TALENTED MOVIE STAR SHRUTI HAASAN ON STEPPING OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE WITH A NEW MUSIC ADVENTURE by ASJAD NAZIR She may be a huge movie star in India and from a famous film family, but Shruti Haasan is keeping it real and starting from scratch to launch her music career in the west. The talented singer, songwriter and musician has been performing at intimate gigs in London and working with top talent on brand new songs that will be featured on her forthcoming EP. The daughter of film legends Kamal Haasan and Sarika has been delighting audiences, who are unaware of her famous background, and focusing very much on her amazing musical ability. The multi-talented artist has big plans ahead that will see her balance a successful acting career with rising up through the musical ranks in the West. The actress was in good spirits when Eastern Eye caught up with her to talk about music, stepping out of her comfort zone and inspirations. What came first for you, music or acting? I think just art overall encompassed me in life because of the kind of home I grew up in. But if I were to say what did I choose instinctively first, I think it was music. But I think cinema always chose me, only because it was in my destiny. I grew up on a movie set, was doing homework near the generator van and getting pampered by all the production people. So, it’s a chicken and egg situation. I feel that my choice first, also in terms of finding my own voice and identity, was music. There hasn’t really been a commercially successful Indian actress who sings as well as acts like you in a very long time; has it been easy to balance the two? Not really. I like what you said because I have said a lot of times there are actresses who sing; I don’t want to name them, but they don’t really sing because they have not been trained. My hero is Kishore Kumar because he was a phenomenal actor, musician and singer. So I was like, he is what I want to be when I grow up. It hasn’t been difficult because music is a part of Indian cinema. But what was difficult was constantly maintaining my own identity as a musician. Why is that? Apart from my best friend, I was the only one who used to listen to metal songs at my school in Chennai. It was difficult to maintain that I am going to be unique even at the cost of sounding weird to others. But I was going to be myself in this kind of expression and not get caught up in the whole film thing, which was easy because my parents were there in the industry. You have experimented with various styles of music, but which are you most comfortable with? I think alternative describes it best. I have a lot of rock n roll influences and that has never gone away. I think the pop rock alternative space (is what I am most comfortable in). Is there one overriding influence? Tori Amos is my lady hero and Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. What is the thought process behind you doing all these London concerts? I think it is basically to take the authentic route. I have been really blessed to have a fan following and an acting career spanning over a decade. It has been amazing, but with music, it is so personal, another trajectory and another vibe, so we had a plan to start at a grassroots level, legit. Is there a master plan? The plan is to make more music and make more people hear my music. I have great people backing it up. In India you are a big star, but here you are starting over. How do you feel stepping out of that comfort zone? I love challenges. I think the whole experience has been amazing. I am out of my comfort zone in the sense I am not known (here). But I have never been supremely comfortable with fame because I have known it is a mirage with both of my parents; so this journey feels really authentic because when I first started acting I didn’t think I was ever given a fair shot. I was already compared to over 50 films my parents had done, which is ridiculous. So this is an authentic start from scratch with no preconceived notions; either you like my voice or you don’t. And, so far, people have liked it, so I feel good. Tell us about the songs you have recorded? We have finished an EP and it should be coming out soon. Well, it is quite autobiographical. It is about a woman like me who is a kind of product of so many things. You understand that India is not what people imagine it to be. It is a mix of so many things. Therefore, the experiences we have are layered with different tonalities. So it is about my journey as a woman, and the journey of things I have experienced so far. Is it cathartic writing about yourself or do you feel you are exposing too much of yourself? It feels really good. I don’t feel that I am exposing too much. I think my biggest problem in life is that I am too transparent. (Laughs). I probably shouldn’t say half the things I do, so music allows me to do it in a very refined and dignified way. It is hidden in beautiful chords. Where is the strangest place you have been inspired to write a song? Not a strange place, but what I have enjoyed is feelings that people would most likely avoid because it makes you project yourself. Learning to accept that part of yourself can take years; but for me, it kind of takes a song because I am very blatantly critical of my own emotions. I’m also my own biggest supporter when it comes to accepting my layers. That is where the music comes from. You are a symbol of girl power; how much does that side influence your decisions creatively and personally? I think it is beautiful that feminism has taken on so many different faces and forms. I think now people don’t even want to be tagged under a certain definition. I have been raised as a strong and independent woman. I have been brought up by a wonderful man so I can’t get on the man-hating wagon. I have two very strong women at home. My team in India and my musicians in London are all female. Tell us more… I believe the biggest problem women face is not uniting. So that is something I try applying in my workspace and personal life, where women support each other. In that sense, I assume I represent girl power. But it’s not consciously. It is not like I’ve to give someone a job because they are women; it is because they are good at what they do. What music dominates your own playlist? My own stuff at the moment and not in a self-centred way. I am just trying to fix it, analyse it and make it better. (Laughs). I am not like my sh*t is the best. Just in case someone misreads that. But I always revert to metal songs. That is my go-to music. I have been listening to a band out of Brighton called Architects. I really love them and they have come up with a new album, so that is great. I have been listening to a lot of Bring Me The Horizon, because the producer I have been working with on my EP works with them and he introduced me to it. What would be your karaoke song of choice? Probably Zombie by The Cranberries because everybody can’t do it and I can. I have been doing it for years. In fact, there are people in Chennai who call me zombie. What inspires you? I think independence in its true sense. It’s redefined itself for me; coming to a country where people don’t know me and where I am starting from scratch. Being truly independent. I think in India we take it for granted that support system we have on a daily basis. I have a lot of respect for people in London in how they manage their homes, lives and workout (that is one thing I still haven’t figured out). It is just amazing. So independence really inspires me. What do you love about London? The weather. It is always raining… I love it. Even that one little ray of sunshine is annoying me. I love gloomy grey London. I know people in London complain about it, but I find it really inspiring. I love winter clothing. The gloomy weather inspires me and puts me in my music mood. I think if my music had a look it would be London. What do you have coming up in terms of movies? I have a Hindi film directed by Mahesh Manjrekar due for release. But I am really excited about working on a Tamil film (Laabam) with one of my favourite actors, Vijay Sethupathi. He is fantastic and my second favourite actor after Irrfan Khan. It is directed by SP Jananathan, who is fantastic, so this is a film I have been excited about for a long time. I love the team and what I am doing in this film. Tell us, what are your big passions away from work? When I am not working, I am usually writing, playing with my cats at home or with my piano because I don’t get the luxury of much free time. So that is basically what I do. I write music and watch a lot of stuff on Netflix and Amazon. What is the best advice you ever got? From my father and really simple, which is, ‘no pain no gain’. Anything that is too comfortable is not pushing you out of your comfort zone, and therefore, you won’t achieve what you are truly destined for. Why do you love music? Because it is like loving a part of myself. There is no need to explain it. It is just really within me.