From a girl next door to a Star!!!

 

An Interview with Bhanu Priya Kaushal

 

It is not often that you have a popular film actress praise your work on the web.  As luck would have it, Tamil Thirai Valai received such praise from actress Bhanu Priya, for having successfully caught her eye while browsing the web.  To add to our excitement, Bhanu Priya agreed to a special interview over the telephone on a very short notice in order to coordinate with our 1st birthday celebrations here at TTV.

Bhanu Priya Kaushal, as she is known now, is a person with varied interests and knowledge and provides a refreshing perspective to just about everything we spoke about over the telephone.  The following interview is written to preserve our actual conversation (most of which was in Thanglish :-).  It has been written in English for easy reading.

 

Part I of the Interview

I read a lot of magazines frequently.  But your wedding was not written about in an elaborate fashion.

No.  Actually there was some news printed in Dhina Thandhi.

Yes, I also heard that there was something written in Dhinakaran.  But comparatively a very quiet and simple wedding.  Did you want it that way?

It was actually planned for later.  I had committments to finish in India, while had a lot of committments here in the U.S.  It looked like we might have to push down the marriage by a year.  It had already been decided that we get married, so whatever place and time seemed "okay" to me.   So, we had the wedding in the temple (Malibu temple, California, U.S.A.).   After that, we got caught up in marriage registration and other matters.  I wanted to go to India and give a reception there.  Finishing up on all the formalities here, I have committments back home.  It did not seem practical to go once separately to give a reception when I had to go back to finish my committments in September 1998.  When we go back, we can fix a date for the reception and invite everyone.

(Pause)

That's all!  I don't think I ever planned for anything - simple or grand.  We met, started talking and I wanted the marriage to be fixed, finish my committments and then get married.  But after I came here (U.S.), things have changed a lot.

Around October 1997, you had indicated your interest in beginning a dance school?  Have you already started it? 

Actually, I really want to start a school with very selective students.   Not people who just think that they could learn easily just because the school is run by an actress.  It is only for the extremely dedicated and for those who truly want to learn.  Definitely not for people who just learn for two months and drop it afterward.  Seriousness is key.  I wanted to hand pick the students myself and start the school accordingly.  After finishing my film and television committments, I was considering starting this school.

Bhanu priya with her sister Nishanthi (Shanthi priya)
With sister Nishanthi
At that time, I had not decided where I was going to get married and settle down.  They were looking for an alliance for me.  Now, things have completely changed.  After marriage, this family that I am part of, has a strong background in art.  Sumathi Kaushal, my mother-in-law, runs a dance schoool in the Los Angeles area.  She was initially based in Hyderabad.  My brother-in-law plays the tabla and he accompanies Ravi Shankar.  My husband is the only one who is different.  He is a photograher working in Digital Graphic Design.  That by itself is an art in which he has excelled to win many prizes.

My future thoughts are to continue my dance.  There was an obvious break in the middle, as I made my way into movies.  I could not concentrate as much on dance or spend as much time.  Even now, after I have established myself in films, I don't want to lose my way.  If good roles are coming my way, I have to do it.  I want to take up those roles and simulataneously concentrate on my dance.

So, do you think you can balance dance, acting and your family (which is now here in the U.S.)?

I can.. I can.. (with confidence)

When did you begin your acting career?  How long back was it?

I began in 1983 when I was just 14 years old.  My first film was Mella Pesungal with Bharathi-Vasu as the directors.  Sitaaraa was my first Telegu movie, from the makers of Sankarabaranam, Sagara Sangamam and Swathi Muthiyam.   Sitaaraa was a dance and music subject.  The film actually started in 1983 and was completed in 1984.  From then on, it has been a continuous process with films for me.

So, you could say that dance helped you enter the film industry?

(Laughing a little)  Dance is the reason I am in tamil films today.  They offered me a film chance after they saw one of my dance programs.  So, that is the reason why I don't want to let go of dance.  I want to concentrate more on dance now and on selective film roles.

How many films have you done so far?

111 films to be exact.

Of these, which would be the film that you enjoyed acting in the most?  For example, does the story or your character matter in why you enjoyed working in a certain movie?

Always.. Always.. the dance based character is always fun for me.   Enjoying and doing a film is something different.  There are different phases.   When I first faced the camera, it was so thrilling.  I did not know anything - like how to keep my face, my looks, how I stand or anything for that matter.  When it comes to films, it was definitely different 10 years ago.  Now, how you behave personally towards people is what they want to see on screen.  It has become more natural and it also depends on the character.  It should be a mixture of various characters in different movies which I can mould myself into.  But without a question, dance based characters provide me overall satisfaction unlike any other character.

I had a chance to see Aahaa.  Really wonderful acting.   Not just me, everybody was saying that it was an excellent movie and you had acted very impressively in it.  It was a big comeback movie for you, wasn't it?

