The medico-turned-actor, who's part of films like Priyuraalu, Most Eligible Bachelor, The Baker and the Beauty and Rowdy Boys, reflects on the various choices and experiences that have shaped her as an actor
Sai Kamakshi Bhaskarla, a doctor by qualification, an actor by choice, turned out to be a black sheep in a family that placed its belief in academic credentials and 'conventional' professions. The former Miss Telangana pageant winner had to fight her way to change her career track and pursue her interests in the film industry. Art, be it in the form of writing or acting, has been the balm in her life to get past many emotional and psychological conflicts.
A strong foundation with her theatre stint helped her chase her dreams with more confidence. The actress has been a part of two OTT releases Priyuraalu, The Baker and the Beauty and will be seen in high-profile projects like Most Eligible Bachelor, Rowdy Boys besides a lead role in Maa Oori Polimera. In an interview to OTTplay, she opens up on the many incidents that made her overcome her inhibitions and carve her niche in the entertainment industry.
You claim that acting was a childhood dream of sorts. What about it fascinated you when you were young?
Frankly, I wasn't fascinated about acting but was more interested in expressing myself and needed an outlet of sorts. I took to writing initially and I still write poems and stories. It used to give me a sense of liberation, make me feel complete. I've been an introvert all my life and I somehow never had the chance to speak what I actually felt. It had to do with the fact that I was a girl child and hailed from a conservative family. I wasn't encouraged to open up and tell what I wanted to do. I was shut and had to find my way to keep myself happy. I knew I had to be part of a creative field ever since.
I'm curious about what made you go to China to pursue your MBBS?
After my Intermediate, I was advised to take long-term coaching to study and grab a seat at a premier college. I wasn't prepared for that. Unfortunately, the situation back home wasn't quite comfortable either. For several years, I was sexually abused by a family member and I just needed an excuse to leave the country at any cost. I was so lost in a new country but I went on to make friends, learnt a new language and identify with the place so much that I call it my second home now. I evolved as a person in China. There was great cultural diversity; students from 160 countries were studying with me. Any given day, I don't mind going back there.
You've mentioned once that MBBS was very useful to understand the characters you play beyond the surface level. Could you elaborate?
Psychology is one of the subjects we study in the fourth year. Every time I approach a character, I go back to basics and try to dissect various dimensions of their personality. When a director discusses your character in a film, they talk of that particular moment in their life but not their past. In Priyuraalu, I played this maid who is in a relationship with a married watchman. To play her part to perfection, I need to understand where she comes from, psychologically, socially, economically and how people have treated her at home. Why is she craving for a married man's love when she's aware that he's only using her physically and is not ready to marry her? I just ponder over these questions and it changes the way I act on the screen. I don't need to take any references from other performances and rather explore the character naturally.
How would you define beauty and did your idea of beauty change after you were part of multiple pageants?
When I entered Miss India, I had a different perception of beauty, based on what was showcased in front of the camera and was written in the media. In the two months that I spent after entering the pageant, I realised that what we were undergoing and what was portrayed in the media were two different things altogether. Imperfections aren't encouraged there. In contrast, I am someone who always believed that a person is beautiful the way he/she is, with their imperfections. It took me time to realise it wasn't my cup of tea.
By the time I reached the finale, I lost the interest with which I entered the pageant. I was initially ambitious and wanted to conquer many frontiers though I understood later that I wasn't meant to take that path. Beauty is accepting yourself the way you are. In showbiz, you're always expected to look perfect. I'm trying to change that perception in my way. I had lost over 20 kilos throughout the pageant and even the day when I was crowned Miss Telangana, I was asked by the management to lose more weight if I had to hold onto the crown. I was naive back then and did it as I was told. Now, I wonder why did I even take that step. As much as I say that, being fit is important but one mustn't do it to conform to the so-called norms of the industry and society.
How helpful is it to have an alternative identity beyond your work in films?
