As a debutant, she stole many a heart with her role Jessie in Ye Maaya Chesave. In the subsequent years, she sealed her position right on top with super hits like Dookudu, Eega (Naan Ee in Tamil), Attarintiki Daredi and recently, Manam. While she is completely aware of her success in the Telugu Industry, she realises that she needs to go that extra mile to climb up the ladder in Tamil cinema. And she firmly believes that she is on the right track with her upcoming Tamil releases with bigwigs such as Suriya (Anjaan – already released), Vijay (Kaththi) and Vikram (10 endrathukulla). Samantha Ruth Prabhu is here to stay and she might very well be the next big thing of Tamil cinema.
“I don’t want people to assume what characters I can or cannot play.”
Known for her demure, girl-next-door roles, Samantha has taken the film industry by storm with her glamourous avatar in the recently released Anjaan (Sikander -Telugu). “It was a conscious decision to go all out this year. Many said that I don’t have what it takes to do glamourous roles in commercial films and that I cannot step outside my comfort zone. I didn’t want people to stereotype me as the ‘girl-next-door’ and I also did not want people to assume what characters I can or cannot play. That is why I chose to act in mass entertainers like Anjaan, Rabhasa and Kaththi and try out roles that I have never explored before.”
“ANR garu loved to laugh and loved people who made him laugh.”
One of her big releases this year was Manam where Samantha had the rare opportunity to act with the three generations of the Akkineni family— ANR garu, Nagarjuna and Naga Chaitanya. Talking about this film and in particular about the legendary Nageswara Rao she says, “to share screen space with an icon was very memorable. He was so unaware of his iconic status. He loved to laugh and loved people who made him laugh. Even at that age, after doing so many films, he was very curious about the next scene, what outfit he would be wearing or how the cameras would be placed. One of the greatest lessons I learnt from him was the fact that I should never feel complacent and think that I have nothing more to prove. I will keep that with me forever.”
“An experimental and complicated film, Manam had every chance to go wrong.”
In Manam, Samantha played Naga Chaitanya’s wife and love interest and Nagarjuna’s mother. For such a young person to play a mom was no easy feat. “Well that is what an actor is supposed to do. When director Vikram narrated the story, I loved it. I would have done the film even if it was with three random actors and not the Akkineni family. An experimental and complicated film, Manam had every chance to go wrong. There were so many moments between Nag garu and me in this film, if shot slightly different could have been easily misinterpreted as sexual. It was almost like playing with fire. But thanks to Vikram, I managed to pull it off.” Talking about Nagarjuna she says, “I had a very good rapport with him. I don’t think I have ever spoken to him like he was my senior off screen; I guess that helped me with my performance on screen.”
“You need to take life lessons before you come into the industry, because it can break you.”
From being a humble girl at Stella Maris College to becoming the queen bee of Telugu cinema, Samantha has come a really long way. “Personality wise I haven’t changed one bit, but I have become much stronger as a person. To every girl who aspires to be a part of the film industry, I would only say one thing– more than grooming yourself outward, start grooming yourself inward; your character and personality are more important than your looks. You need to take lessons on life before you come into the industry because it can break you.” Thoughtfully she adds, “If someone like Robin Williams who made millions smile can commit suicide, imagine what could happen to you and me. This industry is cut throat and it is difficult to fail in front of millions. You may eventually become thick skinned, but you are still human at the end of the day.” Talking about negativity, she says, “When I get more than 200 negative comments a day or harsh criticism on social media, it affects me, but it can either make or break me. I take both the positives and negatives in my stride and choose to work harder and become stronger.”
“Today, the strength of social media is huge and whatever you say or do goes viral in seconds.”
Samantha is very active on twitter and she says it is a consious decision to stay connected to people. “Social media is addictive. Of course, it has its negatives. Somebody from some unknown place can get into your private space by commenting or posting something about you, which can affect you. Earlier, actors would have been much happier without the social media. Fortunately or unfortunately, today, the strength of this medium is huge and whatever you say or do goes viral in seconds.” After thinking for a few moments she adds,”It is choice – one either gets into it or doesn’t. I really like to be in touch with the reality. I don’t want to zone out into this star space and be in denial of my position and standing in the industry– even if I am falling, I don’t want to think that I am at the top. I want be aware of the outside world, I want to know what people think of me. Also twitter allows me to keep tab of current issues, world politics and everything; it is not only about the fan following.”
