Actress Priyamani won an Indian National Award early on in her career for her searing portrayal of a woman brutally gang-raped in the 2007 Tamil blockbuster Paruthiveeran, but the honour and awards glory didn’t insulate her from the highs and lows in her career.
“Honestly, it was a lot of struggle. I have not received anything overnight … It’s not an easy line of work,” said Priyamani in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
The actress, who was in Dubai last week to launch an online portal, a shop and ship service tailored for Indians living abroad, doesn’t discount the greatness of the award which came with its own set of perks.
“The tag of a ‘National Award winner’ earned me a lot of respect from a lot of people. I like that in a way,” she said.
Her words about her rocky career graph may come as a surprise because her career is filled with poignant films such as the National Award-winning Malayalam film ‘Thirakkatha’ with Prithviraj and the social satire ‘Pranchiyettan & The Saint’, starring Mammootty.
In ‘Thirakkatha’, the Bengaluru-born star played an movie matinee idol whose life was fractured by her torrid affair with a big superstar. The film opened to rave reviews. Her movie with Mammootty was also a blockbuster in which she played a progressive interior designer who forms an unlikely friendship with the maverick hero.
“I am happy with the work I am doing. I am very selective about my projects that I take on because I believe in quality than quantity. If I didn’t believe in quality, then I would have done around 100 odd films by now — in South and in Bollywood. I don’t want to get into the number games. I just want to believe in the work I am doing,” said Priyamani, who has also shaken a leg with Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Chennai Express’.
While the 34-year-old actress has always snubbed entering the rat race that often measure the degree of popularity and bankability that an actor enjoys, she’s all for the burgeoning #MeToo movement in her industry.
Unlike Mohanlal, who labelled the #MeToo a “fad” and adopted a reductive approach to sexual assaults, Priyamani is an advocate of this movement that calls for a safe workplace devoid of sexual misconduct by those in power.
When Gulf News tabloid! sought her comment on the superstar’s cavalier attitude towards #MeToo, she was studiously diplomatic.
“I cannot talk on behalf of Mr Mohanlal, but I want to say that respect only starts at your own homes,” said Priyamani. “I would actually say to all the parents to tell their children to start respecting people. And, automatically when you start respecting people, it will give rise to give and take. Respect starts in your own house.”
Priyamani, who wasn’t born into an acting dynasty and began her career as a model, dreams of a world where dissenting voices can be heard loud and clear.
“I am so happy to see women are finally coming out and telling their stories. We need more people like that. I believe in voicing out your opinions. I feel great that the girls today are not afraid of it… Regarding the ones who stand accused asking for proof, my only defence? Why should women come forward to malign your name? I feel proud of these women who speak up in a male-dominated industry.”
She’s equally liberal when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifework balance. Priyamani, who got married in August last year to Mustafa Raj, didn’t take a sabbatical from films. Traditionally, you see many South Indian actors going on a self-imposed exile after their wedding. Mustafa Raj is an events manager.
“There’s always an assumption that when the girls get married they don’t want to work. The industry thinks you don’t want to work either. But, nowadays it’s a personal choice and it’s your call … I have a partner who says: ‘go out there and work’. He simply doesn’t see me as a person who sits at home … I have been in this industry for such a long time,” said Priyamani, who isn’t opposed to the idea of being a homemaker either. She’s just happy that she has chosen a partner who understands her.
“Mustafa understands my body of work and my line of work. He supports me through thick and thin. I consult him when I get offered roles and seek his opinion as an outsider,” said Priyamani, who has dated him for more than seven years before tying the knot. She claims she loves being married.
“Both have been enjoying this married space … We are definitely not bored with each other as we have a lot in common. We love to travel and we love watching films. There’s a bit of nok-jok [bickering] as a couple, but we love being with each other … However, I am still getting used to people calling me Mrs.”
While Raj and Priyamani are still in their honeymoon phase, they faced their share of virtual vitriol when she married a man of a different faith. Haters spewed venom when it came to her inter-faith relationship.
“I have been a victim of a lot of trolls because I got engaged to someone who’s not a Hindu. Initially we felt bad, but then we thought: ‘why are we taking that hatred towards us?’ I don’t mind giving it back as good as it gets … And remember, barking dogs seldom bite.”
She has a simple question towards her haters who judge her life choices and the way she conducts her life.
“When my parents don’t have a problem and when his parents don’t have a problem, then why should you all?.” Her response to her haters is pragmatic, just like the rest of her.
“I take it all with a pinch of salt.”
“It’s the first time that I am propagating retail therapy to my fans… Shoppre.com is a bridge between India and NRIs all over the world. I have heard many friends and relatives who shop online during festivals, but find it difficult to source them from India. Shoppre gives you a virtual address and a personal locker, so that what you shop online can be shipped to you in seven days. Plus, it’s run by two women. I am all for girl power,” Priyamani.
Priyamani on how she bagged Ranjith’s Thirakattha:
“The hero [‘Thirakkatha’] Prithvi gave me a call first saying he has seen me in Paruthiveeran and that I have done a good job. He said: ‘I want you to talk to the director as it’s an author-backed role’ [a role specifically meant for an actor]. Then I spoke to Ranjith sir ... He’s the one who gave me a lift in Malayalam cinema and put me on the map.”