Shruti Haasan: Fantastically fearless and fabulously multi-talented
BOLD: Shruti Haasan
SHRUTI HAASAN DISCUSSES MOVIES, MAKING MUSIC AND MENTAL HEALTH
MARVELLOUSLY multi-talented star Shruti Haasan has a magnificent body of work in multiple languages.
The incredibly gifted personality has starred in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi movies, scored music, forged a successful singing career and leads an explosive rock group called The Extramentals. She has also become a strong symbol of girl power with her fearless approach and has high-profile projects on the way, including mega-budget movie Salaar opposite pan-Indian superstar Prabhas.
Eastern Eye caught up with Shruti Haasan to talk about life during the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, cinema, music and excitement of playing characters that are diametrically opposite from her. She also discussed her forthcoming projects, including a streaming show for Amazon Prime.
How have you coped with the various challenges of living in a Covid-19 pandemic that has been so devastating?
It has been a very strange, unprecedented and challenging time for everyone. The most devastating thing has been the loss of life in every family and every circle of friends, and there is nothing really to say to make that feel better or make sense. I am learning to be thankful for every single day and to be grateful even in a time that seems dark. That is what I can do for myself every day. The pandemic has taken its toll on all aspects of life, including mental health.
What advice would you give someone that might be struggling?
You are absolutely right! One of the biggest impacts of this pandemic for a number of reasons is on the mental health of people. It is affecting people with professional stress and financial worries, and families being isolated and children not being able to socialise or go outside. And not to forget everyone has lost a large sense of control no matter what the age. All of this greatly affects the mind in many different ways. I have always been vocal about my mental health struggles and talked about anxiety because I know the doubt or shame people may associate with it. And I have been there, so I want to open up the conversation because it is important, and it is real.
Tell us more?
At a time like this in human history, it is unavoidable to discuss this, and I am glad for that. There are a number of resources through talk therapy and group support online that is affordable and accessible, and I am glad to see the stigma slowly eroding from the way it has been before. We have to prioritise mental health and the time is now.
Is there any hidden talent or hobby you have developed during the lockdown?
Nothing hidden really. I share most of my life which is quite simple really – my cooking, my music and my thoughts. I think the hidden thing really was that I was much calmer and stronger than I realised before and for that, I am thankful.
You are also a musician. Can you talk about what are you working on next?
Music is something that gives my soul a way to express and connect with the world. I am working on more singles and videos that will be out soon. And as a musician, I cannot wait to perform live again and connect with audiences.
Had your career not flourished in showbiz, did you have a plan B?
Weirdly, I had no plan B and maybe that is why I went for it all engines blazing!
If you could play a famous musician, who would you choose?
I do not know if I would play a particular musician, but I would love to play a singer, songwriter of some kind because I feel the process of a musician is private and intimate, and it is always represented in an emotionally opulent and dramatic way on-screen. I do not feel it runs into the nuance and ease of it, so I would love to show that through a character.
Between cinema and music, what is the world you feel most comfortable in, and enjoy most?
I feel most comfortable creating art and expressing myself and I do it for me with such a love that I think it resonates. So, the medium is just the second step but the process of being able to connect to a story or a song is so powerful and fortunately, I do not have to choose.
You next star in Salaar, alongside Prabhas. How is it shaping up?
We have shot a bit for Salaar and I am super excited to get back to work. This is the first time I am working with Prabhas and the team, and they all are wonderful.
How do you switch off after completing a complex and emotional scene?
That has always been a weird one for me because on the surface, I feel I have switched off by changing the physical activity and speaking away from the scene or character, but the truth is those people we play do stay with us and we do not even realise it sometimes – and one day they leave like an exorcism as well. I know it has not left me, the emotion that is, when I feel myself react differently than I normally would.
Do you prefer looking for characters that are completely different from you, or something similar to your personality?
I have never played someone similar to me till date and it is not on purpose. But there are moments in some characters where I find an affinity to some part of myself. But that is not a goal; I like playing people I do not know or relate to and that gives me a sense of duty to say that story with compassion and passion. In the second half of the year, you will appear in a political thriller, Laabam.
What can audiences expect from it?
Laabam is a socio political film with many layers and messages. I am sad that our director (SP Jananathan) is no longer with us to speak about his vision, but I feel honoured to have been a part of it. You also headline an upcoming streaming show for Amazon Prime.
What can you tell us about it?
I am super excited about the character I am playing in the Amazon show and I cannot wait for people to see it. I cannot say more and spoil the surprise.
What is your earliest cinema memory?
My earliest cinema memories are going to the movie set, which was always and still is such a magical place. And I also remember watching the classic Spartacus with my father so many times.
What does ‘feeling comfortable’ in your own skin mean to you?
Being comfortable in your own skin is a process that is stable as well as ever changing. You have to honour the rhythm of your life, body and emotions, and listen to your needs. And when you start communication within yourself that is honest even if it is difficult, you start to feel a comfort that is irreplaceable.
Do you feel more in your skin with the things you are doing or more challenged?
That is a really interesting question! So, I think, first of all, you are constantly growing and trying to find a deeper connection with yourself. There were times in the past when I was not so connected with my artistic needs and ways to express, and at that time, things seemed challenging but also tiresome at times because energy is diverted. But as I got closer to myself and more honest with my wants as an artist and person, then everything started to feel like a positive challenge. I am excited for the new phases in my life with a greater sense of self.
What kind of roles do you think you are gravitating towards now?
There are so many roles I want to explore. The list is pretty much endless. I see myself gravitating towards a strong voice or point being made, especially trying to enhance that female point of view no matter what genre of film.
What character have you portrayed so far that you feel like you have related to the most?
I actually have not related on a personality level to any of my characters, but I have connected artistically. Lockdown led to an unprecedented growth for streaming media platforms.
Do you think it is going to pose a great threat to the traditional cinema viewing culture in our country?
This is an ongoing question for a while now and the pandemic has heightened the need and acute awareness of it. I feel that there are films of a certain scale that are most definitely crafted for a cinematic theatrical first viewing and that is something that connects to that eternal love we have for the theatrical experience. Having said that, the advent of these various platforms – allowing the viewer to choose on their own time and leisure – has opened audiences minds to various content. This change has also driven in a very positive way filmmakers and actors to view content in a different light than we did before.