‘My soul screams gypsy’ – Amala Paul

If there is one quality of Amala Paul‘s that draws your attention, it is her courage. It is a quality that has stood her in good stead as it has helped her handle extremely difficult problems and cement her presence in an industry that is literally laced with landmines. Despite going through a turbulent 2016, in which she had to make some big decisions including the one in which her director husband Vijay and she decided to part ways, Amala has come out, looking more radiant than ever before. Today, she comes across as a confident and calm person, who is capable of handling just about anything that life can throw at her. The actress, who has never hesitated to speak her mind or make her own decisions, opens up to SouthScope’s Manigandan K R in an exclusive interview in which she, for the very first time, elucidates her plans to turn entrepreneur. That apart, the actress also spills the beans on a number of other topics ranging from her films to her plans to going on treks, doing theatre, writing a blog, turning a singer to being a follower of the Sadhguru. Excerpts from the interview follow…

You seem to be doing exceptionally well on the professional front with a number of films in your kitty. Directors and producers seem to be making a beeline to cast you in their projects. In fact, you are now playing the female lead in the sequels to two big hits, namely Susi Ganesan‘s Thiruttu Payale 2 and Dhanush‘s VIP2. You also have Vetrimaran’s Vada Chennai with Dhanush, Cinderella with Vishnu and the remake of Queen in Malayalam. The list doesn’t end there; you also have another film in Malayalam and one in Kannada. Could you tell us more about all of these projects starting with Thiruttu Payale 2?

Well, I was in Bali for my birthday when Susi sir called me. We began chatting and then he narrated the script to me on Skype. Actually, I had to leave for another place when he had called. However, the script and the manner in which he narrated were both so engaging that I told him that he should just take his own time and continue. He narrated the script in detail and I loved it. I told him that I would meet him once I got back and then, the first day I met him was straight on the sets (laughs). Now, the film is almost done.  So, what I look for in a film is the script and my character. The story revolves around me and is very contemporary. A lot of women will be able to relate to this story.  It is a total package with all the required elements.  It is a cat and mouse game between three characters played by Bobby Simha, Prasanna and I. What I loved about the subject is that there is no hero and villain in this script. It is primarily about situations and how these characters survive those situations. We have just one more schedule, which is to be shot in New Zealand

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On VIP 2…

In VIP, towards the end, my character gets married to the hero’s character. I play Dhanush’s wife as it is a proper sequel.

Tell us about working with Dhanush and Soundarya Rajinikanth?

This is my third film with Dhanush since I am working with him in Vada Chennai too. It is always a pleasure working with him as he is one of my favourite actors. He is multi-talented and is very real on screen.  I think he is also very good at choosing roles because whenever I see a Dhanush film, I don’t see Dhanush but only the character. He is an effortless actor who can play any role with ease.

I met Soundarya when she narrated the script to me and then, I again met her during the pooja of VIP2. Now, we have started working together. I am very happy because she is a big plus for the project. She pays great attention to detail. I think she has taken all the characters three or four steps ahead of where they were in VIP. There is so much of style and class in the movie and I think it is because of her. There is so much of preparation and it is nice to work with people who are professional.  I always love it when I see a lot of women on the sets. As far as Kajol is concerned,  I haven’t met her yet and I don’t know if we have scenes together but even if we don’t  have scenes, I  will definitely go and meet her.

On the Malayalam remake of Queen…

I am not looking at Queen as a remake. It is a subject that has to be told everywhere. The kind of impact it had when it released was phenomenal, and a lot of women could relate to it.  It is about women evolving and transforming themselves into something more beautiful. I am looking at Queen in this fashion and I want the story to be told in that manner in Kerala.

Revathi ma’am is directing it and I have always been a huge fan of hers. I think she has entire generations of fans.  My dad loves her, my mom loves her, I love her.  I worked with her in Amma Kannakku and I was amazed by her passion for cinema.  I used to watch movies that she has directed and even at that time, I wished to work with her. Now, that has happened! We will be starting work on this film in April. I told Revathi ma’am, “We have a beautiful script and I have a beautiful character to work on. Let’s have fun making this film.”

On Cinderella…

I am only now starting to shoot for this film. It is a thriller and I play a teacher in this film. It is a very young and quite bold role. Vishnu and I play the lead and the film is directed by Ramkumar.

