Shalini Vadnikatti on life before Krishna and his Leela, the love for her family and coming to terms with her profession

Srivathsan Nadadhur

Actress Shalini Vadnikatti’s journey in Telugu films has been fraught with difficulties at every step, but the Bengaluru girl has been patient enough to make the most of the opportunities that have come her way. Krishna and his Leela was the first Telugu film she had signed and it took its own sweet time to release a few weeks ago. Incidentally, all of her three Telugu films, Eureka, Krishna and his Leela, Bhanumathi and Ramakrishna saw the light of the day in quick succession in 2020, receiving unanimous acclaim and she is enjoying the fruits of its success in the middle of a lockdown. Being in the spotlight for her brief yet impactful roles in all her films and getting her career rolling in Kannada and Tamil film industries, Shalini’s interests lie in fitness, spending time with her family and indulging with her fashion choices. In a chat with, the actress opens up on the many aspects that complete her life.

An un-filmi childhood

Being a science student, I grew up wanting to be a doctor. After completing my PUC, I was of the opinion that I would take up long term coaching to write for KCET or EAMCET. I went back on my decision later and thought I should balance my time while doing a course in fashion technology. My entire career changed as I joined the course (fashion technology), I totally dedicated myself to it. I may not have been inspired by fashion through what celebrities wore, but my family has many people who have distinct fashion choices and their own sense of style, be it my aunt, mo m or grandma.

Having three consecutive Telugu releases in 2020

I am happy that three of my Telugu films went onto release this year. It’s been more than three years that we had begun working on Krishna and his Leela and it’s wonderful that the film has been a source of joy for everyone who has watched it during this hour. It’s a fruit of many years of hardwork for the entire team. I can’t deny that I felt bad for the delay in its release. However, insecurity or anxiety was a feeling that never arose. Only in cases where you are told something and it doesn’t happen that way, you’re left disappointed. We have been working on the film in some form over the three years, but with long breaks between schedules. We were there with the project all the time, the communication was consistent, there weren’t any false promises and we were aware that the film will take its own course to release. There was no sugar coating and Ravikanth Perepu ensured there was transparency within the team.

On her multi-lingual roots

I have mostly been part of films with debutant directors in Kannada films, but for Gadda Viji (director of Plus). Getting an opportunity to act with Ananth Nag sir was something else. He’s a pan India actor and it was a blessing to have shared screen space with him. My father is a Kannadiga, while my mother hails from a Telugu speaking family. So, I grew up with an understanding of different cultures. My parents keep watching Tamil films at home. Though I may not be able to speak Tamil fluently, I understand the language very well. I am extremely proficient in Kannada and Telugu. Luckily enough, I was familiar with the languages in all the industries I have worked in.

Family’s outlook on her profession

My parents were very uncertain about what I was doing with my acting career, initially. They thought I would try my hand at acting and return to fashion technology at some point. I used to give auditions, go to work if I get work and return. Even when they were watching Krishna and his Leela, I told them to look at my part as a character and don’t think of me as a daughter as they see the film. It’s a sensitive role and I was apprehensive if they would take it in the right spirit. They understood what I meant and enjoyed the film.

A bundle of nerves on sets

Nervousness is something I always have an actor. Even today, I get slightly anxious a day before an audition for a film. While heading for a shoot too, I remain in a tense mood. It’s something that’s a part of me, guess that’s how I am. However, beyond that, I am a happy go lucky person. I need to say that I extremely comfortable with the team of Krishna and his Leela; it’s been a three-year journey and we got close over the process. Not all films work that way and the bond was indeed special. It’s hard to find a filmmaker who can keep the spirits of a team alive and communicate everything to us over a long span, good or bad. Other films are generally about going to the set, finishing my shot and returning home. The work is slightly mechanical.

On playing Radha in Krishna and his Leela

Radha, the character I play is an early 20s engineering student; a very emotional and psychologically sensitive girl, she’s extreme natured. This was the brief I received when I wanted to know the mind of Radha, Before portraying the role and as I went for the audition, I asked Ravikanth what was she all about. Not coming from an acting background, I made it a point to understand her mental state. He told me why she behaves the way she does, explained me the insecurities in her mind while also being dedicated to the relationship.

Societal acceptance of a three-way relationship

Society is a broad term and I am unsure if the society would accept a person being in love with two people at the same time. It’s a moot point of sorts. From the beginning, Ravikanth was sure that these kind of characters exist. That’s probably why we too received a lot of messages about men and women relating to Krishna’s plight in the film. They had a clarity that they loved two people equally. It’s only then I realised such scenarios can exist too. I can vouch for the fact that people get confused in relationships between their past and present, though I wasn’t sure of the idea of being in love with two people at once. Even a woman can be in the place of Krishna and like two men at once, but it’s about how you portray it.  Ravikanth found a way to resonate with people with his treatment. There’s a thin line one needs to maintain while showcasing relationships on screen and it depends on a filmmaker’s sensibilities to get that right.

Accepting a brief role in Bhanumathi and Ramakrishna

Bhanumathi and Ramakrishna happened at the same time as Krishna and his Leela was getting shot, most of the cast and crew were mutual friends. Ravikanth was unsure if a leading lady in his film would take up a brief role in Bhanumathi and Ramakrishna, but I went ahead for a narration. I found it a very interesting story and liked what Salony, Naveen Chandra and Harsha Chemudu brought to the project. The director Srikanth Nagothi told me about Nymishi; he was clear that it was an important role but would only last for 5-6 minutes. I trusted him (the director) with it and got great vibes as I was listening to it and I genuinely believed the role would work well. I am glad viewers too feel the same about it today. Making a strong impact in a short screen time is challenging, one shouldn’t let the pressure get to them.

Handling the anxieties and pressures of the profession

Though I kept getting opportunities, most projects that I’ve been a part of haven’t worked out commercially well. I may have got a good name through the films, but it’s a fact that they didn’t attain the desired results. I am a reserved person, a home bird and remain very close to the family. I take my film career like any other job. I go, I work and I come back home. I work out regularly and it makes me feel good. I have made up my mind that way. It doesn’t obviously feel good when a film doesn’t work; not only for yourself but also for the efforts of the team. I try my best to drift my mind away from it; either work on another film, concentrate on other aspects within the house. There are pressures in the profession but I don’t let it affect me deeply. I don’t understand words like insecurity or competition. If I get a role, I do my best with it and return to spend time with my family. I have a set of friends whom I keep meeting – somethings remain a constant in my life. It’s like being attached and detached with the profession at the same time.

If her academic roots in fashion helped in films

I am not sure if the course in fashion technology has had much to do with my appearance in films. Yet, I admit I have a good idea of fashion and am always extra curious as to how a stylist would design my look. I don’t involve myself in the process though. The costume designer for Krishna and his Leela used to patiently explain me what she expects me to look like according to her traits. There were a few schedules where the costume designer was in Europe and every actor in the film was asked to carry their own clothes – that’s a rare instance where my background certainly helped. I never gave a thought of balancing my acting stint and trying my hand at styling simultaneously though.

Getting to be part of two direct-to-OTT releases

I have always looked at OTT content in a positive light, because platforms like Netflix, Aha and others have consistently promoted good content. I never saw the digital medium as anything drastically different from films. It’s all about reaching audiences through different mediums.

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