Interviewer: Jyothsna & Annadurai | Camera: Hemananth.B & P.Ganesh Babu |           Text: Jyothsna
Shammu is the daughter for whom Prakash Raj swears to weave a silk sari for her wedding in Kanchivaram. This Priyadarshan find is all geared up to go places with varied films like Mayilu (Duet films), Malayan (with Karan) and Nanda Periyasami’s Maathi Yosi. Catch Shammu in a relaxed chat with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar & Annadurai.



BW:
About yourself

Shammu: I am Shammu. My full name is Shireen Shirmilee. Though few people call me Shirmilee or Shireen, I am always known as Shammu. This is not the name for films but my actual name. I am sixteen years but people may not believe it. I am doing my 11th standard through online classes. I have been living with my family in the US for the past 12 years. I have come to Chennai for acting in films and I am doing my fourth film right now.


You seem to be fluent in Tamil. How?

I am a Tamil ponnu. Though I am raised in the US, my family is from Neyveli in Tamil Nadu. According to me it is important that one knows to speak their mother tongue and my parents also feel the same way. At home, we speak only in Tamil, watch Tamil channels and so it is only natural that I am fluent in Tamil. I am an Indian and a Tamilian. So there is no surprise element in it.

"I am

an Indian

and a Tamilian"


About your family?

My dad is a computer consultant in US and runs his own office. Mom is a housewife but is currently accompanying me in shoots. I have a nine-year-old sister who is with me in India. Incidentally, she has played the role of my younger version in Mayilu. I am very close to my family and my family is very important to me. I have always wanted to act from my younger days and my parents have been encouraging right from the start.

Why acting?

As far as I could remember, I was always interested in acting. My mom tells me that I had expressed my desire to act when I was three years old. The yearning was there but I thought it would take a while to realize my dreams as I was in US. I thought of trying my luck in filmdom after I complete graduation. I am a trained Bharathnatyam dancer and used to take classes whenever we come to Chennai during vacation. During one of such trips, I did a photo shoot which fetched me Mayilu. It was completely unexpected. It just happened and I am very happy about it.

How did the offer come through?

Laadam’s cameraman Sukumar did my photo shoot. His brother Jeevan saw my photos and had enquired about me. Later, the script of Mayilu was narrated to me, then test shoot done and I was selected.

How did Kanchivaram happen?

I signed Mayilu and thought that this is the only film I will be doing. On the day of signing Mayilu, Prakash Raj sir asked me to come to Mysore and said that he is working in Priyadarshan’s Kanchivaram and the unit is looking for an artiste to do his daughter’s role. As they were impressed with my Mayilu test shoot, they wanted me in Mysore to finalize details. It was unbelievable. I went to Mysore, did some make up and costume tests. I thought they would test me on my acting skills but they never did that which gave me a feeling that I am not in the film. However, they called me aside, narrated the script of Kanchivaram and gave me shooting dates and details. I shot for seventeen days for Kanchivaram. The first day I stood in front of the camera with dirty paavadai and dark make up. Priyadarshan never taught me, he just told me what I should do. I was nervous not because I was camera shy but was anxious that I should perform well in front of stalwarts like Priyadarshan and Prakash Raj. Fortunately, my first day, first shot was ok. Priyadarshan sir also gave me confidence. And the shoot of 17 days passed off like some picnic.

"I learnt

everything from

Prakash Raj sir

and

Priyadarshan sir"


Did Prakash Raj guide you?

I knew Prakash Raj first as my producer and he was very friendly. But I did not know him as a co-artiste. In Kanchivaram I had many combination scenes with him. He helped me and gave tips as I was totally raw. I did not know anything about filming techniques or camera angles. I learnt everything from Prakash Raj sir and Priyadarshan sir. Kanchivaram was my basic learning experience and has laid a solid foundation for my cinema journey. I am fortunate to have started my career with legends like them.

Have you been at the receiving end at shooting spot?