On Vada Chennai…

Vada Chennai was always my film. I was supposed to do it initially. In fact, if you remember, long ago, Simbu was supposed to do this film and I was cast at that time.  Then, the film was shelved. When we were doing VIP, Dhanush came into the project and I almost signed it. However, that was when my  marriage happened. So, I kind of decided not to do anything then. Now, it has again come back to me.  I think I was destined to play this part.

We heard that Vada Chennai is very engaging and it will be a challenge for the cast enacting the roles…

In Vada Chennai, I play this North Chennai girl called Padma. There will be a lot of transformation in terms of physicality. It is a period film which is going to be really brilliant. We shot for two days recently and what I liked was that Vetri sir’s style is so natural. He wouldn’t let actors rehearse.  I had to unlearn everything and go there like a new face and do it. If you see my films, you will realise that I am the kind of a person who loves to experiment with myself. I am someone who likes to unlearn what I have learnt and learn something new. In fact, I am even looking to do theatre this year.

Vetrimaran sir is one director I have always wanted to work with. When he called me and told me the script, I was like ‘wow!’ That was because Vada Chennai is very rustic and real. I had my own doubts and he explained everything.  I said, ‘Give me two days time. I need to think over.’ I asked for time because if I say a ‘yes’, it is a yes. I can’t go to the sets and then be like ‘Oh, I am not comfortable or this is not happening’. So, I took time and thought this is the kind of movie that I want to be a part of. International movie are mind blowing because of their realistic nature. But when it comes to us, we don’t have the guts to do it. I don’t want to be like that. So, when you are young, you can experiment. I have this conviction that he is definitely going to bring out a new actor or a new side in me.

You say you will be doing theatre this year. Could you give us more details?

Last year was a year of major transformations and learning for me. I realised that I needed to do a bit more than movies. There are a lot of projects but this year, I definitely would like to take a break, especially, during the second half of the year.  I might take a break for a couple of months and head to London and join a theatre group. I have wanted to be a part of a theatre group for a long time. That is really challenging. I don’t want my work to make me feel tired and bored. This idea looks exciting. Also, I have a very close friend who lives in Paris. She is now attending cooking classes, which are so much fun. The entire course is for just two months.  I think the classes are for three hours a day. After that, she chills. I missed out on a lot of my college life and I want to relive all of that.

I also want to learn surfing because I am a scuba diver and have always loved the sea. The last time I was in Bali, I saw these people surfing and I felt so bad that I couldn’t do it.

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News of your parting ways with Vijay has left a lot of well-wishers and fans stunned. Any chance of a reconciliation with him?

I really don’t know.  We can’t predict these things in life. There is nothing stable in life. We hope for something and something else happens. We sort of have to accept it and move on. Maybe if Vijay and I had met in different stages of life, we would have had a good happy life together. But right now, we are in different phases. It is just that two beautiful people met in a wrong story.

But you hold no grudges against him?

Nothing at all. I would still call him my favourite person. There is so much that we both have learnt from each other -very good and amazing things.  I strongly believe that we will travel together in different forms —  maybe not as a couple but in different forms.

We hear you are to turn a singer as well…

(Laughs) I am just trying it for the sake of a Malayalam movie. I’m a horrible singer. Music director Ratheesh Vega is making the song. He has asked me to sing it. I think he is kind of ready to give up his career and go to the mountains (laughs).  It is like this, I dub for my Malayalam films and there are a bunch of people who really like my husky voice. Ratheesh really liked my voice. So, when he told me this, I pointed out to him that I was speaking and not singing when I dubbed. However, he insisted that I sing a number and send it to him. I did and he loved it. I said, ‘Okay, you take the risk! It’s your time!’ (laughs). The song is likely to be released by April-May this year.

You have your hands full with six to seven films, don’t you get exhausted?

If you gave me accounting work, I would get exhausted.  If you gave me something to write, I could get exhausted. I don’t enjoy doing events or programmes. But when I am on sets, I feel so much at home.  I am very happy when I am on the sets. I realise that this is where I belong.  My work keeps me sane and happy, even if it is exhausting. For instance, shooting for Thiruttu Payale 2 was so draining because I couldn’t allocate many dates and they had to finish shooting the portions. So, we were shooting day and night. But even then, I was happy.  Even the Malayalam film’s shoot happened at night.  We would shoot everyday from six in the evening to nine in the morning. Even my staff (make-up artist and hair stylist) would doze off. But I would be up and working. My stylist, who came for the movie, was like, ‘ How do you work like this?’  I am not bragging, this is how much I enjoy doing my work. I don’t get tired. You get tired if you work like a machine. I was reading a beautiful quote by Sadhguru today. ‘Earn to live; Don’t earn to stress in life.’  It is so true and beautiful.  A lot of people in the industry live to work. I have seen that.  I work only to live. I am very clear about that. I am working because of my passion.  I love what I do.  I also travel. Of course, there are times when I am mentally tired, more than being physically being tired. So, I take breaks and go on treks.  Trekking is my recent passion.  I am crazily into trekking and travelling.

