In this week’s Big Interview, actress Priyamani shares her delightful experiences, from her memorable encounters with Shah Rukh Khan on the sets of Jawan to her thoughts on the evolving portrayal of female characters in Indian cinema. She reveals the heartwarming camaraderie she shares with SRK and how she had a crush on her superstar colleague. Priyamani reveals her insights into the changing dynamics of the Southand North film industries.Watch out for her comparison between Manoj Bajpayee and SRK, too. She also spills the beans on the exciting projects she has lined up. All that and more…

How did Shah Rukh Khan react when you met each other on the sets of Jawan, after a gap of ten years?

He just saw me and flaunted the biggest smile and gave me the tightest hug and said, “Thank you so much for being part of this film.”

Was it the chance to work with Atlee or the opportunity to reunite with SRK that attracted you to Jawan?

Both. Mainly, it was the story that worked for me. And then the film being an Atlee directorial, acting with Shah Rukh Khan was the icing on the cake.

Tell us about the Zinda Banda dance sequence. A lot has been reported about it in the recent days.

I honestly didn’t know that that song would have about a thousand background dancers. But I am so glad that Atlee sir thought of it. He could have said that it’s a jail so we could have 50 dancers but he called girls from all over Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Kerala. The girls were enamoured looking at Shah Rukh sir and me because they looked up to me a lot.
We had a separate place for rehearsals on the set and sir had a separate place for rehearsal. Once we were done, we came onto the set first. We were placed categorically and the boy, who was Shah Rukh sir’s stand-in, was one of Master sir’s (choreographer) assistants.
Then SRK sir came and saw me and said, “Why are you standing behind?” I said, “That’s my position.” Then he called Shobi Master and said, “She has been my teacher since Chennai Express and she will stand next to me and I’ll copy her. So, if I make a mistake, that means she made a mistake.” I told SRK, “Sir, please don’t put so much pressure on me.” He made sure that I was next to him.

Films down South address social issues as well. Is it because the actors down South are involved in active politics?

I don’t think you need to be in that line just to portray a message or reality. These kinds of messages have been there in our cinema for a long time. I’m not talking only about political issues. The issues that Jawan took up – farmer’s suicide, doctors’ importance or the oxygen tragedy, these are real-life iisues and they’ve happened to everyone. I think that’s what resonated with the people, since these are the issues that people have been facing. It was high time that somebody spoke about them. Issues like these have been part of South Indian films for a very long time and they continue to be a part of the storytelling process. Our films touch upon a lot of subjects. I guess people up North have also faced such issues, but they were not open enough to talk about it. I hope through Jawan, they start voicing their concerns.

How do you look back at your two-decade-long career in the movies?

From the time that I entered in 2010, I was never the kind of person who demands anything. I don’t think I was in a position to demand or it would be right for me to put forth any demand. But yes, I would probably command what I require. But I think that also goes with the experience that I have had through these 20 years. I am in a position where I can actually request something and I am quite happy that those requests have been fulfilled. So, I always think that this profession has a give-and-take policy. If you give respect, you get respect.

Go on…

I was in front of the camera in 2002. I was very fortunate that right from the start, I got characters that were bold. They were not afraid to voice what they thought was right. As time passed by that boldness turned into a fight for what my characters thought was right. Whether it was expected of me or not, is a secondary thing. I was fortunate enough to voice my opinions even through the characters I played.


Having matched moves with Shah Rukh Khan in Chennai Express and Jawan, how would you rate him as a dancer? Is he a natural or does he work harder than everyone in the room?

Being his ‘teacher’, I can confidently say Shah Rukh sir is a phenomenal dancer. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does whether acting or dancing. He sees to it that it is delivered. He gives his 200 percent no matter how easy or difficult the choreography is. He makes it look like a cakewalk. I think that’s the best thing about him. He is a master at everything and that comes naturally to him. Even when a task is difficult, he takes the extra effort to learn the steps and work to ensure the moves match up to how the choreography is supposed to look.

Everyone talks about SRK’s chivalry, but having experienced it yourself, how do you feel about the way SRK treats and respects women?

