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Exclusive! Riya Suman: It was refreshing to play a subservient, vulnerable girl in Top Gear

Majnu, Agent Kannayiram girl Riya Suman opens up on her latest Telugu release Top Gear and reflects on her career choices, learning experiences

Exclusive! Riya Suman: It was refreshing to play a subservient, vulnerable girl in Top Gear
Riya Suman
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 01.50 PM, Jan 08, 2023

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Riya Suman wanted to be an actor since her younger years but her first ever feature Majnu happened only by chance. She went back to college later, graduated, shot for a few advertisements in the meanwhile and returned to the industry with Santosh Shobhan’s Paperboy. Once she was fully committed to a career in films, Riya evolved with her craft on the job and each project was a learning ground.

If Telugu cinema gave her a good foundation for her film stint, the Tamil industry took it a step further with projects like Manmadha Leelai, Agent Kannayiram and Seeru, to name a few. She’s back in Telugu cinema with Top Gear, which released to glowing reviews the previous weekend. In a candid interaction with OTTplay.com, she reflects on her career, her learnings and talks about her current/future projects.

Finding my feet in the industry

I think I’ve been through it all these 6/7 years - highs, lows and finding my feet in the industry and honestly, I’m still going through them. Every day is a different day. After every project finishes there’s uncertainty about ‘what next?’ There’s still that anxiety - what if I don’t do well? what if I don’t make a mark? I don’t think I’ve made a mark yet but I can say I’ve survived. Every project that I’ve done has taken me a little ahead. The future looks bright certainly and I’m finally getting substantial parts that push my abilities as a performer. Filmmakers are realising that I’ll be sincere in my part and find my way with it.

Attachment and detachment from work

I’m mentally attached and detached from my projects at the same time. One part of my mind will be hopeful about the project’s prospects and the other part, you realise an actor can only do so much about a film and can’t control its fate; you go to the set to act and promote later and nothing else is in your hands. The detachment aspect always keeps you under control but you still hope against hope and expect a role or a project to work out for you.

Returning to Telugu cinema with Top Gear

I understand that it has been six years since Majnu hit theatres and I did Paperboy later, but I’ve been pretty much in the industry. I’ve been working in Tamil films and even shot for projects during the lockdown. I’ve gone wherever my work has taken me. Even in Telugu, I have some more releases coming up. It doesn’t feel like a comeback at all - I’ve always been watching Telugu films and speaking in Telugu regularly. Whatever film I’m doing, it feels like home to me. I work on a film, promote it, hop onto another set and that’s how I live and I love it.

Playing a vulnerable girl for a change in Top Gear

I like how Aadhya, my character is present throughout the drama and how she takes it forward. While the male protagonist is in the middle of a mess, she’s the only pivotal female part in the story, present throughout the drama and provides scope for an emotional conflict. She’s innocent, vulnerable and it was different playing such a girl-next-door character. All along, I’ve played these fierce, independent characters.

The romance angle has been there in all films but Top Gear had me playing someone who’s so subservient, ‘housewife’ material and only worries about her husband. It felt new to me. I wouldn’t say I’m not like her. at some points in my life, I did resemble her. If I had found my love in college and ended up marrying someone, I would’ve been like her. Had I lived that life, I may have been innocent. I relate it to a younger version of Riya who was naive and didn’t know life much.

Is the industry heading towards more songless films?

All kinds of films exist these days and there are stories where a song wouldn’t drive the narrative forward. If the film continues to be gripping and entertaining, I’m sure audiences won’t mind if it has songs or not. It’s pretty much a director’s choice and I’m fine with it. Even Agent Kannayiram was a song-less film and they asked me if I was sure about it because heroines had always wanted songs. With Top Gear too, Shashikanth didn’t want to break the pace of the film by inserting a song. Top Gear starts with a song but is well supported by a good background score and that suffices I guess.

Working with director Shashikanth, Aadi Saikumar

This may be Shashikanth sir’s debut but he’s been around for quite some time and he does his homework very well. We filmed it for a little more than a month in early 2022 and released it in the same year; he was very quick with the execution. He’s got great clarity on how every scene is going to pan out. Aadhi is very sincere in his job, chilled out and a friendly person to work with. He’s very aware of the financial aspects of the trade and I learnt quite a bit about the numbers from him.

On the Manmadha Leelai, Agent Kannayiram experience

With Manmadha Leelai, I went out of my comfort zone and I was constantly worried if I was doing the right thing by saying yes to the role. Associating with Venkat Prabhu was the main reason that got me on board and he made it a fun experience for everyone. I just trusted his direction to be a part of a movie like Manmadha Leelai.

For Agent Kannayiram, I shot for a long time and spent almost a year with the crew. I love how the director experimented with candid, unconventional shots and moments for his expressions. When we were casually talking, the camera suddenly got rolling and I enjoyed this impromptu approach to filmmaking. The director changed my character completely in the remake (of Agent Sai Srinivas Atherya) and I didn’t have any reference points. In the original, the female lead was the agent’s secretary and here, she’s a documentary filmmaker. I didn’t consider it a remake and the director asked me not to watch the original. The entire team approached it like a new film.

On the popularity of streaming platforms

Manmadha Leelai came to me as an OTT project and was never meant to be a theatrical release. I’m awaiting the release of Walking Talking Strawberry Ice Cream and it is expected to be picked by a major streamer soon. The world is looking towards OTT; there are no two things about it. What surprises me more is the number of platforms that every viewer subscribes to and how much they’re willing to pay for it. Everyone is so aware of the trends, shows across the globe whereas I struggle to keep track of them. OTT has great reach; everyone whom I see on the metros and trains is hooked on to it. Provided I get something substantial, why not?

Future projects:

A Telugu film is gearing up for a February release; I’m shooting for an untitled Tamil project now.

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