Where have you planned your next trek? Tell us more about this passion of yours.

I am planning to go to this place called Chandra Tal in Himachal Pradesh. Also, I will be going to New Zealand for the shooting of Thiruttu Payale 2. There, I would like to stay back for a few more days and backpack.

One of my biggest achievements in 2016 was my Himalayan trek. It was a 110 km trek that happened at a height of 17,000 feet in May. It was supposed to be a 10-day trek, but we covered the distance in eight days. It was really hard as we had to carry huge trekking bags. The trek was from the Himachal side to the Manali side – from Parvathi to Spitty Valley and we had to cross the Pin Parvathi pass.

Trekking helps when you want to connect with yourself.  The biggest struggle in the industry is to not become something you don’t want to. When you try to be yourself, there are people around you who constantly try to change you from what you are. You can’t complain at all. There were times last year when I was thinking, “What am I really?” The thoughts you have, the things you want to do, you will be like you are lost. On top of that, you play different kinds of characters and they also kind of contribute to you. That is when I decided to go on my first trek. I didn’t think anything. I just went with my friends. We started with eight people, but everybody gave up by the second trail and we eventually were only four, of which two of us were girls.  In the second trail, I was getting breathless and had the urge to quit. But then, I am someone who believes in destiny.  I believe that life wanted to show me something beautiful and so, kept going. I finished that and came down. For someone who had had her assistants and mom take care of her for six years, managing all things alone out there in the mountain was really beautiful. It made me strong and now, I think I am addicted to it.

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Your life until now has been fascinating in every sense of the word. Will fans get to see you pen your autobiography or will they see you write a book?

I love to write, but I don’t know if I will publish it. I would definitely love to write a blog.  I would like to share my trekking experiences. So, I definitely have plans of writing a blog. I want to write it before these wonderful memories get erased from my memory.

You said you had read a beautiful quote of the Sadhguru. Are you a follower?

In a way, you could say that. Yes. My spiritual journey started with the Sadhguru’s blessings. When I was a 19-year-old, I wanted to take a break because I was working continuously. Cinematographer Nirav Shah, who is an ardent follower of the Sadhguru, asked me to go to the Coimbatore Isha Yoga Centre. Very unexpectedly, the Sadhguru came there and  suddenly, this man asked me to meet him. I didn’t know who the Sadhguru was at that point of time. I didn’t know about  all these foundations and spirituality.  I had thought that there was this nice village resort where I could go and take a break. When I sat in front of him, I didn’t even know what to ask. So, like a stupid kid, I asked him,”What must I do to be always successful in life?” He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Just do yoga.’ I asked him another question to which he again replied, ‘ Just do yoga.’ Then, he gave me a flower. Now, every year I try to go there. Two years ago, I had been there and these thoughts came flooding back and that made me think, ‘If I had done Yoga every day of my life, I would have transformed into something so beautiful.’  You always take your own time to  understand things in life. So,  I went and did the inner engineering programme and whenever, I get the time, I go there. I know a lot of people there who are very dear to me. Whenever I get time, I try to do the Isha Kriya

and meditation.

Plans for 2017…

I will be turning an entrepreneur this year. It is my way of giving back to society. We are going to start a vegan restaurant in Chennai.  Along with the vegan restaurant, we also intend to teach yoga and meditation. It will be like a wellness retreat. When I say we, I am referring to my team. We have a fabulous CEO and some passionate souls working on it to create something very beautiful. I have taken a franchise of the Greener, which is doing exceptionally well in Delhi.  That apart, I want to be more disciplined and healthy. Every year, we take a number of resolutions and nothing happens. So, this year, I am keeping it simple. I want to lead a healthy lifestyle. I want to wake up at five in the morning and work out and do a lot more yoga and running. I ran a marathon. Life is so beautiful and we should all open our eyes and look out. So, this year, the emphasis is going to be more on a healthy lifestyle and doing things I told you.