I think he is the best when it comes to being chivalrous. He is the ultimate when it comes to giving equal respect to not only women but each and every individual. And that’s why I think he has a huge fan following everywhere. It’s just amazing to see how kind, generous and respectful he is towards everybody. During the shoot too, he was chivalrous and generous. He made us all feel comfortable on set. I feel this quality has been with him for a very long time.

Do you feel you are SRK’s lucky charm? Chennai Express and Jawan have both been career highs for Shah Rukh Khan.

Well, I don’t know whether I am Shah Rukh sir’s lucky charm. If that is what people want to say then good, I’m happy. But I really don’t know whether I am lucky for him. You will have to ask him about that.

Why do you not act more often in Hindi films?

I will be seen in a lot more Hindi films now. To my well-wishers I would say, kindly, have a little more patience and watch out for all the films and series that will be coming out very soon.


Have you ever had a crush on a Bollywood actor? What did you like about him?

Not really. Each and every person brings their own charm and persona on screen. The only person I had a crush on is Shah Rukh Khan and I got to work with him. I am happy about that. Here’s hoping for many more projects with him. Apart from him, I do not have a crush, but I like a lot of actors, they bring their own charm and personality to each character that they portray. I like Ranbir Kapoor, he is effortless when it comes to acting and dancing. I think he is brilliant.

If Paruthiveeran were remade in Hindi, who would you want to work opposite and why?

I’m sorry I’m going to be a little selfish here and say, I don’t think Paruthiveeran should be remade into any other language. But if it does, well and good to whoever is going to be cast.

How has the portrayal of female characters, particularly heroines, evolved over time in cinema?

Earlier, female characters, especially heroines, were limited to appearing solely for song and dance sequences with the heroes, which was not necessarily a negative practice as it had its own importance. However, today, heroines play a more substantial role in the films they are cast in. They contribute significantly to the storyline, exhibit strong character development and engage in actions and conflicts rather than being eye candy. It is evident that times have changed, and one can only hope that this positive trend continues.

Do you agree that the geographical and cultural lines are blurring in Indian cinema? Are we turning into one film industry with a cross pollination of stars and technicians…

I would say better late than never. Thank God that all the actors and technicians are getting their fair share of recognition now. Finally, India is becoming one. The South-North distinction is still prevalent in terms of films that are exclusive to the regions, but the technicians are getting their recognition everywhere. People from the South are getting work in the North and vice versa. I’m happy that the doors have opened for everybody and finally we can say that we are one.

Are there any actors from the South who feel they don’t want to act in Hindi films and prefer getting their films dubbed in Hindi?

Honestly, I don’t have any comment on whether the South actors want to act in Hindi or not. That depends on each person’s opinion and we need to respect that as well. I don’t think I am the right person to comment on whether they should act or they shouldn’t. If they’re getting an opportunity then why not. If they are happy in their own industry that’s also absolutely fine.


Since you’ve worked with two of Barry John’s proteges – Manoj Bajpayee and Shah Rukh Khan – how do they match up to each other? Or are they like chalk and cheese?

Manoj sir and Shah Rukh sir are poles apart in terms of acting. I really can’t specify their distinctions. But I can definitely say that at least half of the scenes in The Family Man were improvised. You have to be extremely alert, on your toes, when you’re acting with Manoj Bajpayee because he is brilliant and I couldn’t have asked for a better Srikant for my character, Suchi. I think Manoj sir is phenomenal. I have seen all his films post The Family Man. I’m sure, half the lines in those films must have been improvised, too.
I’m not saying that Shah Rukh sir doesn’t improvise. But generally, we try to stick to our script. But a person like Manoj Bajpayee is always on the lookout to make it better. There’s not much of a difference between the two if you compare them, but they are different for sure. Shah Rukh Sir brings a different flavour to the character he plays, which is more lively and fun. He brings what is required of that particular character. He was extremely good in movies like Swades, Chak De India where he brought in nuances to his performance. When we talk about Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Fan, Zero, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Pathaan, Jawan… that’s a different kind of acting, because that is what is expected of the character in the film.
When you observe Manoj sir, the way he moulds himself as Srikant Tiwary of The Family Man or the recent character in Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, it is just brilliant the way he turns himself into the lawyer and how he brings his own flavour to the character.

‘Jawan’ actress Priyamani hits back at trolls calling her ‘aunty’ – ‘I am 38 but I’m still hot. Shut your mouth’

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