Shruti Haasan says she feels like an outsider in Bollywood: ‘There is a whole North-South thing that constantly happens’
Shruti Haasan, who has made a name for herself across Tamil, Telugu and Hindi film industries, said that she feels like an ‘outsider’ in Bollywood despite being the daughter of two successful stars, Kamal Haasan and Sarika. In an interview with Hindustan Times, she opened up about her upcoming film Yaara, the nepotism debate, the importance of talking about mental health, being body-shamed and why she has been open about undergoing plastic surgery.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about your role in Yaara?
A. Yaara is about relationships, betrayal, trust and the circle of friendship. I play the character of Sukanya in this narrative. It is a film that starts in the late 70s and kind of continues into the 90s, so I had the chance to play a younger as well as older woman, which was really exciting for me. Sukanya is a character who is extremely strong-willed and has very strong political opinions. The film starts with the ‘chaukdi gang’ - these four guys - and her insertion into the story changes the milieu of it.
Q. Tigmanshu Dhulia has said that he had mixed feelings about the release of Yaara on an OTT platform. Do you have regrets that it could not release in theatres?
A. Can I be honest with you? We have been waiting. I had given up on this film ever releasing because we shot it four years ago and I really wanted people to see it. At that time, I was telling my friends, ‘Oh my God, I’ve done this movie and I can’t wait to see it.’ And then it was one year, two years and by the third year, I was like, ‘Huh, I guess no one would see it.’ So when I got the call saying that it’s coming out at a time like this, when people are actually at home and will watch it, I was quite okay with it finally being out.
Q. With friendship being the core of Yaara, do you think one can forge lasting friendships in the film industry?
A. I think real friendship, all over the world, is something that is taking a beating. I don’t suffer from that because I always say that your family is what you are born into but your friends are the family you choose, and I’ve chosen very wisely. I feel like different friendships have different definitions today and they go through many changes. But yes, I think that you can make lasting friendships in any situation if you choose to and the other person chooses to invest in that direction.
Q. You recently took some time off work to focus on your physical and mental health. How do you view the relationship between celebrityhood and mental health?
A. For me, the journey is not about celebrityhood as much as it was about me rediscovering myself as the woman I evolved into and the woman I want to be, and rediscovering myself as a musician. I was signing so many films, I was not able to pay the kind of attention I needed to, to my music. And for that, I needed to step off the treadmill. A lot of people thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s crazy.’ Especially in the Tamil and Telugu industries. They were like, ‘This is the peak. Why would you step away now?’ But none of those terms have made sense because when you are focusing on yourself, the world kind of tends to blend away and you start to think about yourself. I’m really glad that mental health has come into focus. This is something I have been constantly talking about for a long time, because I think it’s extremely crucial and important. The communication you have with yourself will always be the most important communication of your life. I’m glad that people are understanding the value of talking about mental health openly and destigmatising it.
Q. Right now, the insider-outsider debate has been reignited. As the daughter of two cinematic legends (Kamal Haasan and Sarika), what are your views on this debate?
A. So when it comes to this question, I am not going to lie, the arguments people have are not unfounded. I personally always take the time to listen to every point of view. Then, whether I choose to accept it or not is a different ball game. When it comes to the debate on insider-outsider or nepotism, I feel that yes, my surname has opened doors but staying inside for 11 years now has been my journey. I know it and the people around me know it and they know what the journey has been. I have never had my parents make a phone call to promote me or get me a job or help me. I have done this on my own, but I do understand that the door opened because of the surname, there’s no denying that. It would be absolutely irresponsible of me to deny that.
When it comes to the insider-outsider discussion, I honestly have many times felt like an outsider, especially in Bollywood, there is a whole North-South thing that constantly happens. For example, if I’m doing three Telugu films and three Tamil films, they’ll say, ‘Oh, but you’re not focusing on Hindi,’ as if that is the only industry in the country. And it isn’t. So I have always felt like an outsider. And also, as a person, I have always felt removed from the norms of what is expected of a woman or the way an actress is supposed to behave. You know, this is how it works in this business. I still haven’t understood what those tricks of the trade, so to speak, are. So I have always felt like an outsider. I wasn’t brought up in a very filmy house. My parents were actors but that was just their job. At home, it was an artistic home, that was it. It was not assumed that I would join the film industry.
Q. In an Instagram post, you talked about being body-shamed. Does such criticism affect you?
A. I’m not bothered by an opinion that is founded by frustration or negativity but I thought it’s something that I should talk about because it’s not just me. There is a trend and there is a phase going on where it’s very easy to rip a woman down. Recently, there was a case of a woman being threatened with rape on social media. There is a constant judgment of women’s bodies, names and terminologies used by people that don’t even know them. So I felt that it was important to use my example and say that this is what I have done. Nobody has a right to criticise anybody.
Q. You have also been open about undergoing plastic surgery. Do you feel that there is a lot of pressure on actors, especially female actors, to look a certain way?
A. I think there is and there isn’t. There was a time I listened to the pressure. As far as my nose surgery goes, it’s a choice I made, even after my first film was done because my nose was broken. I didn’t like the way it felt. I didn’t like the way it looked. It was a personal choice. Nobody asked me to fix it. When it came to fillers… They said, ‘Shruti’s face is very Western it’s very sharp, it’s very masculine.’ I was constantly hearing this and I did do non-invasive, temporary procedures, which I have been very open about. If there are any actresses telling you they haven’t done it, they are blatantly lying because people’s faces don’t change that much. But it’s just something that I wanted to talk about. I don’t propagate it. What I’m trying to say is… It could be something from colouring your hair, like women who are Indian who feel they need to bleach their skin or dye their hair blonde or wear blue contact lenses...it’s the same thing, right? You don’t need to fit into anything, you do what you have to do. If a woman in her 40s feels, I want Botox because it makes me feel better, that’s her choice. And if she feels, this is not what I want, that is her choice. I felt I should be honest about my journey.
Q. There is talk that another of your films, Krack, will go the OTT way. Is there any truth to this news?
A. No, no, it is not. It is coming out in a theatre.
Q. Can you tell me a little about your other upcoming projects?
Krack is a Telugu film that I am really excited about. I am reuniting with Ravi Teja and our director Gopi (Gopichand Malineni) after our very successful film, Balupu. I’m really thankful for a director like Gopi to have faith in me and say, ‘No, I want Shruti for this role because it’s very, very unique.’ I’m really excited to be playing that part. I really loved working with Ravi Teja, he is genuinely a gem of a human being and lovely to work with good people. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be around good people and I think this is that kind of a project, so is Laabam. It’s a beautiful film with lots of social consciousness at the heart of it, talking about social change and reformation in the lives of farmers. And it’s a beautiful character, once again.
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