Tamannaah, 23, did her first film as a leading lady at the age of 14. She is a Sindhi girl born and brought up in Mumbai and has done 25 films, including her recent film ‘Himmatwala’. She has learnt to speak Telugu and Tamil with as much ease as she speaks Hindi.
She may have a temple named after her in Tamil Nadu, but she doesn’t take stardom seriously as she knows nothing lasts forever. She lives in the moment and prides herself in being a home bird. She talks to TOI about her favourite co-star Suriya, why she has more female fans than men and how the Sajid Khan humour rubbed off on her. Excerpts:
At the age of 23, you have completed 25 films. You must have started early, right?
I always wanted to become an actress. As a child, I would stand in front of the mirror and get in to my mother’s clothes, use all her makeup and always watch Hindi films. I would dance at my annual days, but got rejected during my acting auditions in school. When I was in class VIII, I got a chance to act as the leading lady in my first Bollywood film Chand Sa Roshan Chehra. Surprisingly, my class IV teacher at Maneckji Cooper had recommended me for this role. My parents saw the potential in me and were extremely supportive. I started shooting when I was 14, but it was fine as I looked mature for my age then. The film was released while I was giving my tenth boards. At 15, I was a part of the Fair & Lovely campaign when I got spotted in the South and started doing films there. While my initial films did not do well, I got noticed for my fourth Telugu film Happy Days.
Were your parents concerned about your being so young when you started?
This is the only profession where your parents can accompany you at any age. My mom always travelled with me and took complete responsibility about me not feeling low or homesick throughout. What I appreciate most about them is that they noticed what I was good at and supported it, even though it took a lot of sacrifice from them to stay away from each other.
In the South, there is this whole obsession with the male actor? Does that bother you?
Only a heroine can do a heroine’s job. So the whole idea that her role is small does not matter. Her value does not come from the fact that she may have four scenes, but from the fact that people want to see her even after the four scenes. Also, being an actress is quite challenging as within the little time she gets in a commercial film, she needs to make a mark.
Do you have friends in the industry?
Dhanush, Illeana and Ram Charan are my good friends. I get along with Ram Charan’s family and hang out with them a lot. Illeana and I did our first Tamil film together and I’m proud of her work. I reach out to Dhanush and Illeana if I want advice. Also, James Ravi, who I know because of his wife Aarthi, is supportive.
Is there a difference between Tamil and Telugu films?
Unlike a Telugu film, that is always entertaining, a Tamil film can also be off-beat and raw as there is an audience for it in addition to commercial cinema. Telugu cinema, in contrast, is always a fairy tale and a film needs to have a happy ending otherwise it won’t work.
What have you learnt being in the industry?
You have to let go in the sense you can’t run after something and get it. You have to let destiny happen to you. It’s important to have the himmat to not fear losing. Hard work is cliched and understood and everyone works hard as everything around us is so competitive. I am very inspired by Kung Fu Panda and feel you have to just believe in yourself. There is no magic. It’s all inside you. I never go into my past or future and always live in the present. Life is unpredictable and we are all fragile.
You have not been linked to anyone in your film career. Have you fallen in love with any of your co-stars?
I have not fallen in anything as strong as love. Love is a big term and I would use it carefully. Being attracted is different from being in love. Also you can’t be in love with an actor, you need to be in love with a person. In my earlier films, people who I worked with were much older to me. It’s only now that I have started working with people my age.
You did only one film with Surya. Why have you not worked again with him?
I don’t think he repeats his heroines. I have learnt a lot from him and he has always encouraged me. He is respected, is versatile and is seldom repetitive.
Is it true that you have more women fans than men?
Yes, I have a bigger women fan following than men and I find it flattering. I understand what can turn a woman off when she walks into a theater I think women are comfortable to come and watch my movies, as I have always been a part of clean films and they feel I would not do something on screen which they would feel uncomfortable watching with their families. I have not kissed on screen ever and even when I wear revealing clothes, I ensure it looks aesthetic.
What has been your experience working with Sajid Khan in Himmatwala?
Sajid never saw any of my work, but he had serious conviction after he met me just for 15 minutes and made up his mind. He has influenced me a lot and my sense of humour has become better because of him. He is sincere, but not serious. He knows his job and will have a lot of fun while working. I have learnt planning from him and he teaches you to come prepared with what you want to do on the set. When he signed the film with me, he told me that he would launch Himmatwala on March 29 and he did. It’s never happened to me earlier in my career. That shows his level of planning.
Any Bollywood movies for you after Himmatwala?
I am doing Ramesh Taurani’s film with Akshay Kumar, where the writers of Himmatwala, Sajid-Farhad are debuting as directors. South is what made me what I am today, so I am also doing two Telugu and one Tamil film. For me, Hyderabad and Chennai feel like home just as Mumbai does.