Nothing had prepared Keerthy Suresh for the impact of her latest release "Mahanati". The film and the tragic story of the iconic actress Savitri's downfall has taught Keerthy plenty about life.
"It wasn't easy playing Savitri. Her life was so eventful and so short. I learnt the value of family and friends. The entertainment industry can isolate you. I will never make the mistakes that Savitri ma'am did in her life and career," Keerthy said.
The film, directed by Nag Ashwin, traces the ups and downs in the personal and professional life of the late iconic southern cinema actress Savitri. It is a blockbuster.
"Audiences seem to have taken to the film in a very big way. Of course when I agreed to do 'Mahanati', I knew we were on to something special. But nothing had prepared us in the 'Mahanati' team for this kind of impact. We're literally flooded with praise and compliments. It is something I've not experienced before. Not to this extent," Keerthy said.
The 25-year-old Tamil-Telugu-Malayalam actress just can't believe what is happening.
Keerthy is no stranger to success and recognition. She has been doing Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films for the last 18 years.
"I started as a child artiste in a Malayalam film. Of course when I started, I knew nothing about camera angles, plot points... I just knew I had to be acting in films. Since my father (producer Suresh Kumar) was a producer, it was easy to get my first few jobs as a child artiste."
The real struggle for Keerthy began thereafter.
"After the first few films, I was on my own. I built my own career brick by brick. And now here I am."
She finds it a little hard to believe that she initially had reservations about pulling off the role of Savitri in "Mahanati".
"Of course I knew about Savitri m'aam. Who in southern film industry doesn't know about her? She is a legend. And of course, it was very flattering for me to be offered the role."
It was also frightening for Keerthy.
"I was not at all sure I could pull off the character's darker periods in life, specially the parts where she takes to drinking. I was not sure I could pull this off. But the director (Ashwin Nag) was sure. He had seen my Tamil film "Thodari" with Danush. And the way I performed in one particular song, convinced him I could pull off the younger part of Savitri ma'am's life, her innocence and sense of fun and mischief."
Once Keerthy agreed, then began the preparation.
"The director sent me footage from Savitri ma'am's films. He had segregated the scenes as ‘happy', ‘dramatic', ‘comic', etc... Watching these, and of course the whole of "Maya Bazaar" since we had to perform scenes from that film in "Mahanati". I learnt what not to do while playing Savitri ma'am.
"I was definitely not going to imitate Savitri Ma'am. To ensure that I played her my way, I didn't watch any more of her films."
For all the hard work, nothing had prepared Keerthy for the success of "Mahanati".
"It is being seen as an epic. There is so much love and affection for Savitri ma'am. We were not sure how the audience would react to the fatal flaws in her character. But the audience has embraced the film and Savitri's life story with all her weaknesses."
Keerthy feels blessed.
"I couldn't have asked for more. A role of a real-life character and that too someone so iconic and complex would have come to me after at least ten more years of experience. But I guess I was destined to play Savitri ma'am. Somewhere we all felt her presence guiding us in making this film."
With success on this scale comes added responsibility.
"I understand audiences expect me to be playing central characters more often. But they must understand that roles and films like "Mahanati" don't come along too often. I am equally happy to do the mass-appealing commercial films where the hero definitely has more to do than the heroine.
"My career in the future would be a balanced mix of commercial cinema and heroine-oriented projects."
Keerthy warns that her forthcoming films do not feature her in central parts.
"They were all signed before 'Mahanati' released. I must be honest in confessing that in my next three films 'Saamy 2', 'Sandakozhi 2' and 'Thalapathy 62', my leading men have a lot more to do than I do.
"So yes, those who expect me in central roles after 'Mahanati' would be disappointed. I can only assure them that in future, I will make sure I've substantial roles in all the films I do."