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'Winning a National award doesn't mean I have to restrict myself to performance-based roles'

April 30, 2009 19:59 IST

'Winning a National award doesn't mean I have to restrict myself to performance-based roles'

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Priya Mani, the national award-winning actress was first noticed in Telugu in Pellaina Kothalo (even though her debut film Evare Atagaadu sank without a trace).

But she slowly started to etch her success story with films like Yamadonga, Hare Ram and Drona (which drew more attention for her swimsuit act). Equally at ease in glam roles as well as in the girl-next-door ones, she carried off any role with elan.

As her new Telugu film Mitrudu opposite senior actor Nandamuri Balakrishna gets ready to hit theatres on May 1, Radhika Rajamani caught up with the actress to know more about the film.

How did you get to sign Mitrudu?

I got a call from Rajamouli Sir's father Mr Vijayendra Prasad, who is the writer of the film. We had interacted soon after Yamadongar eleased as he had a script for me but then that didn't work out. Then Mr Prasad again called saying he has a script and it's with Balakrishna. He told me he would ask the director to give me a call and narrate the story. He said, 'If you like it, you can do it.' Then Mahadev (director) called me and narrated the one-liner to me. The one-liner sounded pretty interesting, so I thought why not.


Image: Priya Mani in a scene from Drona

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'The story revolves around me'

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What is Mitrudu about?

It's basically a clean movie. My character is that of a NRI girl. There are twists and turns, sentiment, action, entertainment -- a mixture of everything.

Is it something to do with friendship going by the title?

Yes, basically Mitrudu is friendship. There is a nice relationship between Balakrishna and I, as well as with Deepak Bajwa. It's a good, mass entertainer.

Is it a mainstream movie?

Definitely, it's a pucca commercial movie.

Do you have a substantial role to play in the film?

Definitely. The story revolves around me.


Image: Priya Mani in a scene from Drona

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'For me the script is the hero'

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You had an image makeover in Drona. Do we get to see you in a glam role in Mitrudu as well?

The character has got both performance and glamour. In the first half of the movie, there are not too many glamorous outfits. I wear today's outfits like jeans. The second half sees me in saris and salwars.

You started working with younger heroes like NTR, Kalyan Ram, Raja, Nitin and so on and now you are starring opposite a senior person like Balakrishna. How would you describe this transition?

[Laughs] For me the script is the hero. To an extent, the co-star matters but I give more importance to the script, what the basic story is about, what my character is about. If I'm satisfied with all the above, then I do it. After the script come the director and the hero.

Balakrishna Sir is an established person in the industry. He still has his fans and mass appeal. Whenever we shot at any location, he had his fans coming up to him. And that proved that he is still very popular.


Image: Priya Mani

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'Language is not a problem for me now'

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How was Balakrishna as a co-star?

He is a sweet co-star. Balakrishna Sir is such a senior person. Initially I would just say, ?Hello Sir' or ?Good Morning Sir'. Even now when I see him, I say the same things. I was not very free. Right from the very first day itself, he made me feel comfortable on the sets. He used to help me out by doing the scene. He would ask what his and my dialogues were. Then he would tell me, "Priya Mani you can say like this, you can say like that," and thus help out a lot.

Basically that really made me feel comfortable and he was pretty free and cool. As the days progressed, it was extremely comfortable working with him. He used to play pranks on the sets. When we would have to emote, he would give funny counter expressions which made us laugh. It was fun on the sets.

What are your forthcoming films in Telugu?

I've signed a film with Madan. The Pellaino Kothalu team (Madan, Jagapathi Babu and I) is getting back together with another movie.

Are you comfortable with the language?

Language is not a problem for me now. Initially I found it difficult because though I could understand Telugu well, I could not reply back. I would answer in English. But now I have picked up the language and people can understand what I am saying.


Image: Priya Mani

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'As far as I know I've not seen girls wearing saris and salwars to go swimming'

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After acting in Paruthiveeran and some good films in Tamil where you had performance-oriented roles, are you happy with the way your career is shaping up in Telugu?

Definitely. So far whatever I have done -- be it Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam, I think I have made the right choices, there may have been a few wrong ones. I think my career, as I far as I know, is shaping well and I hope it goes well in the future also.

Being glam seems to be in the in-thing. You came under quite a bit of flak for your makeover in Drona particularly in the bikini. What made you, a national award-winner do it?

See, just because I won a National award doesn't mean I have to restrict myself to performance-based roles. Dronais a pucca commercial film and it was at the insistence of the director that I agreed for the bit of the song shot in the swimming pool.

As far as I know I've not seen girls wearing saris and salwars to go swimming. I thought when it is in the swimming pool, it is apt to wear a swimming costume.

Basically I was a little hesitant in the beginning; I did tell the director that I was sort of not very comfortable. But he insisted saying I want it to come out, it's going to be good, and we want to picturise the song nicely and stylishly.

They told me they wanted to show me in a completely different way ? something which the Telugu audience hasn't seen at all. I thought okay, Why not? It will be a welcome change, lets see the audience reaction. Some people liked it, some people didn't. To each his own.


Image: Priya Mani

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'Most of the industry guys were in for a big shock when they saw the swimsuit stills'

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Did the reactions bother you?

Not really. Those who didn't like, said Oh Priya Mani is so homely and we had seen her in Yamadonga and Pellaina Kothalo roles and we want to see her more in those roles and not ultra-glam ones.

The other section said, wow we didn't know Priya Mani can look like this. Most of the industry guys were in for a big shock when they saw the swimsuit stills of the movie.

How was the experience of working with Mani Ratnam in Raavan?

Oh, it was fabulous. Mani Sir is an institution by himself. It was really great because the 25 days I shot with him was really good and you could get to learn Mani Sir's style of acting. All the time he says he doesn't want the regular filmi acting, he wants the real one. Like in a given situation, how would you react.

He always says, do not follow the words, let the words follow what you are trying to say. Say what you want to say, not necessarily follow what is being written, say it as casual and comfortable as possible. I think that was a very valuable advice I learnt from Mani Sir.

You shot with Abhishek and Aishwarya Bachchan as well as Prithiviraj...

Aishwarya wasn't there. I shot with Abhishek, Vikram and Prithvi. I have a few more days of shoot left with Prithvi.

How has the journey been so far?

All I can say is slow and steady wins the race, I believe in climbing the ladder one step at a time.


Image: Priya Mani

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