Suchitra Pillai opens up about playing diverse roles and breaking stereotypes

Starting her journey in Indian TV as a VJ, Suchitra Pillai became a popular name on television when she appeared in shows like Simply South, Red Alert, Hip Hip Hurray, Beintehaa, among many others. She also made her space in Bollywood with films like Dil Chahta Hai, Pyaar Ke Side Effects, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Fashion, Dasvidaniya among others. And, not the talented actress is making her presence felt on OTT. She is currently seen as a godwoman in the popular web series Hello Mini 3. In conversation, she opens up about breaking stereotypes, the web series and more. Excerpts:

Is playing strong characters a type of stereotype that many actors like you are boxed in?

Yes, it can be a stereotype like any other character with a fixed image. If someone is playing a negative character in every film or project she is offered, it could be that. Similarly, if a character is painted as a ‘strong woman’ with some of the elements to establish that, and if those elements are repetitive then yes, of course, it could come across as stereotype. If a strong woman means someone who is bossing around, using abusive words, smoking, drinking, etc, then yes it is stereotype. We need to change perspective. So, what I can do is treat it in a more nuanced manner so that it is not boxed from one to another and break the monotony. It would always be interesting when a strong woman is portrayed with a strong voice and be vulnerable at the same time. How can you have ‘a type’ for a woman who is strong and liberated? She is not fitting in ‘a type’ she is free.

You have played many characters with substance and shorter screen-time. Have you ever felt like being a protagonist of a story?

No, that does not satisfy the performer in me all the time. I know that even now people recall my character Priya, a dominating girlfriend of Samir from Dil Chahta Hai. That scene from the film Fashion in which Mrs. Sarin realises what exactly happened quite silently when the confession takes place between Arbaaz and Priyanka. I can give you more examples, but what is important for me is to be part of those moments in a film. That apart, I do theatre so the stage is where I also find satisfaction as a performer. The whole idea of performance is to add and take it to the next level and make it distinctive from my last played character.

What drives you?

Well, the drive is to experiment, because now is the opportunity with several well-written scripts. Although I did play interesting roles in TV, theatre, Hindi and international films, I want to do more than just play ‘strong woman’ characters. I am not fully content, but the projects I choose, I feel satisfied to play those parts... there is a difference. In the initial days of my career, I had a bucket list of acting in international films and winning best actor awards. I won two international awards for the Hollywood film The Valley.

The whole idea of performance is to add and take it to the next level and make it distinctive from my last played character.

I am 50 years old now and I am proud of it, but I also know that this is not the age when I can be a heroine of a Bollywood film dancing around the tree. But, what if I am offered a role like Umrao Jaan that will demand me to learn how to dance, what if I am offered a sports film for which I have to learn something new. In my life, I have never been very sporty or learnt classical dance...so I am rather looking for new challenges that will push my limit to grow.

Any filmmakers you wish to collaborate with?

Choosing one name is tough! (Laughs) Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap... because the world of Baarfi and the kind of cinema Kashyap makes is different. I am also looking for a chance to work with Farhan Akhtar as director. At the age of 26 if he could bring a change in our cinema with Dil Chahta Hai, I want to see how he would create magic as a storyteller now, with more experience of life. But he is not directing any film. (laughs) ...I am genuinely interested though. I am working with Zoya (Akhtar) and she is equally brilliant. The rest of my favourite filmmakers list is long, really!

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