Touch wood! Till now I have not experienced such a thing from anyone. Perhaps, I am lucky or may be I know how to act. I can’t say. I used to take a maximum of 2-3 takes but was always watchful. I was apprehensive about getting chided and hence was observant.


How was Priyadarshan?

Priyadarshan sir is a very chilled out person and does not get perturbed easily. In the last day of the shoot, when so many things had to be completed, I was anxious but he maintained his composure. When I questioned him, he was confidant he would complete his work. As he is a stickler for planning, he has no reasons to lose his calm.

Any interesting incident(s) during Kanchivaram shoot?

There was one particular shot that required me to keep a lamp on the glass. The camera was rolling and I took the lamp. But due to some reasons, the glass fell down and broke. I just froze. The entire spot was absolutely silent. I was looking at Priyadarshan sir and all he said was, ‘look for another glass’. Later the set artistes told me that if it were for them, they would have been taken to task and I was lucky. Afterwards I apologized to Priyadarshan sir and he said that it was just an accident and not to be taken seriously.

Your characters in Mayilu, Maathi Yosi and Malayan

In Mayilu, I am a hardcore village girl. You will see me in dark makeup, oily braid and dirty clothes. Generally, girls from Madurai are very talkative and confident. In Mayilu, my character is the mix of these two. I like such characters because it gives me scope to perform. As I play the lead character, I had a chance to showcase different emotions.

In Malayan, I play the role of a bubbly girl from Madurai with a different shade. She does not fear anyone except her dad. Combination scenes with hero Karan will be very interesting. Even the romance will be laced with some kind of argument. Shooting with Karan was fun.

Maathi Yosi is completely different from the above two films. I am an affluent Chennai-bred girl but a timid one at that. And there are four illiterate guys from Madurai who are into all sorts of criminal activities from stealing to killing to anything you name. An incident brings the boys and me together and what happens later is the film all about. Usually, the wrongdoer hero will be transformed into a Good Samaritan by heroine. But in Maathi Yosi, as the name indicates, the good heroine indulges in wrong activities joining hands with a bad bunch. This is narrated in a very different and interesting way. It is an adventurous concept.

Generally, an artiste is booked only after her first release. But in your case, even before your first release, you have been swamped with offers. How is it?

My first film is Priyadarshan sir’s Kanchivaram. Industry talks that I have done a good job. Perhaps, this could be a reason. Kanchivaram and Mayilu had good reviews and I was committed to these two films at the same time. This could be one of the reasons. Many people had come to narrate scripts but I liked Malayan. When I was completing Malayan, I got Maathi Yosi offer from Nanda Periyasamy. These two offers were too interesting and I signed. Beyond all that, I think I am plain lucky. That’s all.

How do you balance your studies and films?

As I had said earlier, I wanted to concentrate on films after my studies. However, when offers came, I did not want to lose them either. So I have currently enrolled in online classes, which are convenient. Whenever I am free from shooting, I can study. The curriculum is very flexible and it is easier for me.


You have started very early. Do you miss life with your friends and school?

Of course, I am not leading a normal life like that of any other teenager. But even in the US, my days were hectic from attending school to dance classes and so on. I very rarely went out with my friends. I am very much interested in music and was attending traditional dance classes along with other dance forms. I had saxophone classes everyday. I always kept myself busy. I was also doing voluntary work in hospitals. So a busy life is not new to me. School life is the only thing I miss. But I am living my dream now. Cinema was my goal and to gain something we should lose something. So, it is alright for me to give up school life. The opportunities that I have got don’t come easily for anybody. When there are many people waiting to be cast in Priyadarshan sir’s film, I am extremely fortunate to debut in his film. I want to utilize this opportunity correctly and scale great heights.

"I am living

my dream

now"


Were you camera shy?

I am a dancer and I have no fear or anxiety facing camera. In fact I am very much at ease facing camera and giving out expressions. When we talk to someone, we need to consider their reaction which may disturb our thoughts. But an inanimate camera will not do that which enables me to react, show expression without any inhibitions. So I am extremely comfortable facing camera. However, I was more concerned about the reactions from my director and co-artistes which again eased out after two days of shooting.

