Samantha Akkineni discusses ‘Oh! Baby’, the dearth of well written roles and her dream of equal footing and pay for women in cinema
Oh! Baby, directed by Nandini Reddy, has the promise of a fun project. For those tuning in late, it’s an official remake of the Korean film Miss Granny (2014) where an 80-year-old suddenly turns young, and her journey thereafter. The leading lady Samantha Akkineni, known to be a live wire off-screen, seems to have had fun enacting the comedy-laced part. “It’s actually stressful to do comedy. Things that look the most effortless (going by scenes in the promos) have had the most effort put into it,” she says, when we meet on a balmy afternoon. She had to be funny but not go overboard and make the character appear like a caricature. “I had to match up to a senior like Rajendra Prasad as well. There was not a day I could just chill on set. After 6 p.m., I would be so exhausted; the character took a lot of my energy,” she says.
Excerpts from the interview:
Oh! Baby has a women-strong crew. How was the vibe on set?
We were a small but efficient team. Producer Sunita Tati, director Nandini, executive producer Divya, production designer Jayashree and Niharika who does the marketing… we all took it one day at a time and pulled it off. As women, we always have the urge to prove ourselves in this male-dominated industry. We worked with that hunger and fire, wanting to do our best.
The story, beyond the physicality, is about an older woman reliving her youth with experiences that may not have been possible in her times. What were the discussions all of you had while adapting the film?
I’ve always considered myself an empathetic person. But while watching the Korean film, it hit me that I’ve been oblivious to my mother’s dreams. I’ve been chasing my own dreams. I wondered if that was even possible for my mom or grandmom. It was a given that my mother would care for me and my brothers without even expecting a thank you. Women like her have gone through unsaid sacrifices for the sake of their husband and children. My mom doesn’t even remember her dreams, because it’s been so long. Many mothers find happiness in their children’s achievements. If we are happy, they are too. It’s sad that many of them won’t be able to recall their dreams immediately.
Veteran actress Lakshmi plays the older woman. The two of you don’t have scenes together, but what are your impressions of her?
She has changed with the times. As much as we learn from the older generation, they too learn from us and adapt to the times. She’s an inspiration in her liberal thinking; I’ve learnt that we shouldn’t be rigid in our beliefs. Oh! Baby addresses all these points.
How did your vintage look in the film come about?
When the older woman becomes young, she dresses from the memory of what was cool and fashionable when she was young. She goes to a hairdresser and asks for a big bob, like the one sported by an actress of that era. We planned the costumes with a vintage vibe.
You and Nandini know each other since 2011 and worked together for Jabardasth (2013), a film both of you aren’t proud of. You’ve been great friends though. How was it working together again?
We were inexperienced when we did Jabardast and things went wrong. Nandini is one of the nicest people in the industry; she has a good heart and we have some karmic connection. She stood by me through my personal struggles and with Oh! Baby, we’ve come full circle. I am proud of how she has directed this film. I’m sure she will be patted on her back. Young forever
- She has a cameo in Manmadhudu 2 and says she and Nagarjuna (her father in law) bond well, like friends in the same age group: “There’s a reason why he stays young forever. He’s young at heart and I’ve never felt as though I’m talking to an older person. He’s cooler than I can ever dream of being.”
You have dubbed occasionally, for films like Mahanati and Super Deluxe. For Majili and this film, it’s Chinmayi again. Is it the director or you who decides the voice?
In Oh! Baby, my character speaks with a thick Godavari accent. My voice is thin and I wouldn’t have been able to do what Chinmayi did. She’s done a fantastic job. If you’ve seen that fun video of me constantly annoying her in the dubbing studio, you’ll know what she put up with.
On a personal note, she’s been through a lot since her #MeToo story and the continuing fight with the dubbing union in Tamil cinema. Nandini, Chinmayi and I stick together and we wanted her to dub in Tamil.
You were among the first to voice your support for Chinmayi. How did the Tamil industry react?
It was my natural instinct to support her and I’m glad I did. I’ve always spoken out and have had issues in the past because of that. The #MeToo movement has helped in forging a strong sisterhood where women support each other. I am proud of Chinmayi; it takes a lot of guts to do what she has done. She’s been facing backlash. One shouldn’t have to go through that when you’ve done nothing wrong. I believe that she’s earning a lot of good karma and only good things will happen to her.
There’s a renewed confidence in your work in recent years, as though you’ve broken free of inhibitions. What has changed?
We all come with insecurities. I came with a splash (Ye Maya Chesave) and didn’t get time to find my feet. The industry had its own norms for beauty — a heroine had to be tall, fair and have North Indian looks. It took me a long time to fit in. I had to battle my own demons to become the best version of me.
There were occasional projects like Yeto Vellipoyindi Manasu where you showed your potential. However, did it take much longer to get more substantial roles?
It’s appalling that very few well written characters are available for women. In many films women are like a prop, solely present to make the hero look good, without their own character graph.
Is that why when you spot a film like U Turn (Kannada), you take the initiative for a remake?
Both U Turn (Tamil and Telugu) and Oh! Baby are projects I helped put together. You can’t sit at home and complain about the lack of good stories. Creating work is the only way forward. Producer Sunita had watched Miss Granny and approached me. I felt it had universal appeal and thought Nandini would be able to adapt it well; she proved me right.
In a recent interview, you mentioned that your initial goal was to have a house and ₹50 lakh in the bank. What are your goals now, personally and professionally?
I dream of a day when women will have an equal footing and pay as that of men. Personally, touchwood, I have a lovely family. Chaitanya and I are happy with the friendship and companionship we have for each other. I don’t want to change anything. Of course, some day I want to bring a baby into this world.
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