actually led me to make choices that actually matter to me creatively and personally… I am now focused towards delivering content that I truly believe in,” said Tamannaah in an exclusive interview over Zoom.
The self-made actress — who began her career at 15 with the 2005 Bollywood feature ‘Chaand Ka Roshan Chehra’ and then made a huge splash in South India with a string of blockbusters — has thrived in the entertainment scene for over a decade. She claims she judges herself harshly, but the global pandemic has taught her to go easy on herself.
“An honest confession: I don’t think I will do a lot of work that I thought I will do two years ago. It doesn’t make sense anymore. There are people losing members of their families — left, right, and centre,” she said. “As actors, we have to now be a lot more sensitive, empathetic, and lot more sensible in terms of what choices we make.”
Being more responsible towards those who adore her body of work is one of her top priorities now.
“The choices we make as actors can influence a lot of people,” she pointed out.
The last six months have been particularly intense since she battled the virus and recovered. She remembered her moods oscillating from one end of the spectrum to the other while being homebound for several months in a row.
“It was an interesting time because everyone was very confused. You would wake up one morning wanting to conquer the world and you feel like the happiest person in the world, and the very next day you feel miserable wondering what’s happening with my life. There were too many extreme emotions going on in everyone’s minds,” said Tamannaah.
During the lockdown she recalled how she used to begin the week with three or four hours of intense home workouts, but gradually progressed towards eating that delicious tub of ice-cream all on her own.
“I kind of ate away my feelings,” she said with a laugh.
“But I took that time because I have been extremely harsh on myself as an actor for the first 15 years of my career. Pre-pandemic, come hail, snow, or storm I was just focused on getting my job done in a robotic fashion. But this pandemic gave me a reality check. It reminded me to enjoy my life in its entirety and not just one aspect of it. I began taking my life — overall — more seriously instead of just focusing on one thing,” said Tamannaah. And when her own pep-talk doesn’t work, she gave into her cravings.
“Trust me, I have my binge days where I go crazy and eat whatever I want. But yes, I’m someone who comes back onto the track quickly. When it comes to work, I come back into full form and I can be ruthless on myself,” she said.
Web Series calling
On the work front, she feels immensely lucky that her web series ‘November Story’ in which she plays a part-time hacker and a dutiful daughter on a mission to clear her Alzheimer’s-ridden father from a murder charge is one of the top rated shows of 2021.
“I feel super lucky because I had a show come out and that has kept me occupied … It’s so gratifying to know that it’s the most watched show … We began filming the show way back in 2019. But I have realised that the web space is always about the writing and it’s primarily an actors’ medium,” she said. “Cinema is primarily a director’s medium … I just feel lucky that I got to explore this medium.”
The thriller series has been hailed for her compelling performance as a young woman racing against time to help her ailing father who’s found with a dead woman in his house.
“I was hooked onto the screenplay as soon as I heard it. I am not your avid consumer of web shows, but I wanted to be a part of this one. My gut just said it’s going to be a good show,” she added.
She has that same good feeling about the critically acclaimed mystery ‘Andhadhun’, which is now being remade into Telugu. Tamannaah steps into the shoes of National Award-winning Indian talent Tabu. And those are mighty big shoes to fill — a fact that hasn’t escaped Tamannaah.
“It was such a subtle encouragement for me as an actor when I was offered the role played by Tabu. I am a huge fan of hers … People didn’t actually make roles that she truly deserved as a performer earlier, but ‘Andhadhun’ and her recent films explored her scope and range as an artist … She was so central to the film and it’s great that a mainstream actor like Nithiin has agreed to be part of it too. It’s a huge honour to play her part,” said Tamannaah.
Although she has been working since she was 15, Tamannaah claims she’s in the entertainment world for the love of acting and her craft. Most of her family are in the US and she’s the only family member who harboured acting ambitions.
“I didn’t want to be in front of the camera to gain fame, name, or money. That’s just the by-product of doing what I truly love. Today, there are so many stories to tell and it will be a shame if they aren’t told … Reaching maximum number of people with my content is the natural progression for me now … I want to be a global actor where boundaries are blurred.”
More importantly, she wants to be seen as more than just a pretty face.
“When I began my film career, they all thought I had conventional good looks. But as time lapsed, the entire perception of a star and an actor has changed. Now being conventionally good-looking doesn’t count anymore … Now, the more unique you look, the more you look striking,” she said. “People are searching for authenticity and I want to evolve as one.”