Having an identity beyond showbiz is an added advantage, especially for an actress. Right when I started working on my first film Most Eligible Bachelor, in which I was doing more of an extended cameo, I noticed the difference between the way I and my co-actors were treated. Being a doctor, the industry truly respected my knowledge and qualification. As a person, I believe everyone needs to be respected regardless of their identity but that's how some things are. Being a newbie, it's obvious that I am not paid handsomely. So, it always helps to think that I have an additional source of income and needn't be solely dependent on the industry for finances. Those who enter the industry without any such qualification need to deal with the pressure of depending on films for their bread and butter. I am confident of my talent though. All I need is that opportunity to make a mark and I'm not under any pressure.
What was your theatre stint like and how did it lay a foundation for your film career?
I was working with Apollo back then and had dreamt of acting in films, but wasn't sure about my path. Most of the people whom I admire in cinema, be it Naseeruddin Shah or Shabana Azmi, had a foundation in theatre before they did feature films. I enrolled in Samahaara, a theatre group in Hyderabad founded by Rathna Shekar (sir). I was still an introvert and though I gave several stage performances in my younger years, acting was a different experience. I don't express myself at all and one can't make it if I'm happy or sad inside. And now, I express myself in front of the camera only to be watched by lakhs of people. I owe my progress to my theatre stint.
Rathna Shekar (Sir) was a ray of hope in my life when I was experiencing PTSD symptoms and wasn't in the happiest of states mentally. He told me about using my voice, body, techniques to act in front of the camera and not be affected when a co-star isn't cooperative. He gave me all the insights and I did a few plays with him as well. It taught me to be free in front of the camera. I'm working with him again in the coming months and trying to wrap my film assignments before that.
What went behind playing roles of women hailing from marginalised backgrounds who live a life so different from yours? In Priyuraalu, you are a maid while you belong to a family of fishermen in Maa Oori Polimera.
I draw a lot from people like Saritha and Lakshmi, whom I've met and try to mould myself like them from many real-life experiences. I have seen people like that when I went to my native place back in childhood. My journey with them has already made a lot of impact on my mind and it's the reason I chose like characters like them. They are people who're cut off from the world because they're ordered to. I hope to be the face of 'everyday women' from various walks of life in my films henceforth. I want to tell the world that not all women need to wear the best outfits, step out of a fancy car to look beautiful.
In Priyuraalu, while your character Saritha disappears from the watchman Satyam's life suddenly, she is still the main cause behind the film's conflict, be it Satyam's arrest or his wife's death. Though we don't know her perspective in the end, what do you think she would feel after knowing these developments?
I think she would feel guilty. If you notice, the last dialogue she says in the film is 'Naa valle ayyindi kadaa idanthaa' (All of this happened because of me). She is already feeling guilty about the affair and still holds onto Satyam. After the death of Satyam's wife and him going behind bars, her guilt would only multiply. Only to suppress that feeling, she'll probably marry another guy.
While there's so much context and purpose behind your characters in Priyuraalu and Maa Oori Polimera, but you only have cameo appearances in Rowdy Boys and Most Eligible Bachelor. Is it a different challenge to handle roles where the character doesn't have prominence or meat?
With films like Most Eligible Bachelor and Rowdy Boys, the most challenging aspect comes behind the camera, where you need to wait for hours, get paid very little. On camera, you don't have to do much beyond looking good and sporting a smile because there's not much in the character to explore. Both these films were the very first projects I had signed. Sadly, not many thought I was good for a lead role looking at my profile. Working with the big banners otherwise provides you with a lot of exposure. You get the opportunity to talk to popular directors, actors and understand how they work. Visibility was the only aspect I considered when I signed these parts.
You had mentioned that your family had apprehensions about your interest in films. With so many offers coming your way, has any of that changed?
My mom understands showbiz now; she has watched all my performances and also believes that I can make a mark here. That is all I need. I made it very clear to my family that I had only one life and can't do things only to please people around me. I am not here to answer people who ask why am I acting in films after MBBS or why am I not married yet. Before I die, I at least want the feeling that I tried. Financial independence is of utmost importance when you take up a profession and when I have that now, I'll better live life the way I want to.