“Every single ailment that one could think of was on the front page of the papers. It wasn’t my duty to inform everyone about what I was suffering from.”
There are many issues that tested Samantha’s strength. There have been times when she just wanted to quit. “After coming into the industry, there have been many times when I would just breakdown. One such incident was when I got sick and was on a break; people assumed so many things- there was skin disease, cancer, plastic surgery and even black magic.” Unforgiving about the trauma the media put her through, she says, “Every single ailment that one could think of was on the front page of the papers. It wasn’t my duty to inform everyone about what I was suffering from, especially when I didn’t know what it was myself. When a person is feeling low, you don’t push them further down, you wait for them to rise a little and then push them. You let them feel better and then you strike them. I had an infection that was just not going away. It was becoming antibiotic resistant. It was something that the doctors were not able to figure out. Every antibiotic I was taking stopped working after 21 days. I was on intravenous therapy for a long time. The high dosage kept me out for a while. Now I am fine.”
“I am literally god’s favourite child!”
When Samantha was ill, she had to give up movies of two of the biggest directors -Mani Ratnam and Shankar. “I am literally god’s favourite child! Out of 12 films in Telugu, 10 have been blockbusters. Whatever he gives me and whatever he takes away, I believe it is for the best. I don’t have any regrets. My family and I were more concerned about my health than movies that I had to give up. I have done good films so far and I hope the good phase continues.” Samantha’s illness affected her mother more than anyone else. “More than me, it was my mother who suffered the most. She was constantly by my side, supporting me and praying for me.”
I have been brought up in a very modest home; I would even say lower middle class. We did not have any kind of luxury. What I have now is way more than what I need. I have been raised with much less– that also gives me a lot of strength as I have seen and experienced hardships as a child. All this fame I have now doesn’t really get to me.
I have worked throughout college to pay for my education. I have even worked as an usher at hotel events. I used to work for hours together just to earn Rs.1, 000. Modelling did not start until after I finished college. I was out with some friends at a party and my photograph came in one of the newspapers. Ace photographer Venket Ram knew one of my friends and got my contact through her. That is how my first modelling assignment happened for Naidu Hall. I got paid Rs. 2,500 for it!
Audition for Ye Maaya Chesave was held in Chennai. I refused to even try it out because I was scared. My coordinator pushed me, which is why I auditioned. I didn’t even expect to get the part as there were so many beautiful women from the North who were also auditioning. It was nerve wrecking as I had to enact a scene with Gautham himself. I remember every moment of that audition. Today, I am glad that I auditioned for that film as it changed my life.
“Naga Chaitanya and I are best friends and I adore him!”
Naga Chaitanya said he is most comfortable acting with Samantha (Read JFW’s Men Section this issue). When questioned on that she smiles sweetly and says, “We are best friends and I adore him! He is such a sweetheart! While shooting for scenes in Ye Maaya Chesave, I was so nervous. Each dialogue was two pages long! There were scenes in the film where I had to hold his hand and I would be pressing it so hard and he would say, ‘Babe you are holding my hand too tight’; I was that scared! Everything about that film is special to me. Some scenes were shot in New York and that was the first time I was going out of country. People whom I worked with in that film left a permanent mark in my heart. I might forget other things, but I just can’t forget the experience of Ye Maaya Chesave.”
“I have had a good relationship with all my co-stars and share a friendly rapport with every one of them.”
The chatterbox that Sam is, her co-stars have no other option but to let her in. “I just talk too much! I have had a good relationship with all my co-stars and share a friendly rapport with every one of them be it Jr. NTR, Mahesh Babu or Pawan Kalyan. And that can be seen on screen – that is why the chemistry is so good; the friendship with your co-stars matters a lot.”
Talking about her Anjaan co-star Suriya she says, “He is a perfectionist. I remember, we had to shoot a song sequence in Goa and it was extremely hot! The heat was getting to me and I was not able to get a step right. I was so frustrated that I just gave up. Suriya came to me and said, “Come on, you can do it. It is your song, how can you give up?” It is very difficult to get that kind of encouragement from your co-star and that is what sets him apart from the rest.”
