Hours after the recipients of the Indian National Film Awards were announced, South Indian actress Keerthy Suresh’s home in Thiruvananthapuram was in a celebratory mood.
Suresh, who won the Best Actress for portraying the late South Indian actress Savitri Ganesan in the Telegu biopic ‘Mahanati’, patiently answered the incessant phone calls with her characteristic smile.
A few minutes later, a telivision crew landed to talk to her. A visibly tired but happy Suresh politely requested them to wait for a few minutes.
“I haven’t had my breakfast yet and not been able to keep my mobile down with so many phone interviews,” she told them as she went to grab a quick bite while talking to other reporters.
Suresh’s morther, Menaka Suresh, who was also a celebrated actress 80s, spoke about ‘Mahanati’.
“[It’s] a tragic story of the life of South Indian actress Savitri, depicting her rise to prominence, marriage to Tamil superstar Gemini Ganesan, and subsequent fall from grace. She was so brilliant as an actress that at her peak all top actors used to wait for her to arrive at the sets,” said Menaka. As an actress, Savitri had risen to great prominence in the 1960s. She had received the Rashtrapathi Award for her acting in the Telugu movie ‘Chivaraku Migiledi’. She died at the age of 45 after being in coma for 19 months and an alcoholic for many years.
“Just very happy and overwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting this at all, but surely this is something that I have always wished for, and so I am extremely happy,” Suresh said on being awarded the National Award.
Turning towards her parents, she added: “I am so happy I made them feel proud.”
She said she always dreamt of this award right from the start of her film career. Her mother Menaka had missed the national award for best actress despite her acclaimed performance in the hit Malayalam film ‘Oppol’, and Suresh had grown up listening to stories on how her mother had narrowly missed the prestigious award.
But she was not thinking about the award while played Savitri, she said.
“Definitely not. While working on the movie, I was more concerned about whether the film would click or not. I was also concerned whether people would accept me as Savitri. But once the teaser got released, people’s responses were promising. Then the question was whether it would be a commercial success. Soon the movie started getting good reviews. Then I was wondering whether it would be a blockbuster.”
Even as fans praised her for her performance she said she never took those comments seriously.
“I never got excited, but when people around you made such comments it felt so good. Now I feel I probably deserved it,” Suresh said.
The actress went to school in Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai, but started off her film career in a lead role in Priyadarshan’s Malayalam horror movie ‘Geethaanjali’, alongside Mohanlal. In fact, Priyadarshan and Mohanlal were also her father’s school and college mates.
So what was it like to work in the Telugu film industry?
“They received me like the girl next door. I feel so warm with their kind of welcoming. I am pretty sure they must be feeling really proud now. I am not seeing this success as just a Telugu cinema success alone because I started with Malayalam then went on to Telugu and Tamil. So this is more or less like a South Indian pride, and I feel so happy about it,” she said.
Adapting to the Telugu language was not very difficult, she recalled.
“I think it was probably easy because I know Tamil quite well, even though Telugu is not easy as a language. But after I did Mahanati, I learned more Telugu. I also dubbed for the movie, which was a big task since it went on for nearly 11 days,” she said.
Suresh said her mother gave her the best career advice.
“While shooting for my first Malayalam movie, she told me to be always punctual at my set and make sure that I treat everyone in the same manner — from the director to the spot-boy, to everyone around you.”
Talking about the influence of her producer father, Suresh Kumar, who is respected in the Malayalam film industry as a guide to many filmmakers, Suresh said: “Since my father is a producer, I learned how to always think from a producers point of view. And my Mum being an actress, she always shared her experiences with me.”
After the awards, she needs to be more mindful of the films she picks, she said.
“I need to be more responsible with my choice of scripts that I should be taking up next. After ‘Mahanati’, I think I have been wise in choosing scripts since I believe I should do justice to this award,” she said. “However, I am not thinking too much about the future right now. I feel this is just a beginning for me.”