The actress, while opening up on the cutthroat ways of the entertainment industry, discusses her web series debut
Last Updated: 12.33 PM, Nov 23, 2022
What would Shivani Rajashekar want to be labelled? A fashionista, an actress, a doctor or the elder daughter to actors Rajashekar-Jeevitha? The response, well, is a safe one. “I’m doing what I love and I’ll be okay with any label you give me. I treat all of these facets of my life equally. I wouldn’t want to choose one.”
After starring in a handful of Telugu and Tamil films like Shekar, Adbhutham, Nenjukku Needhi, Anbarivu and a brief appearance in Pelli SandaD, Shivani makes her first appearance in a web show, Aha Na Pellanta for ZEE5. In a chat with OTTplay.com, she talks of carving her path in cinema and why she didn’t enjoy the privileges of being an industry kid beyond a point.
The decision to turn an actor…
Why did I choose this profession or what do I like about it? I don’t have an answer, the same way I’ll say about my friends, mom or dad. It has grown in me over time. Watching my parents make a mark here, the industry has become a very comfortable zone for me and it's home.
I am at my best when I’m anywhere around the movies or anything to do with art. When you’re exposed to something for a long time, there’s a good chance for us to dislike it too but I’m only loving it more with every passing day.
The industry’s bias towards the male star kids
I know best about Telugu cinema and I’ll admit that the female industry kids aren’t welcomed into cinema as enthusiastically as in the case of men. With Hindi cinema, the scenario is way more encouraging. I and Shivathmika realised that we can’t keep waiting for opportunities to come and knock on our door and we had to create our path. Whenever we know of a new film, we directly approach the team for auditions, meet them or if they’d want to see our images or previous auditions. All projects in our careers have materialised that way.
An aspect that has made our lives easier is knowing the right contact person within teams. With us being the daughters of prominent actors, everyone agrees to interact with us. However, our journeys are as similar as any outsiders at the next step. The absence of support for female star kids within the industry left us disappointed initially, but we never sat and whined about it and came to terms with it.
'Never give up' is the mantra I truly believe in. I want to keep trying harder and move forward. It’s sad when they refer to terms like nepotism to hit back at us. Ultimately, it’s a place where the talented lot will flourish, irrespective of whether you’re an outsider or an insider. And yes, outsiders deserve a chance as much as the industry kids.
The long wait for ‘Adbhutham’
The wait for Adbhutham to happen was exhausting, spanning six years. While the 2 States remake was stalled, a Tamil film couldn’t see the light of the day and another project - my first-ever on-screen appearance with my father - couldn’t progress owing to many reasons. By this time, my sister Shivathmika’s debut project Dorasani was out before mine.
People pitied me and said I was going through a bad time, asked me to perform pujas and I was in such a low phase that this talk got to me. Ultimately, when Adbhutham fetched me recognition for my performance, it made me a better person and offered a lot of motivation at the right time. Life has been kind to me after that.
From preferring traditional wear to embracing fashion in all its hues, the Miss India pageant and the missed opportunity
Since childhood, I’ve been very comfortable wearing ethnic wear while my sister was a natural fashionista, trying out western and Indian wear that is in vogue. I’ve always wanted to go for Miss India since childhood, probably for the name, crown or fame that came with it. As I grew older, I started liking it more because I saw it as an avenue to make my voice heard and bring about a change.
I’ve been at it for a few years now and it took some research and effort to make it to Miss India last year. Ultimately, when the finale clashed with my exam date, I had to opt for the latter and couldn’t wait for another academic year to attempt them again. The conundrum was straight out of a film climax.
My exam centre was at Guntur. To balance both my exams and the pageant, I had to change two flights from Mumbai and travel by road from Vijayawada to reach my centre in Guntur and vice-versa on my return trip to Mumbai. I was just living in the airport for a couple of weeks and my immunity went for a toss and I got malaria in the meanwhile.
After I recovered, my exams were advanced and it clashed with the finale and I had no other option. Though traditional wear has always been my forte and comfort zone all my life, the training period during the pageant opened up my horizons on fashion and gave me the confidence that I could pull off a wide variety of costumes. As an actor, I would want to try everything.
Gearing up for the rough ride in the industry and how her parents groomed her for the big stage
My mother is a true inspiration for many, including me and my sister. In and around the industry, there are many myths, taboos and perceptions about women making a career in films. My parents helped me look at the industry beyond this narrow-mindedness. For a long time in my life, I never viewed the industry as a place where women could be ill-treated.
However, as I grew older, I realised such problems aren't limited to women in this industry alone, it’s the same story across the globe in different spheres and many cases, gender doesn’t have a say in it too. Anybody who’s vulnerable is taken advantage of. My parents always raised me as a strong girl who has a voice of her own and taught me to believe in myself.
My parents felt that nothing can stop me from being successful if I did what was right and didn’t harm anyone else in the process. There will be highs and lows but they told me to learn from them. Working hard, being smart, kind, making friends in the industry and helping each other are all necessary for progress. They prepared us for everything and their lives were a great example for us. It has always been them against the world and they’re still going strong.
Waiting to go beyond the ‘OTT star’ label
I’m waiting to watch myself on the big screen more frequently and not be nicknamed an OTT star (which has happened already). WWW and Aha Na Pellanta were the only projects conceived as OTT releases. Adbhutham and Anbarivu were meant to be theatrical releases and COVID-19 came in the way of our plans.
Pelli SandaD, Shekar and Nenjukku Needhi have been my theatrical releases to date. If all goes well, I’ll have three other theatrical releases soon and am gearing up to watch myself on the big screen frequently. Two of them have me paired opposite Rahul Vijay - one is Vidya Vasula Aham and the other is an untitled project by Geetha Arts. I’m playing the lead in Jilebi, that marks the acting debut of Sri Kamal, director Vijay Bhaskar’s son.
Playing Maha in Aha Na Pellanta..
Maha is a super-confident, independent girl. She is a sweet yet strong woman who has firm views about life and won’t tolerate anyone who lies to her and even rebels against them. She’s also a rifle shooter and practising for it was good fun.
The many reasons to catch Aha Na Pellanta on ZEE5
You need to watch Aha Na Pellanta because it’s coming to you from the comfort of your home. It has all the ingredients to be an out-and-out audience pleaser and I wish it were a film. It’s a long story that can’t be told in two hours and a web series was our way to reach out to audiences.
I would want the audience to watch the show in a group with friends, family and loved ones - it’s a show you’ll enjoy more when in a group. Working with Raj Tarun was a great experience. Generally, co-stars become my friends once I work with them. With Raj Tarun, I was friends with him much before and I believe our friendship has helped our performances. Our on-screen chemistry has come out well and I’m confident audiences will enjoy that.