After working successfully in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films Simran Bagga is back playing Rajinikanth’s love interest in his new blockbuster Petta where at 42, she shows us what the Thalaiva’s love interest should do. No decorative doll, Simran speaks to Subhash K Jha about looking stunning after two children and making the right career choices.
First of all, welcome back. You and I have known one another for a good 15 years, do you remember?
Of course I remember. It’s so good to re-connect again. How are you?
Firstly I want to know how you have managed to not age by even a day in those 15 years.
(Laughs) Arrey nahin. I am just trying to eat, sleep and live well. It’s more about feeling good than looking good. It’s not easy after two children. After my second child I had to lose a lot of weight. It wasn’t easy. But once you decide you need to look after yourself not too look good but to be healthy, it becomes easier.
What was it like working with Rajinikant for the first time?
He is a such simple humble down-to-earth person. He is my super-hero. To me he came before the concept of the super-heroes like Ironman and Spiderman was incepted. I am so glad I could work with him.
Would you say Petta is your comeback film?
It is definitely a comeback of sorts. It is my first film with the Thalaiva and therefore a big deal for me. And when people are saying I’ve a better written role in Petta than Rajini Sir’s heroines usually have, I am even happier. Audiences are happy that Simran (she slips into the third person) is seen with the Thalaiva for the first time and they look so good together. I may not have much footage in the story. But it is rare for an actress my age to be given such glamorous role.
Yes, it is very rare for a heroine in a Rajinikant film to have anything to do except idolize him. It’s even rarer for a heroine to be shown a mother to grownup child and still have life of her own. Would you agree with that?
Are you asking me if I agree it is difficult for an actress to play the heroine after she is a mother?
No, I am asking if characters are written for heroines where they have the liberty to have a life of their own even after having children.
Yes, that is rare. And my character of a 40-plus and single mother is not something an Indian actress gets to play every day. I wanted my first film with Rajini Sir to be special. In Petta I will give film marks to the director (Karthik Subbaraj) for presenting me well, in spite of the limited footage. The romantic angle between Rajini Sir and me has been so well-handled. I’d say the relationship comes across as ageless because of Rajini Sir’s aura. It doesn’t matter whether he is in his 60s and I am in my 40s. It is only the beauty of their compatibility that shines through. Looking at the film as a member of the audience I liked seeing this pair.
Audiences wanted to see more of you in Petta?
Even I wanted more of me in the film. But in a 2 hour 50 minute long film there is so much to say. I am glad I got my space.
Would you say Indian cinema is not a comfortable place for actresses above 40 specially those who are married and have children?
Being a wife or a mother or 40 should not be the criteria for a heroine to get a role. I am very proud to be a wife and mother—it is an essential part of being a woman, as far as I’m concerned—but these roles must not define my professional decisions. Of course I’ve major responsibilities beyond my profession now. But it becomes easier to balance one’s personal responsibilities with one’s profession when you have a supportive family. I feel I’ve the freedom to do what I want to do, play the roles I want to play. There’s no burning compulsion to be in front of the camera after so many years in the profession. If I like a role I’ll do it. Yes, I may make the wrong career decisions here and there. But I am not afraid to fail. Nor am I apprehensive about being a mother.
You have been in films of four languages?
Yes, I broke into Hindi cinema with Tere Mere Sapne. The song ‘Aankh Mare Ladka Aankh Mare’ become a big hit. And look at destiny. That song is again a rage in the film Simmba. I feel very happy about this. I began with Hindi cinema, and then I moved to Malayalam cinema where I did a role opposite none other than Mammoothy Sir. Then I did films in Tamil and Telugu. For me, just waiting for Hindi cinema to happen was not a major craving. Tamil and Telugu cinema was equally exciting. I mean I was in school dancing to Prabhu Dheva’s Muqabla. And then before I knew it I was doing a film with him. I went on to work with stalwarts like Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan Sir. And now so many years later I’ve finally worked with Rajini Sir. So it’s been a fulfilling journey.
Where do you see yourself today?
You mean in Indian cinema? Everywhere. The language barriers have broken completely. Who sees Baahubali as a Telugu film? I never waited for Hindi films to happen to my career. If there was more of Tamil and Telugu films happening in my career. I was happy with that. I took breaks during my pregnancy and came back. I also did anchoring on television. At this point in my career I’m looking at roles that make an impact and which do not make my audience wonder why I am there. I want to do good work with competent directors with dependable producers. I never did the two-song-two-dance roles earlier. Why would I do it now?
Selective work then?
Yes, but not necessarily limited work. I can do more than one film. My home is perfectly looked after. I have given my children a lot of time. There is no guilt about getting back to work. I now live with my husband and children in Mumbai.
So you will travel a lot if you do more films in the South?
Even earlier I was Mumbai-based and travelled regularly to Chennai which is my second home. I used to be in Chennai shooting for 15 days of each month with my children when they were small. Now I can travel without them. They don’t need me around all the time.