The 96, Master actress throws light on her first major mainstream Telugu film Sridevi Shoban Babu over a freewheeling chat
Last Updated: 03.19 PM, Feb 19, 2023
Gouri Kishan, the actress who shot to fame with Jaanu, 96, Master and Karnan, calls herself a film enthusiast but is never too conscious of the fame that comes with being an actor. In her own words, all she seeks are opportunities to learn, better herself and go back home, surround herself with family and friends who keep her grounded.
In a chat with OTTplay.com, the budding performer spills the beans about her latest release Sridevi Shoban Babu, that hit screens on February 18.
The 96 audition and the aftereffects post the film’s success
When I was in 12th standard and studying for my board exams, I received an audition call for 96. Being a Malayali girl who grew up in Chennai, it was a ritual of sorts to watch at least 2-3 films a week regardless of exams or other schedules. Entering the industry was never a dream, but my parents supported me when I went for an audition.
I am a trained classical dancer and my parents thought this would be an extension of what I did on the stage. The audition process lasted over a year and the director Prem was convinced to bring me on board after liking my subtle performance despite concerns surrounding my personality matching up to Trisha’s height.
I was still in my first year of college and I wasn’t sure of my screen time either, I was just reacting to the process. When the movie came out, people were surprised that I didn’t inform them about my acting debut. The response to the film was special, everyone related to Ram and Jaanu in their lives and a record number of reunions were organised later. Despite being 5 years in films, the recall value of the film is so strong that I’m still referred to as Jaanu.
The love that I’ve received from Telugu audiences has been overwhelming. While 96 was a Tamil movie, I received so many messages from people in Telugu states and the love only multiplied with the Telugu remake Jaanu. I play an urban, progressive girl in Sridevi Shoban Babu and saw it as a welcome change from my previous outings.
Saying yes to Sridevi Shoban Babu
Prasanth Kumar Dimmala is an excellent narrator and I could see the film come alive through his narration despite not knowing the language. After 96, I received many similar roles and I saw Sridevi Shoban Babu as an opportunity to diversify and try something new. I don’t want to be stereotyped and I would call it a fun film. I watch a lot of Telugu films and it has all the ingredients of a colourful family entertainer.
Playing a character close to her off-screen persona in Sridevi Shoban Babu
It was very relatable to play a role like Sridevi. Much like her, I have lived in a city all my life. She’s confident, slightly headstrong and has a sensitive side too. She’s not egoistic but still straightforward. Both the lead characters in the film belong to extremely different worlds but they’re able to find a commonality between them and their romance is unique.
We shot portions of it in Hyderabad and I could imagine a character like me going to a village and discovering a new world. I have scenes with Naga Babu sir and I could see a father figure in him. Being someone close to my father, I could use my influences for the performance too.
From balancing film schedules with attendance in college to transitioning into a full-fledged actor
My world changed after 96 and I did a film in Malayalam, two in Tamil and Jaanu in Telugu after that. I am an academic and I wanted to complete my degree as a priority though it was getting difficult to manage my attendance amidst shoots. I enjoyed studying journalism and I found it necessary to have a certain level of proficiency in it.
When I thought of plunging into acting completely after graduation, the lockdown happened. I was in two minds if I had to study or pursue a career in films. Fortunately, whenever the lockdowns were lifted, I had an offer coming my way. It instilled self-belief in me and I thought audiences wanted to see me as an actor.
I am now working on acquiring the right skill set as an actor. I’m learning to read in Tamil, trying to catch up with Telugu and even did a screenwriting course during COVID and want to equip myself with the craft behind the camera too. Being a good writer can also help you internalise your part better and portray it well on screen.
Experiences with co-actors in Sridevi Shoban Babu
I like Santosh Shoban’s unconventional choices, I tell him that he’s the Ayushman Khurana of Telugu cinema. He takes up subjects that most mainstream actors wouldn’t dare to touch. He’s my super senior in college and we had a lot of things in common. He’s very effortless on the screen but works very hard on his performances. I was nervous with Naga Babu sir, given his experience but he was so understanding and helpful when I struggled with a few lines.
