Shobha Warrier in Chennai
Nobody knew who Samantha was until Gautham Vasudev Menon chose her to play Jessie in Yeh Maya Cheasave (what magic have you done?), the Telugu version of Vinnaithandi Varuvaya.
She was paired with Nagarjuna's son Naga Chaitanya, who played Karthik in the movie. In the Tamil version, Trisha and Silambarasan played the protagonists.
Today, the two names -- Jessie and Karthik -- have become synonymous with love. With the scintillating music by A R Rahman becoming a rage, the film has become a huge hit in both languages.
The success of the film has brought so much laurels to young Samantha that she has been catapulted to the top slot in Telugu.
Not many newcomers get to act opposite Mahesh Babu and NTR Jr so early in their careers, which is what the Chennai girl (born to a Malayali mother and a Telugu father) is doing right now.
Though her first film was cinematographer Ravi Varman's Moscovin Kaveri, it is yet to release. But her Tamil film Baana Kathadi opposite actor Murali's son will reach the theatres in May.
On Yeh Maya Chesave's 65th day running, Samantha talks about how life changed post the movie. Excerpts:
'I didn't speak a single word of Telugu, but I went for the audition'
How did you get the role of Jessie in Yeh Maya Chesave? Naga Chaitanya said in an interview with rediff.com that shooting for the Telugu version started only after the Tamil version was 60 per cent complete.
When I heard that Gautham Menon, my favourite director, was looking for newcomers to act in the Telugu version of Vinnaithandi Varuvaya, I went to the audition, though I knew it was going to be a Telugu film and I didn't speak a single word of Telugu.
Your father never taught you Telugu?
No. I am a Tamilian! Born and brought up in Chennai.
'It was intimidating to emote in front of Gautam Menon'
How did the audition go?
I was to sit in a coffee shop, in front of Karthik and tell him that there was no love, nothing. I had to look into the eyes of Gautham Menon and say those dialogues, the meaning of which I had no idea. It was really, really tough and intimidating. But he made me very comfortable and it was only then that I could emote.
Within two to three days, I was told that I was chosen to play Jessie.
What was your reaction when you were told that you were going to be the heroine of a Gautham Menon film?
Not even in my wildest dreams did I think that I would one day be working in a Gautham Menon film! That too, so early in my career. I did not even dare to dream (of something like this)! I think I should have done something good sometime in my life to have got the chance to act in his film!
'It would have been impossible to essay Jessie if it weren't for Gautham Menon'
Were you intimidated by the fact that the Tamil version had Trisha, who is the number one heroine in both Tamil and Telugu, playing Jessie?
Trisha is my favourite actress in south India, and I was so much in awe of her that I wondered how I could even go near her. Then, I thought if the director had chosen me to play Jessie in Telugu, he might have seen something in me, and that I shouldn't be thinking of who was doing the same role in Tamil. I decided to do it to the best of my ability, and do whatever the director asked me to.
Unlike Karthik, Jessie is a very mature woman. How challenging was it for you to portray her on screen?
It was very challenging. I am quite unlike Jessie. I am a bubbly and energetic person. It is very difficult for me to be calm and reserved. If Jessie's portrayal is good, it is all because of the efforts of the director. I just followed what he told me. I was like a student following the teacher faithfully.
He knew exactly what he wanted and he would be satisfied only when he got the right body language or right expression from you. I hope I could give 60 per cent of what he wanted. It would have been impossible to essay Jessie if it weren't for Gautham Menon because as I said, I am just the opposite of Jessie.
'Speaking Telugu was the toughest part'
All the actors who worked with Gautham Menon say that he is a very good actor.
He is a great actor, director, choreographer and singer. I have not seen such a multi-talented person! He can himself do a dance sequence, a fight sequence.... everything. I don't think he needs so many people on the sets.
How was it to speak in Telugu?
That was the toughest part! As the film was very conversational, and the emotions fluctuated in the dialogues, I really struggled. In fact, I would say the major struggle was with the language. But now, I know the dialogues of the entire film by heart. I learnt everything like a school kid! The first few days were very difficult as I could not remember the dialogues.
Which was the toughest scene to portray?
The break-up scene where he brings me back from Goa but I tell him that it was not working and that I am breaking up with him. That was a two minute scene which was shot without any break.
I had ten pages of dialogues which I had to learn and say at one stretch. I learnt the full ten pages the previous night. Even now, I can say the lines without anyone prompting me. The climax was also challenging, but not difficult.
'I didn't even know how to handle a sari before I started shooting the film'
And the easiest?
Where I had to just walk! That was so easy! [laughs].
How was it walking around in cotton saris throughout the film?
I didn't even know how to handle a sari before I started shooting the film. Everybody used to laugh at me in the beginning. One thing I realised is that the moment you wear a sari, you get some kind of grace with it! I am sure Gautham knew the effect cotton saris would have on the scenes. Jessie looked so graceful and dignified in all the scenes in her starched cotton saris.
Did you expect Yeh Maya Chesave to be such a huge hit?
After I finished the film, I was as upbeat as I am today because I felt so happy and contented that I was part of the movie. It is not everyday that you get to act with the best director, best minds and best music director. And it was the best role I could ever ask for!
Honestly, I didn't care how it was going to fare at the box office because I was happy just being part of the film. It is not that I am happier because the movie is a hit. Even if it was not a hit, I would have been happy. Being part of a great film was more than enough for me.
'I am doing a film with Mahesh Babu'
Both you and Naga Chaitanya act in the Tamil version as guest artists. Was that a bonus?
Gautham sir felt we had to be a part of the Tamil version too, and we did it. Both Silambarasan and Trisha act in our film too!
Are you getting offers from both Tamil and Telugu?
Yes, though Telugu dominates. I am acting with NTR Jr in Vrindavanam. I am also doing another film with Mahesh Babu.
What was your initial reaction when you were offered a film with Mahesh Babu directed by Srinu Vytla?
Frankly, my initial reaction was, 'Are you kidding? Don't play the fool with me.' I was in denial in the beginning.
How has life changed post Yeh Maya Chesave?
Suddenly, I started getting offers to act in very interesting films. Now, I don't have to do films I don't connect with. All the good offers I am getting now are only because of this one film. I am so happy about it. I would say the most exciting part of my career so far has been playing Jessie!