It isn’t every day that actor Anushka Shetty reads a paragraph from one of her favourite books during an interview. Towards the end of our conversation, in the context of her new Telugu film Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty, releasing on September 7, Anushka reads a few lines from Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse. She says she must have read the book at least 30 times, and has gifted its copies to several friends. Her admiration for the book comes to the fore when she talks about life beyond cinema. But first, her new film.
Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty is Anushka Shetty’s theatrical film five years after Bhaagamathie. “We (UV Creations) are all nervous. I think we have made a beautiful film but the audience has to like it,” she says. The trailer hints at a rom-com between a stand-up comic (Naveen Polishetty) and a chef (Anushka) with different takes on relationships, marriage and pregnancy. “It is a simple story; but sometimes the simplest of stories can be tough to narrate. For a thriller or a historical period drama, a lot of strength comes from the big canvas. For a story like this, one has to look inward and portray the emotions without underplaying or going overboard. It was a joy to play a character like Anvita, who could be you, me or anyone out there.”
Exploring the grey areas
Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty, says Anushka, goes beyond looking at life as black and white. “Some of the decisions we make are driven by our grey areas, we touch upon such grey areas in the story.” The exposure this generation has, compared to that of their parents, says Anushka, pushes for earlier intellectual and emotional growth and this in turn lays bare certain grey areas. “We are all evolving and making different decisions, but the emotions that govern them remain the same.”
She had heard the story of Miss Shetty… in 2019 when she met director Mahesh (P Mahesh Babu) through a common friend. “I heard the story, liked it, and asked who they planned to cast. It explores a lot of emotional layers in a fun, light-hearted manner.”
Ask Anushka if it was fun to be in a rom-com, after having been part of period dramas, historicals and thrillers, and she says, “Tomorrow, if there is something historical and serious and if the story and character are new, I will jump into it. I am also game to try an out-and-out comedy, a crime thriller, a dark comedy… I love to watch fairy tale dramas, fantasy stories and animation films.”
A reluctant actor when she started in 2005, it was Arundhati (2009) that changed the tide for her, followed by Vedam, Baahubali, Rudhramadevi and Bhaagamathie among other films, showing that she can hold a movie on her own. “Some writers come to me with stories that have elements drawn from all these films, but there are those who come with new visions. I think the time is right to do something different, now that the language barriers have been broken in cinema.”
Entering Malayalam cinema
Has the breaking of barriers paved the way for her to sign her first Malayalam film, director Rojin Thomas’ Kathanar – The Wild Sorcerer? “I genuinely liked the story and I am open to acting in any language,” says Anushka. She had watched the director’s Home and had loved it. A little later she was approached for Kathanar and agreed.
Taking stock of the last five years, Anushka reckons that she has changed and evolved. “For the first few years, I remember working non-stop, sometimes 360 days a year. There was no time to pause. I wanted a break. When I paused, I could put things in perspective, rethink my priorities and reboot. We think we are indispensable but things go on without us. This break helped me personally and professionally.”
She is among the few publicity-shy female actors and has been a private person since childhood. “It is just my personality. When there were several relatives at home I would hide in my room. Even today, I am most comfortable in front of the film camera. But I freeze when people pull out a mobile phone to click a selfie. On sets we are surrounded by hundreds of people. After that, I need time on my own.”
Online reality Vs. reality
She prefers to be away from social media “to disconnect from the online reality and get a taste of actual reality. I see people staring at their phones rather than talking to those around them. I can spend hours gazing at the sky from my balcony, going on long walks, cycling, meditating, travelling, listening to music or reading.”
Talking of reading, she mentions books by Paulo Coelho among her favourites for blending fiction and spirituality. Then she mentions Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse and reads a few lines, ‘I think everyone is just trying to get home’ and ‘Being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindness, said the mole’. “Every page of the book is relevant,” says Anushka, signing off.