Would you be interested in modeling or advertisement campaigns?

I have not done modeling but have participated in a beauty pageant in the US and have won a couple of prizes. If advertising offers from good clients come my way, it only indicates that I have reached a particular noticeable level. And I will certainly take up such offers.

"It is only

Kamal sir"


From among the current heroes, who do you want to act with?

It might sound clichéd. But I like most of the heroes. Each one has a special talent. I like to act with everyone to understand that special quality and imbibe the same. It holds good for directors too. Each one has a specialty. So when I work with different people, different facets of my persona will be brought out.

Favorite actors

It is only Kamal sir and it has remained like that right from my childhood. I don’t think it is going to change at all. I was inspired to take up Bharathnatyam seeing his Salangai Oli. I have seen this film innumerable time. I am completely awed by him.


Favorite actresses

Sridevi, Radha, Radhika, Revathy. From the latest ones, I like Simran because she has donned all types of hats and has done a remarkable job. According to me, Simran is perfect.

Dasavatharam experience

I was in US then when Dasavatharam shooting was progressing. We came to know through some source that the unit was hunting for a girl to do a small role. As I had given many dance programs there, someone had suggested my name and I got a call from the crew. I met Kamal sir, K S Ravikumar sir and Gouthami madam. Apparently they were satisfied with me and I received a call the same night asking me to join them. The next day I went to the spot not knowing anything about the film. I met

"Simran

is perfect"

the director and was observing Kamal sir at work. That was my initial brush with camera and cinema. My first shot required me to cry when the lab monkey dies. I am a person who never cries no matter what happens. So I was worried how I am going to do this scene. Kamal sir was standing next to me and seeing me nervous asked if I wanted glycerin. I did not know what it was and simply nodded because Kamal sir had asked. The moment glycerin was put, my eyes started burning and I realized its importance. Then subsequently everything was fine and the take was completed. Ravikumar sir also complimented me saying that I will go places in the industry. Though my role was small, Dasavatharam was an unforgettable experience for me.

"I know my limits"


Will you do glamour roles?

The definition of glamour varies from person to person. Some people feel that wearing modern costumes is glamorous but for some others it is vulgarity. The way one carries themselves matters a lot. Skimpier costumes can be projected in a beautiful manner as well as in bad taste. It depends on camera man, director, dance master etc. I know my limits and I will work within that framework. I cannot be shown in a vulgar vein.


What are your projects?

I am working in Maathi Yosi now but listening to many scripts. It is a crucial point in my career.

How do you choose your scripts?

My parents and I listen to scripts. It is not my decision alone. It is my family decision. Their judgment is better than mine and they know my suitability to particular role.


Are you a prankster?

No, I am not but my sister is. In fact I regret not being naughty or mischievous. I have always remained a good girl. I am more matured for my age which helps me in my acting career.

What are your hobbies?

Dance is my life. Besides dance, I play saxophone and I have learnt singing too. In Maathi Yosi I have sung a song. I also write stories. I am interested in arts. I am keen to learn the art of film making. When I was shooting Malayan, I got an opportunity to learn about camera and other aspects. According to me, these things are important for an artiste. When they say wide angle, I know they are going to shoot the entire body. For close and zoom shots, it is necessary to touch up and focus on my emotions and not bother about my feet. The knowledge of these things is definitely helpful. I have plans to learn mixing, editing also in future.

"I have always

remained

a good girl"


Have you dubbed for your films?

I have not dubbed for Kanchivaram as I went back to US after my shoot. I did not realize the importance of dubbing then. But I regret not doing it. In my opinion, we get the complete satisfaction only after we speak for ourselves. In Mayilu and Malayan, I have dubbed and I am extremely satisfied.

Who is your role model?

There is someone but I cannot name the person now. I take different qualities from different people and try to learn and emulate.

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