On working with a team led by a woman (Sushmita Konidela)
Sushmita (akka) was a team player and when we faced an issue with a costume during the interval scene, she took a car in Vizag and got me an outfit that she bought from a store. She had no airs and we conversed in Tamil in her room after long days at shoot. She was warm and my go-to person on set. It’s rare for actors to find a producer who’s so approachable and involved with their job. Even for a first-time director like Prasanth, her presence was of great help on sets.
Altering the tone of her performance for a commercial film
My biggest fear is overacting and I am my biggest critic when I watch myself on the screen. Though Prasanth as a filmmaker is all enthusiastic, he never told me to behave like ‘bubbly girl’ (the phrase puts me off) and gave me the space to evolve with the role. Whenever I finished my shot, I kept asking Santosh if I was exaggerating too much and he guided me well. It was still fun to take up something in the masala space and I enjoy watching commercial films.
If fame has changed the way she reacts to social issues
Standing up for something would mean taking a stance against something else at some point. It’s contradictory at times. I am trying my best to not let social media popularity or my job affect me too much about the way I feel about issues. Acting is only my profession and it shouldn’t ideally alter my belief system. I am mostly politically correct and I don’t generally talk about something if I’m not fully aware of it.
There’s so much influx of information today, the world moves so fast but I take my time to react to any issue. Silence, in itself, is a response and I put a blind eye to the cancel culture around us. I try my best to protect the peace around me and I’m surrounded by a wonderful family and a strong bunch of friends who keep me grounded. They make me feel sane, grounded and rooted.
Discovering the heartland of Telugu states during shoot, promotions
I loved it and I noticed Santosh was quite used to it with consecutive releases. The kind of energy and excitement I received from crowds during promotions was infectious. From Jaanu, they saw me as one among them and being a student not so long ago, I identified with the college crowds too. They viewed me as a friend more than an actor and to receive that love was special. It’s one of the biggest privileges of being an actor. We shot in Araku, Anakapalli, Vizag and Hyderabad and it was great to explore a new place and understand people here.
Reading a creator’s mind and their ability to execute ideas
You can only discover that the hard way out. I’ve had experiences where the execution didn’t match upto the narration but Prasanth wasn’t one among them. A few believe that filmmaking is a formula, to which audiences would respond to it a certain way but it doesn’t work like that. It’s one of the biggest collaborations, in terms of the people it brings together.
Direction is about good decision-making. With time, I can read creators better. Even if people come up with the best of ideas, I try to sense their vibe when I interact with them and see if I am in a safe space. That energy can help you understand their genuineness, their passion for cinema. I have lost projects which were so good on paper but I didn’t say yes to them because the vibe wasn’t right.
A film is a journey and you associate with a team for over a year, the process is as important to me as the result. There were films that I did because of the cast or the names but the process was not healthy. You want to come out of a movie feeling better, improving yourself as a person but some opportunities dent you down and don’t let you grow. Even if I do a small indie film, I’ll be satisfied if my mental state is alright. I want to protect my peace.
On the pressure of being the beautiful ‘commercial’ film heroine in Sridevi Shoban Babu
There was pressure to be beautiful in Sridevi Shoban Babu and I’ve only done grounded, slice-of-life films to date, where looking good wasn’t a priority. When commercial actresses are expected to be so ‘picture perfect’ and beautiful, I wonder how it affects their mental state and their performance. When you are conscious and think about balancing these aspects too much, you are in trouble. Santosh, Prasanth and others made me feel comfortable in this space and I discovered the soul of the character and there was no looking back.
USP of the film beyond its familiar theme
The USP of the film is its innocence. These are very relatable emotions and it doesn’t pretend to be deep or have too many layers. There’s simplicity, nostalgia, romance and familiarity and it’s a throwback to films made in a different era. I don’t feel the pinch because of the title - it just happened to be catchy and were the names of the characters and piques your curiosity.