Ever since she made her debut in Ye Maya Chesave, Samantha has consistently been cast as the ‘cute girl’ in most of her Telugu and Tamil films.
Right from Dookudu to her recent hit Mersal, the list is endless. No wonder, her transformation in Sukumar’s Rangasthalam, in which she played the role of a villager named Ramalakshmi, is quite striking.
“It was such a relief to play a character where I didn’t have to look perfect. It’s too much pressure to handle when you’re constantly thinking about your make-up, hair beyond what you are actually supposed to do in front of the camera,” Samantha laughs, adding, “Everything about the film and my role is on a different tangent. Sukumar was very clear that he didn’t want to see Samantha at all. I had to walk, talk, and even laugh like Ramalakshmi. There was a scene where I laughed like I normally do, and Sukumar asked for a retake and asked me to make the laugh sound ugly (laughs).”
Rangasthalam is an action drama set in a village on the banks of Godavari in the 1980s. While Ram Charan plays the protagonist Chitti Babu, Samantha is his romantic interest. Incidentally, it’s the first time that all three of them have come together for a project.
Back in 2012, soon after Dookudu turned out to be a blockbuster, Samantha was supposed to do a film with Ram Charan; however, it didn’t materialise. And in 2015, once again, Samantha’s name was attached to Ram Charan-starrer Bruce Lee, but it turned out to be just another rumour. Finally, when the two came together for Rangasthalam, Samantha recalls telling Charan that she was delighted at the prospect of them working together.
“Ram Charan is so giving and generous as a person, and the best thing about him is that he has let everyone shine in the film. You’ll see a very different Charan in this film and Rangasthalam will be a milestone in his career. I’ve always believed that a film is a super-hit when the hero shines, but it’s a blockbuster when everyone shines,” the actress confesses.
Interestingly, prior to this film, Samantha says that she hardly knew what living in a village feels like. “I grew up in Chennai all my life, and I’ve never lived in a village or been to one. Imagine my situation when they dropped me near Rajahmundry and expected me to become Ramalakshmi within no time,” Samantha quips. Although majority of the film was shot in Hyderabad, the cast and crew also shot extensively near Rajahmundry, where Samantha had to toil in the fields, and take care of the cattle, among many other things. “The buffaloes became good friends with me after a point,” Samantha jokes.
So, what exactly did it take for her to become Ramalakshmi? “I spent quite some time observing young women in the village and Rajahmundry, understanding their aspiration. But most of the inputs came from Sukumar himself. He had immense clarity about how Ramalakshmi should be and everytime he spoke about the character, there was a glint in his eyes. He really loves and respects how villagers live their lives, and I stuck to his vision. Pleasing him was the most pivotal part of my transformation,” she says.
The actress also confesses that there are a lot of misconceptions about village life, and through this film, she understood how strong women are in the villages. “When you think of a successful and independent young women, you have the image of a businesswoman driving a Mercedes. But when you think about how strong women in villages are, you are forced to ask yourself if you had the wrong notion all these days. They take care of their families, work in the fields, and at the same time, they have their own set of aspirations. Rangasthalam was an eye-opening experience for me and there’s a lot of positivity about it. It made me respect villages and life there even more,” she avers.
Apart from Rangasthalam, Samantha has at least four other films lined up for release in Telugu and Tamil this year. She’ll soon be seen as a psychologist in Vishal’s Irumbu Thirai, a journalist from the ‘80s in Mahanati, a village belle in Siva Karthikeyan’s Seema Raja, and then, there’s Kumaraja Thyagaraja’s Super Deluxe in which she’ll be rubbing shoulders with Vijay Sethupathi, and the remake of U-Turn in which, once again, she plays a journalist.
Recently, she signed yet another Telugu film, to be directed by Shiva Nirvana, which will also star Naga Chaitanya in a lead role. Talking about how special the year is, Samantha says, “2018 feels like a report card. For the past few months, everything I have done has led me to this stage and I’m hoping that people will accept me in varied roles. I’ve always said that I will think about quitting, if I don’t get good roles. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened so far.”
In the past couple of years, some of her decisions gave us an indication that she isn’t in the race to the top anymore, and she admits that she has been trying hard to be a better version of herself with each film. “I used to have a lot of insecurities in the past. My work had become my life and when that happens, you are constantly thinking about what’s going to happen next. You’re constantly worried. In the last couple of years, I reached a stage where I began treating it like any other job. That change in the approach helped me a lot. I’ve gotten over a lot of my insecurities now,” Samantha says.