Moving on, she talks about her Kaththi co-star, “Vijay is a very polite person. He is very soft spoken - you will never hear him scream or shout. His decibel level will not cross a certain point; he is very calm and composed. But when he comes in front of the camera, he transforms. It is almost a 360 degree turn! Sometimes, I wonder what his real character is. “
In awe of her other Tamil co-star Vikram she says,” In every movie of his, you can see the effort that he has put in. I think he is the poster child for all actors – he does a different role in every film and he becomes one with the role. I have seen some pics of his from 10 Endrathukulle and the transformation he has undergone is unbelievable. It is almost inhuman. I can’t wait for people to see him in this film.”
The Anjaan Experience
We speak only English at home and I had never a seen a Tamil film before Kaakha Kaakha. Like all teenage girls, I became a huge fan of Suriya after watching that film. I still remember after Ghajini released (when I was in college), he had come to Stella Maris for some event. I was one of those girls who stood in the front row and screamed ‘I love you Suriya!’ It was so surreal that I got to act with him. None of my friends or I expected such a thing to happen.
“I have not got my big break in the Tamil industry yet and I am working on that. I wanted to be accepted by every member of the audience”
On her choice of films this year, Samantha says, “This year, I have made a conscious decision to be a part of commercial pot boilers. Neethaane En Ponvasantham may not have done well in the box office, but it was a milestone for me in my career. Also it is one of my most favorite roles I have done till date.” After seeing that film, N. Lingusamy and AR Murugadoss signed her on for their films. “I have not got my big break in the Tamil industry yet and I am working on that. I want to be accepted by every member of the audience–not just in A centres and multiplexes but all around.”
“I am not like others. I am not denying the fact that I am in a relationship.”
Actors are always reserved about admitting their relationship status. Samantha is quick to respond to this, “I am in a happy relationship, but I don’t want to disclose with whom. I don’t want to read dirty or nasty comments about us. For the pessimist that I am, it will have a very negative impact on me. I get influenced easily. I just don’t want that to happen to us. I don’t want our relationship to be discussed on a public platform – I don’t want to jinx it. At least I am not like others, I am not denying the fact that I am in a relationship.”
“I understand the value of help. When I have so much today, it is only right that I give to people who need it the most.”
Marriage is not part of Samantha’s agenda right now. “I have so much to do in terms of my career and helping people. I run an NGO called Pratyusha which means New Dawn. My mother taught me to help people in need- even when we didn’t have enough, she would always give to others. I also remember the time when we were struggling, how much it meant when someone helped us. I understand the value of help. When I have so much today, it is only right that I give to people who need it the most. Whatever endorsements I do, all the money goes into this NGO. We have tied up with hospitals in Andhra Pradesh and we fund operations for children. It is really unfair for a parent to see their child suffer – especially when they hardly earn 1000 or 2000 rupees a month and they are expected to fund for an 18 lakh liver transplant for their 6 month old baby. There is no pain greater than that of not being able to do anything for your child. Parents would sell their souls if they could and I know that. I use my stardom for a good cause; I am also associated with Make A Wish Foundation, where a dying child’s wish is fulfilled. It is really heartbreaking to watch such children undergo such pain at a very young age,” she says as we conclude a very meaningful interaction.
Apart from helping people, Samantha is also an animal lover. Commenting on the recent puppy she adopted she says, “I named her Nori. She was running on the streets, bruised and beaten and overnight she has become a star. I don’t believe in buying pets, I prefer adopting them. I had taken her to the vet, all bundled up. Every person had giant pure breeds sitting beside them and I had her in my arms. People were so curious and were wondering what breed it was. Buying a dog is ridiculous; there are so many cute stray dogs around, just adopt one!”
“It was a conscious decision to go all out this year. Many said that I don’t have what it takes to do glamourous roles in commercial films and that I cannot step outside my comfort zone.”
“If someone like Robin Williams who made millions smile can commit suicide, imagine what could happen to you and me. This industry is cut throat and it is difficult to fail in front of millions. You may eventually become thick skinned, but you are still human at the end of the day.”
“Whatever god gives me and whatever he takes away, I believe it is for the best. I don’t have any regrets. My family and I were more concerned about my health than movies that I had to give up. I have done good films so far and I hope the good phase continues.”
“What I have now is way more than what I need. I have been raised with much less– that also gives me a lot of strength as I have seen and experienced hardships as a child. All this fame I have now doesn’t really get to me.”
“I am in a happy relationship, but I don’t want to disclose with whom. I don’t want to read dirty or nasty comments about us.”
“I remember the time when we were struggling, how much it meant when someone helped us. I understand the value of help.”