New Delhi: I have not chosen characters because they are like me, I chose them because I am like them. - Shruti Haasan
She was six years old when she started singing professionally and barely 12 when she made her Hindi singing debut with her father Kamal Haasan's film Chachi 420, a remake of the Hollywood comedy Mrs Doubtfire. After 20 years in the industry and having grown up in the shadow of a father acknowledged as one of India's most versatile actors, Shruti Haasan says she does not let her dad plan her career.
But she was thrilled when he loved her performance as 'Janani' in the Tamil film '3' opposite actor Dhanush.
Shruti was thrilled when father Kamaal Haasan loved her performance in the Tamil film \'3\' opposite actor Dhanush.
She is yet to deliver a substantial hit and considers herself only just three-film old but when I remind her that it has been almost 20 years since she sang her first song, she pauses for a second, laughs and says under her breath "wow...it hits you, doesn't it?"
The film '3' may have failed to make money at the box office but Shruti says the intensely complex role of 'Janani', Ram's (Dhanush) childhood love and companion has been a huge challenge.
"Janani is a very urban story in that sense. Janani is nothing like me, she could be like a lot of us but she is nothing like me in her socio economic background (among other things). There is nostalgia and we have all been in that phase in our lives. Janani was very, very challenging for me, if you didn't really feel it (the role), you don't move people. You have to give a little bit of yourself and I gave a little bit more than a little bit to Janani. As a character she took a big chunk of Shruti," she says. So she was understandably pleased when her father approved of her acting in '3'.
I respect him as my dad and as an actor
"He's quite honest if he likes something or if he doesn't like something. He never looks at it as his daughter...you know, (he says) fix it in your next one. He's given me very constructive criticism, in '3' though I was really happy he liked my performance and coming from him it was something special. I respect him as my dad but on the other side I respect him as an actor. So that was really nice."
Does she ever get nervous when Kamal is critical about a film she has played a role in? "It doesn't make me nervous it only makes me want to improve."
Shruti had a special appearance in the 2000 film 'Hey Ram' but made her Bollywood debut in 2009 with 'Luck' opposite Imran Khan. So far she has had two releases in Hindi, two in Tamil and three in Telugu, excluding the dubbed ones. She is far from feeling the fatigue that often plagues child artistes.
"Because I've been dabbling in different industries, I feel like I'm two-films-old in the industry. I don't see myself tiring for a long time. I am very happy to be an artiste and doing all kind of works and getting the opportunity to play these characters," she says.
But music is her primary love. "Music for me is so much a part of my soul (because) I never make music to impress people. I do it because I really love it. Predominantly I started as a musician and singer. I am still very much a musician and singer but I am also an actress and my philosophy is why limit yourself when you can live in a limitless way."
Please make your choices yourself
What role does her father play in her career choices?
"None at all. I go to him if I have a question, but on an average, no. my parents are both there to support me, and they are there if I need something. But it's not something I rely on. I've been in the industry for three years, and I've made choices, some of them were great, some of them not so great, it doesn't matter. Today people say they believe the character of Janani. But of course, he's (Kamal) been in the business for over 50 years and his opinion counts. He himself propagates the idea "please make your choices yourself and pick yourself up".
I used to hang out at film sets after school
For a star kid, having grown up around actors and film sets and props all her life, Shruti says her upbringing was pretty normal.
"For me, I grew up as a film kid, which is, I'd go to the film set wherever they (her father and mother Sarika) were but apart from once in a blue moon some 'uncle' or 'aunt' would come to our house to hang out with my parents. I never had any social interaction with the film industry. Post school I would be on a movie set. My life was very normal otherwise, in our school it didn't matter who you were what car you came in, a nice stabilizing kind of environment and I still have friends from school going back 20 years; for whom my dad is Kamal uncle," she says.
"It has moulded me into not being taken in by a lot of things even if you have grown up seeing your parents being famous. When you come into your own, it's a definitely a different experience, and I'm really thankful of the friends and families I've hung out with as a kid, it has really grounded me."
Preparing for Gabbar Singh
Shruti is preparing for a role made famous by actor Sonakshi Sinha in Salman Khan's superhit film Dabangg. She is reprising the role in 'Gabbar Singh', the Telugu version of Dabangg.
"I'm playing the female lead in the film. She is a village girl but they've made changes to suit the nativity. There are also modifications in terms of role and content. It has been very exciting for me. This is completely different from all the characters I've been playing in Tamil and Telugu," she says.
"This is a girl who thinks "I know how to do my stuff, I will take care of myself", she is very much like that. Fortunately so far all the female characters I played definitely have a mind of their own. Be it from Seventh Sense or Dil Toh Bachha Hai Ji', somehow there is a common trait in the characters which I get which is well defined. They did have chutzpah, which is interesting."
Working with Dhanush
"Ram and Janani are almost the same person, so it was very important how I portrayed this character. You know he's not just an actor, he is a comprehensive artiste and understands a lot of things about cinema, he's well versed in writing, singing, composing and direction so it was good to work with him."
I never read a review before seeing a film
There has been a growing disconnect between film critics and stars in recent times. Both have taken swipes at each other on the internet, in interviews and in public forums. But Shruti says she never reads a review before watching a film.
"I really care what my audience says. If someone writes a responsible review with an opinion, of course it's part of a critic's job. Although if it's just an off the cuff remark about stuff, it is the fate of a film. I don't read Hollywood, Tollywood, Bollywood, Kollywood reviews at all. I see the film and judge for myself. Whether a critic disses it or loves it, that's one aspect of it. I've loved a lot of the movies the critics don't like (laughs). I think there's constructive criticism in movie critiquing and also there's others layers to it. There's an audience for every kind of cinema today. I know for sure I don't watch a movie based on a review."