After Uzhavan, three or four years later, things have changed dramatically.  I would not say things were perfect at that time.  It was very delicate to choose a certain role during this period.   As it is, I had done a few roles which the audience could not accept.  I felt I had done a mistake, especially when people told me, 'Neenga indha maadhiri roles ellaam paNNa koodaadhu.'  On the other hand, I thought these type of roles would be a chance of pace.  But the audience did not seem to view it that way.  When I started choosing my roles more carefully and more closely to my needs, the inevitable gap came in my Tamil film career.  Even with this gap, I was still working in Telegu and Malayalam.  This is exactly what I wanted as I did roles that I really cared for.

Well, anyway, there was a gap in Tamil.  No personal problems, or at least nothing that nobody else has gone through.  Everybody has problems and it is only during that time you realize the value of your happiness.  But never ever did I bring my personal problems into my profession.  Even though magazine journalists had written that it was only because of my personal problems that I got a gap in the Tamil industry.  The truth is that you know only about the tamil industry.  But I am working in four languages.  It really depends when you become choosy, small gaps come and go.  It is part of life.

I have a tendency to read a lot of interviews and I read something that Sivaji Ganesan said after seeing the movie, Aahaa.  I am not sure if you had a chance to read it?

Yeah.. (Enthusiastically).. I framed it and kept it at home.  Just a great person.  He is indeed the pillar of the industry.  If so many people are still acting so incredibly well today, it is definitely his influence on them.  The small things that he has done has added up to so much now.

He specifically said that you are the closest one to ever reach the heights of Savithri.  My question to you is do you believe in his praise?  Do you think you have a long way to go or do you think you have met the requirement?

After my setback, I have had a great opportunity.   A social service organization (the name, which I cannot remember right now) held a felicitation for Sivaji Ganesan.  Of the few very people chosen (especially people who are senior artists in the industry who know about Sivaji since his childhood, at the start and throughout his career), I was one.  I know him but not like a dictionary.   He is a dictionary.  My experience is only 13 years, while his is 30-40 years in the industry.  I was shocked when I was invited.  The actual interviews of him praising my work had come before this felicitation.

For me to talk about him, it was a sweet shock and shivers at the same time.  It was a mixed feeling.  I came out and said that I did not have the experience or had not learned enough to speak about him.  Whatever I know about him and his acting is only through watching his movies.  He has praised me as an equal to Savithri.  Whatever award, National or State which I get, I would equate this praise to one of those unforgettable awards that I would receive in my life.  After I walked away from the podium, I saw him smiling at me.  It was a very nice experience to have, just a month before I left to come to the U.S.  I took blessings from him.   It was great to carry that experience with me.

How is Bhanu Priya different from any other actress?

One difference has been there.  It has been the case where you could make a name for yourself only in one or two films in your entire career.  It is not true that you can achieve that fame and name in every movie.   You go through the careers of every actress, if they had acted in 50 odd movies, not all 50 leave a good mark or create a distinct impression or name for the actress.   For example, take senior artists, Sivaji Sir or Savithri Amma.  Whoever you take as an example, they may have acted in a hundred roles, but they can mention only a few with pride.  I am not talking about this generation, but the previous one.  With this new generation, you cannot compare.  Just getting those kind of characters is difficult and making such films is even harder.  See, I am not blaming producers or the audience.  The trend is changing.  For example, in the past, if you mention Savitri Amma, Paasa Malar immediately comes to mind, or Sivaji Sir - Thillaana Mohanambal.   In the past, you can easily mention 10 or 20 films immediately.

In my case, of the 111 films I have done, I can mention just a few.   I think the way I differ from others is based mostly on dances.  Those are the roles through which I gained recognition to a certain stage.  In the beginning stages, if you mentioned Bhanu Priya's name, immediately everybody referred to her as the dancing actress.  This was about 10 years ago.  'Oh, she dances so well' is what they said first and then proceeded to talk about my character or a scene in the movie.  As time flew by, I began to realize that dancing and acting are two different things.  In the beginning, my character was a dancer with little scope for performance.   Dancing was given the upper hand.  Gradually, I learned how to move into the field and really start performing.  I started learning and am still learning.   There is no end to learning.  Whatever I see in my daily life, I try to learn from it.  Even in my dancing career, when I see a senior artist perform, I watch carefully.  I take the good things and leave out the bad things.  I see what I do not have in the good things and try to acquire them.  That is what I do - build up the good things to better myself.

More to come in Part II, including:

  • The inspiration behind Bhanu Priya's success over the years
  • Bhanu Priya on the stereotyping of women in tamil films
  • Experiences on the sets of Annamacharya and other insights
  • Priorities and future projects/films

Sandya

To be continued...